The decline in alcohol consumption in the youth

For generations, indulging in alcohol has been a social norm, but recent research indicates a shifting trend. According to a report, youth drinking in general has taken a sharp decline since the early 2000s, especially in higher-income societies. Recent studies underscore a noteworthy trend: a decline in alcohol consumption, particularly evident among Generation Z. The per capita alcohol intake among Generation Z is 20% lower than that observed among Millennials, reflecting a notable shift in drinking habits within this demographic.

So why is this happening? In today’s blog, we look at the possibilities of this new trend and attempt to answer this puzzling question.


1. More things to do

Studies indicate a cultural shift where abstaining from alcohol is gaining greater acceptance while the once-prevailing norm of drinking is losing ground: Post-World War II, a culture of high consumption shaped subsequent generations. However, contemporary evidence points to a changing landscape, with an increasing number of individuals embracing the decision not to partake in alcohol.

So is this because we’re running dry of things to celebrate now, like winning a world war? Well, many consider the rise in ‘things to do’. Kate, a research participant who focused on the Gen Z shift, had this to say:

“There was less other things for them to do…and I feel like that was very much the coping mechanism of the time. So, if you’ve had a bad day, then you’ll go and drink alcohol, whereas now, if people have days they might be more inclined to go to the gym or do some yoga or some mindfulness or whatever.

Another participant, Alice, stated:

“… They drank what would probably be considered a normal amount then. But…there was no other options and they weren’t bothered about doing anything else, whereas now there is always something I can be doing.”

2. Access to information

Thanks to the internet and the social media extravaganza, today’s youth have this treasure trove of info at their fingertips, especially when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of alcohol.

Let’s draw a comparison between Millennials and older generations to Generation Z. In the early ’90s, delving into comprehensive research on alcohol required a trip to the library or reliance on the information passed down from friends or family. If you were fortunate, you might have had access to the limited resources of the early internet. Contrast that with today’s digital universe, where you can immerse yourself in a vast array of information – from the scientific intricacies of alcohol’s impact on the body to firsthand accounts from individuals who have navigated those experiences.

We also have awareness campaigns and educational programmes that exist in a time when their reach extends a lot further than a flyer given to you in the street. Now, they’re not just dropping pamphlets anymore; they’re sliding into your social media feeds, popping up on your favourite platforms with messages about responsible drinking and how to get help if things get out of control.

Thanks to this double act of easily accessible info and these friendly nudges from awareness campaigns, younger people today are not just ‘winging it’ when it comes to alcohol. They’re clued up and making conscious choices.


3. Economic Factors

Economic pressures, such as high living costs, low minimum wages and student debt, may lead young people to prioritise spending in other areas over alcohol consumption.

Statistically, the average cost of a night out in the UK tallies up to £73.61, when most must-need factors are drafted.

Then, we need to remember that the average hourly wage for younger people:

This means that if a 19-year-old wants to enjoy a night out with friends, they must work 10 hours to afford the right to do so. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to conclude that this is a major factor in the decline of drinking alcohol.


4. A deeper concern about being drunk

In a study conducted on Gen Z’s views about alcohol, a massive 71% stated that there are consequences to drinking that concern them, suggesting that alcohol is not a substance to be enjoyed at the moment as it once was.

In fact, out of the 71% that said they were concerned with drinking, the main issue was ‘health problems’ at 21%, with ‘loss of control’ at 13%, and changes in behaviour or feeling embarrassed at 10%.

Other specific after-effects like hangovers, memory loss, worries about alcohol addiction, and feeling more vulnerable were mentioned by more than 5% each.

It’s clear to see that these issues affect the choice of whether to drink or not. Among those who voiced concerns, 34% thought the reasons were ‘extremely important,’ 40% ‘very important,’ and 21% ‘slightly important.’

It’s interesting to see how much weight participants put on the effects of drinking, especially when you consider the whole ‘culture of intoxication’ that millennials are most likely to exhibit.


5. The legalisation of weed in some countries

The debate surrounding the legalisation of cannabis and how it will affect views on alcohol includes discussions about potential social and economic impacts.

Firstly, there is the idea that marijuana and alcohol may serve as substitutes to some extent. If individuals have the legal option to choose between the two substances, some may opt for marijuana over alcohol due to perceived health benefits or different psychoactive effects. Cannabis is commonly considered less harmful than alcohol in terms of physical health and potential for addiction.

In 2017, this notion was considered to have been correct, particularly in Canada. A study revealed a fascinating correlation: for every dollar spent on legal medical cannabis, there was an average reduction of about $0.74 to $0.84 in alcohol sales. This intriguing dynamic signifies that, within the Canadian context, medical cannabis served as an economic substitute for alcohol. The data further indicates that alcohol sales during the 2017-2018 period were approximately 1.8% lower than they would have been without the legal availability of medical cannabis. Consequently, these findings indirectly suggest that the decline in alcohol consumption may have, to some extent, counterbalanced the health and economic impacts of cannabis legalisation.

Younger individuals are increasingly choosing marijuana over alcohol due to the latter’s association with a higher risk of violence, accidents, and negative social outcomes, while the former is perceived as having a less aggressive impact on behaviour.

It’s essential to note that the relationship between marijuana legalisation and alcohol consumption is complex, and the evidence is not universally consistent. More research will need to be done on this in the coming years.

What does this mean for public health?

A sustained reduction in youth drinking yields notable public health benefits, initially lowering rates of accidents, violence, alcohol poisoning, and dependence. Yet, complexities arise regarding alcohol-related diseases, with significant health benefits, potentially taking 30-40 years to manifest, given peak concerns typically occurring between ages 45 and 65.

Are you concerned about your drinking habits?

Your well-being matters, and taking the first step towards a healthier lifestyle is a sign of strength. If you find yourself questioning your relationship with alcohol, it’s time to reach out for support.

UKAT is here for you

Our dedicated team of professionals understands the challenges you may be facing. Whether it’s seeking advice, exploring treatment options, or just having someone to talk to, we are committed to providing the support you need. Contact us today.

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