Generation Sober – who are they?

As Generation Z are rebranded ‘Generation Sober’, one writer explores the recent phenomena’s origins to discover why young people are drinking less.

By Tia Byer

Young people always receive bad press. Whether they’re being blasted for their social media addictions or being labelled over-sensitive ‘snowflakes’, there’s no denying the younger generation’s unfavourable reputation. When it comes to drinking, however, the tables are turning. This once ‘binge’ generation, known for its boozy antics and anti-social behaviour, is now making headlines for a lack of alcohol consumption. Being hailed the soberest cohort yet, 20 – 25-year-olds or Generation Z as these 90’s babies are also referred, are fast becoming known as Generation Sober. So why are today’s young people drinking less than their parents and grandparents?

The Government’s Health survey, published in 2018, reveals that drinking habits in those born in the early to mid-nineties (and even younger) are at an all-time low. From 2013 to 2018, the proportion of young people, defined as those in the 16-24 age group by Government data, who did not drink increased from 23% to 25% - a higher proportion compared to any other age group except those aged over 75 (26%). The number of individuals who ‘binge drink’ also decreased from 22% to 18%.

Research conducted by the Portman Group, a trade association composed of alcohol producers, showed considerable interest in lower alcohol alternatives among the 18-24 age group. David Saer, the association’s Policy and Communications Manager, stated that the Portman Group’s 2018 research indicates that Gen Z is the “age group most likely to either switch their drinking to lower alcohol alternatives in the next six months (22%) or already had done so (9%)”. Portman Group Chief Executive John Timothy says, “the statistics reflect a cultural shift in the relationship of the young to drink responsibly”.

So is drinking a mere pastime of the middle-aged a.k.a. Generation X? To understand why these youngsters have outgrown the stereotypes of the binge drinker, it is necessary to explore the reasons behind the cultural shift. We asked members of the so-called ‘Generation Sober’ about why alcohol has fallen out of favour with so many millennials.

For self-proclaimed Generation Sober, Steve Ren, 23, sobriety is less of a lifestyle choice than a fundamental way of life. The recent graduate says, “because I never drunk loads before the age of 20, I don’t like the taste of alcoholic drinks”. Steve, who lives in Edinburgh, prefers going to the cinema or a coffee shop with friends. He says, “We are lucky that in today’s society there is so many different alternatives to just getting drunk”. Steve does admit however to experiencing peer pressure at university. “If everybody was drinking, I drank some but not too much”, he says.

Another reason for not giving in to the booze is its repercussions. Steve states: “I don’t want to be drunk. Drunk people always do something stupid, they lose control of their mind and body”. Control is an important factor in not wanting to get too drunk. Technological advances such as smartphones and social media mean if you get drunk or do something regretful, it could be on the internet in one swift click of a button. In today’s age, alcohol-induced misbehaviour can come back to haunt you. One drunken mistake could go viral in a second. One bad choice could be on the internet forever.

Research conducted by the Mintel group for their 2019 podcast ‘Generation Sober: Why Gen Z is Breaking Up With Alcohol’, confirms this. The market-based research firm found that “11% of UK consumers cite ‘worries about their behaviour when drunk’ as a reason. But this rises to 18% among 18 to 24-year-olds - also the largest uses of social media”. They continue: “While it isn’t a massive number it is certainly an influencer”.

Gen Z’s obsession with wellbeing, fitness and self-care means the younger generation are prioritising health. With market sales of books on mindfulness, vitamin supplements and CBD-oil rising, contemporary commodification of wellness means it is no wonder that youngsters are ditching the hangxiety (a.k.a. hangover induced anxiety) and gut-busting calories of wine o-clock. Indeed, teetotal retail worker, Nicole McGregor, 24, claims “drinking less is positive” and identifies health benefits as the reason behind her sobriety.

“I think society, in general, has the mentality that to have a good time alcohol needs to be consumed. I completely disagree”, states Nicole. She claims that even as a student in Edinburgh, “some of my favourite nights I’ve had with friends I have been completely sober”. To avoid the alcoholic side effects of guilt, nausea and grogginess, Nicole says she chooses not to drink at the events. “I focus on just having a good time with others’ company,” she says.

If there is one thing we can take from Generation Sober, it is that they do not give in to peer pressure or societal expectation. Generation Sober is fast becoming a pioneering form of rebellious youth and it is down to their refusal to conform to outdated habits that no longer serve society. Antisocial and unhealthy, alcohol is fast losing its street cred. Is it high time we all took leaf out of Generation Sober’s book – Generation X included?