In addition to the rise of the sober curious movement, there appears to be another growing trend: Younger generations are drinking less. In fact, underage binge drinking is continuing to decline, according to a 2017 study. Bohyun Joy Jang, the author of the study, said in an interview with the New York Times that this decline is partly due to public health initiatives.
“The overall declines in frequent binge drinking indicate that national and state-level policies and programs targeted at underage drinking may have been effective, although I’m not sure to what extent each of the policies specifically contributes to the declines,” Jang said.
Epidemiologists are working on these national and state-level policies for a number of reasons. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage youth. People between the ages of 12 to 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S., and more than 90 percent of this alcohol is consumed while binge drinking.
“The overall declines in frequent binge drinking indicate that national and state-level policies and programs targeted at underage drinking may have been effective.”
Additionally, individuals who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who have their first drink at age 20 or older, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Why did teens traditionally drink so much?
So, why have teens traditionally drank so much? In one study, researchers found that students who limit their drinking face stigmatization, ostracization, and peer pressure. One male student interviewed for the study said: “People think that [moderate drinkers are] a bit of a pussy for not drinking, because they think they should just be like everyone else and drink to excess. They may come across as isolating themselves from the group.”
It’s worth noting the derogatory term the student used to describe moderation, which insinuates that monitoring your drinking is inherently female, and therefore bad. However, younger people are less likely to tolerate sexist tropes, particularly in the aftermath of the #MeToo Movement. In fact, most millenials believe in gender equality such as equal pay, even if they don’t necessarily identify as feminists.
Overall, our society seems to tolerate less sexism, and that includes the labeling of certain behaviors as bad because they’re feminine.
Drinking is losing its “coolness” factor among younger generations.
Additionally, abstaining from alcohol has become increasingly normalized, and it “has lost its unquestioned symbolic power as a cool activity and rite of passage signaling entry to adulthood.” Essentially, younger generations are seeing that booze isn’t the only way to get in with the “cool crowd.” Another study notes that “strong identities and beliefs appear to be a robust means to counteract pressure to conform to the social norm to consume alcohol.”
This parallels with the advent of the sober curious movement, which was partly spearheaded by Ruby Warrington, author of Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Laser Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. Our society is less willing to accept binge drinking as the only option, and that’s rubbing off on teenagers as well. Even beverage manufacturers have noticed this trend, and are offering more booze-free options.
“Society views our late-teens/early-20s as an acceptable time to engage in dangerous drinking behaviors; this is our supposed time to ‘figure out’ how to ‘handle’ alcohol.”
Plus, we all know that sobriety is having a moment on social media. To date, the hashtag #sober has been used more than 2.4 million times on Instagram. Accounts such as @sober__bitch, which is run by Beth Holden, 22, is not only destigmatizing sobriety but celebrating it. In a recent post, Holden noted: “Society views our late-teens/early-20s as an acceptable time to engage in dangerous drinking behaviors; this is our supposed time to ‘figure out’ how to ‘handle’ alcohol.”
The more younger people like Holden speak out about living booze-free, the more our culture can normalize this behavior.
The need for peer support and alcohol-free events for teens.
In a 2017 study, researchers found that younger generations need outside support when choosing to moderate or abstain from alcohol, such as choosing a supportive friend group, being active, and understanding that drinking is an individual choice.
In fact, there are more initiatives to create alcohol-free events such as sober raves. A 2018 study found that there are limited social options for young people who don’t drink. However, events such as sober raves may help shift attitudes and perceptions of alcohol-free events, ultimately reducing alcohol consumption in young people.
Perhaps as more teenagers and young adults see the pressure to drink as part of a systemic problem, more will choose to steer clear of college keggers.
This narrative change is similar to society’s shift in targeting women with concepts such as “mommy juice.” More people are waking up to the correlation between targeted advertising and consumption of alcohol, and some women are choosing not to be a part of that capitalistic structure.
And what are younger generations, if not defiant? Perhaps as more teenagers and young adults see the pressure to drink as part of a systemic problem, more will choose to steer clear of college keggers.