How Is Our Relationship With Alcohol Changing?

alcohol cocktails

After the conclusion of Dry January, the conversation surrounding reduced drinking and alcohol abstinence is at an all-time high. Sober consciousness is palpable across numerous age groups but the most notable changes can be seen in the youth today and their drinking habits. Even those who have established drinking careers are taking a step back, assessing their relationship with a tipple or ten.

Sweden, a country that many note as “cool” and grounded in high quality of life, marked in analyses of surveys back in 2014 that youth drinking had decreased. In teenagers from 15 to 16-years-old, the amount of alcohol consumed fell more than 50% from 2000 to 2021. Similarly, in a Berenberg report from 2018, it was shown that a survey of 6,000 GenZers aged 16 – 22 were drinking 20% less proportionately than Millennials drank at the same age.

This mindful-drinking movement appears to be forefronted by young people between the ages of 18 and 24. However, generations that precede GenZers are also drinking less or quitting altogether. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, if any at all, is becoming seemingly passé.

Recently, multihyphenate Chrissy Teigen, who has stopped drinking altogether, tweeted that it is “incredible and I recommend it highly if you’re also done with making an ass of yourself and feeling like shit.”  She responded to a Twitter user who asked if she misses wine; Teigen tweeted “I don’t miss the taste of wine. I miss the feeling. I’m hyper and anxious now. Don’t miss the feeling after. Overall: extremely happy.” Like many others, Teigen’s relationship with alcohol was to chase a feeling of relaxation and calming.

Whilst Teigan does not miss the taste, drink companies are jumping on this emerging marketing opportunity. They are creating liquors for those that do miss the taste of alcohol but not the effects of it.

Drinks giant Diageo, known for Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker, have put its fingers into the sober pie with Ritual Zero Proof, offering a variety of non-alcoholic liquors that taste and smell like spirits. In August 2019, Diageo acquired a large majority shareholding of Seedlip, which was the first non-alcoholic spirits brand. Seedlip currently has three varieties of liquors that do not sound dissimilar to Le Labo fragrances: “Spice 94”, “Garden 108” and “Grove 42”. It is marketing at its finest, to jump on board of, arguably, a wellness trend and create something bourgeois. In doing so, trumping the simplicity of a Coca Cola or Sprite on the rocks.

Pre-pandemic, sober day raves were taking leading cities around the world by storm. Many people were heading to a rave before work, as a form of exercise and to continue to enjoy dance music without the surrounding influence of alcohol or drugs. Thus, challenging the idea that one should absorb and take external influences to have a good time.

The movement of sober-curiosity is palpable and many are engaging in quitting the juice altogether, however, others are also practising mindful drinking. Enjoying a glass or two when they feel like it but not reaching a stage of drunkenness. Soberness is a wellness practice and with the wellness market being valued at $4.5trillion in 2018 research and data, many other businesses will continue to commodify this new drinking consciousness, which is heavily populated by the young.  Ruby Warrington, author of Sober Curious, responds to the sober-curious movement with the idea that people are more educated today as to the “different ways that what we consume influences our wellbeing.” People are wising up to the fact that drinking is not the healthiest thing for your mind, body, and soul.

Additionally, in 2017, Jonny Forsyth, a drink analyst at Mintel raised the idea of surveillance playing a role in choosing to abstain from alcohol or getting drunk; “control has become a key watchword for today’s younger drinkers. Unlike previous cohorts, their nights out are documented through photos, videos, and posts across social media where it is likely to remain for the rest of their lives. Over-drinking is therefore something many seek to avoid.” The feeling of losing control was at one time, fun and frivolous. Now, with constant documentation, one may feel vulnerable ‘letting their hair down’ due to the reminders on social media platforms the next day. A private moment between friends of dad-dancing and snogging your ex-love interest will be shared and released to the masses. Social media surveillance restricts the feeling of freedom and privacy; as many are image-conscious, drinking and becoming out of control is just not good for their own brand image.

The reasons for this shift in attitude towards alcohol are non-definitive. However, it is clear to see that the culture of drinking has changed dramatically from the 20th century. Many people are rethinking their drinking. Mindfulness is a modern-day practice and in relation to alcohol consumption, drinkers are starting to become more aware of what they put into their bodies. It seems we can find joy in aspects of life, without being influenced by external substances; one can enjoy socialising in a sober space and perhaps create more meaningful connections without the blur of beer goggles. With mindful drinking in place, alcohol consumption will only continue to decrease. We won’t necessarily be chasing our yoga highs and Matcha tea rushes instead. But we will certainly acknowledge the fact that there are other forms of escapism. Socialisation does not have to end with a 2-day hangover and a list of regrets.

Words by Bailey Petts

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