Alcohol Trends: Abstinence

Young adults are choosing to abstain from alcohol. What is driving this trend?

WHILE baby boomers may be parsing the evidence to see if an evening glass of wine could be good for them, young adults are quietly turning away from alcohol. Sure, a hardcore still binge heavily, but more and more are choosing to be teetotal, and those who do drink are, on average, doing less of it.

That has public health experts toasting their good luck. If this lifestyle takes hold, there could be many health benefits, from fewer accidents and less alcohol-fuelled violence, to reduced incidences of cancer and liver and heart disease in decades to come. So what is spurring young people to shun alcohol, and will it continue?

The move away from booze was first seen in those born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, the generation known as millennials. The post-millennials (or generation Z) are continuing and even deepening the trend.

This is in spite of the fact that alcohol is broadly less costly than it has been in decades. Indulging in drunkenness from early adulthood – once a rite of passage – is in decline across many developed countries. In the UK in 2002, roughly two-thirds of people aged 16 to 24 drank the week before. By 2014, that was down to less than half.

But two-thirds of people aged 45 to 64 still drink regularly, according to the UK Office for National Statistics. In fact, as of 2014, men aged 65 to 74 were more likely than any other age group to drink more than 21 units of alcohol a week-about 10 pints of beer-the advised upper limit at the time. The limit has since been dropped to 14 units-about 6 pints.


Just saying no

Why are younger people drinking less? It’s impossible to ignore the role of new financial pressures. Millennials in many places are loaded with student debt, having faced recessions, are living in an era of greater job insecurity, widening income inequality and also rising housing costs.

Additionally, for them, socialising no longer requires meeting in a pub or bar. They can group chat from bedrooms via laptops, tablets and smartphones.