'Generational shift' as figures show more Gen Z and millennials quitting alcohol

Figures for 2021 reveal that 38% of 16 to 24-year-olds and 21% of 25 to 34-year-olds in England are either non-drinkers or haven’t drunk in the last 12 months. Credit: Unsplash

The number of young people choosing not to drink alcohol is on the rise, with the latest figures showing there are now more non-drinkers in their late teens and 20s than at any point in the last decade.

NHS statistics for 2021 revealed that 38% of 16 to 24-year-olds and 21% of 25 to 34-year-olds in England either don't drink or haven’t drunk in the last 12 months.

Ten years prior, in 2011, these figures were 19% and 16% respectively. 

It also means they're statistically much less likely to drink than any other age groups - for example, just 19% of 45-54s and 15% of 55-64s and 65-74s don't drink.

Millie Gooch made the decision to quit drinking at the age of 26, after struggling with blackouts and what she describes as "horrendous hangover anxiety".

Now five years sober, she says there isn't a single part of her life that hasn't improved since she made the change.

She said: "My mental health is so much better, my physical health is so much better, I have so much more energy and less brain fog, I can be present, my friendships have improved.

"In terms of finances, I bought a flat which I would have never been able to do in a million years if I was still drinking because that’s where all my money went.

"So I just have nicer stuff now, and I’m able to spend my money on holidays and things that I really love and can keep forever."

'There's not one part of my life that hasn't improved by not drinking'

After starting her own journey, she set up the Sober Girl Society in 2018 with a view of creating a community for sober and sober curious women to make friends and share advice.

Since then, it's evolved into regular events and meet-ups, and she's wracked up almost 500,000 followers across Instagram and TikTok, as well as releasing a book - The Sober Girl Society Handbook.

She believes mental health and money are two of the main reasons people are making the switch.

That's something that's backed up by charities like Alcohol Change UK and Drinkaware, which also suggest the rise of new technology may mean young people spend more time socialising online, working remotely or watching online entertainment instead of drinking together.

The Sober Girl Society at Pineapple Dance Studios in London. Credit: Sober Girl Society

Millie said: "For so long, any kind of advice or discussion around alcohol really focused on the physical aspects of it like liver damage or addiction, but there hasn’t really been that much talk about how alcohol can affect your mental health.

"I also think the cost of living crisis has really made people choose what they want to spend their money on.

"The world is a little bit more accessible now so people are thinking 'actually I’d prefer to go on holiday and travel'."

What is the recommended weekly limit for alcohol?

The NHS recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread across three days or more. That's around six medium (175ml) glasses of wine, or six pints of 4% beer.

But behind all of this, she also believes there's a genuine generational shift happening, as this age group look to rebel against rather than repeat the decisions and behaviours of their parents and grandparents.

She continued: "Gen Z and millennials are the first generations to question 'why are we just doing this thing that has always been done'.

"That notion of 'it’s just the way it is' doesn’t really fly anymore."

Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen Z (born 1997-2013) are starting to question the status quo, says Millie

That movement is something the hospitality industry is having to adapt to; The British Beer and Pub Association says 85% of pubs - equivalent to 39,000 across the UK - now offer at least one alcohol-free option.

Its Chief Executive, Emma McClarkin, said: "Pubs are for everyone, in all communities across the UK to come together and enjoy themselves, and our sector’s commitment to further developing low and no options is just one way in which we can ensure this.

"Not only are we changing with the times but are pioneering new ways of brewing and serving delicious alcohol-free alternatives, providing an opportunity to reach more people than ever before."

The British Beer and Pub Association says 85% of pubs now offer at least one alcohol-free option. Credit: Unsplash

But charities say despite the decrease in the amount younger people are drinking, there's still a cultural issue that needs to be addressed overall.

"Peer pressure or being made to feel like their choice to cut down or not drink is somehow wrong, boring or offensive can really stand in people’s way," said Dr Richard Piper, the Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK.

"Alcohol marketing has a big effect on this. It’s everywhere we look, normalising drinking and associating it with desirable or pleasant experiences.

"So, we need to make it easier for people to say 'no' to alcohol. That means having proper controls on alcohol marketing (especially online) in place.  

"We also need to recognise that alcohol is a harmful and highly addictive substance, even at low levels, and people need to better understand the harms so that they can make more informed choices about whether and how much to drink."

Tips for stopping or reducing alcohol intake

We asked all of our interviewees what advice they'd give to anyone considering quitting alcohol - here's what they said.

  • Work out why you drink in the first place - Millie Gooch, The Sober Girl Society

"It’s really hard to change your relationship with alcohol unless you understand your relationship with alcohol. If your biggest reason why you drink is because you’re not confident in social situations, that’s really the thing you need to tackle. So you could try reading books around confidence or going to networking workshops and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone."

  • Set your goals - Drinkaware

"Each week set a goal and track your progress, whether you’ve achieved your goal or not. And remember, slip ups happen so don’t beat yourself up – if you haven’t hit your goal one week make a fresh start the day after."

  • Only drink what you enjoy - Alcohol Change UK

"Think about the drinks you have because you actually want and enjoy them, and those you just drink because they’re there or out of habit. The latter are the best drinks to cut out – and you’ll be amazed at the difference this makes  

  • Take drink-free days - Drinkaware

"It gives you the opportunity to pick up a new hobby, increase your exercise or find new ways to socialise. Meet people in a cafe rather than the pub, offer to be the designated driver or perhaps join a sports team or a running club with your friends or partner."

  • Try low-alcohol or alcohol-free options - Alcohol Change UK

"Alcohol-free drinks have improved so much in recent years that they’re winning awards in place of their full-strength competitors. There’s also so much more choice with a variety of beers, ciders, wines and more on offer in lots of pubs and supermarkets."

  • Make use of the resources that are out there - Millie Gooch, The Sober Girl Society

"There's podcasts, there's bloggers, there's books, there's social media accounts, there's courses - and so much of it is free as well. Even if you start drip feeding it into your daily life, that's a really good place to start."

Millie offers her advice to those considering going sober

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