Why are more young people going teetotal?

Millie Gooch | April 2020 | 7 minutes

Journalist Millie Gooch, founder of Sober Girl Society, shares her perspective.

At 28, I was flattered to be considered ‘young’ enough to write this article. *Cue thousands of thirty-upwards readers rolling their eyes*.

I’m young enough to know what’s going on with the latest trends on TikTok; but old enough to have packed in my fair share of boozing before calling it quits at the age of 26. Half of my friends are having children; the other half are having to call nightclubs the next morning because they’ve lost their purse / wallet.

It’s well-documented that millennials (currently 23 to 38) are more sober than their elders (namely Generation X and ‘Boomers). In 2013, the Office of National statistics reported that there’d been a meteoric 40 per cent rise in 16 to 24-year olds choosing to be totally sober.

Fast forward five years to 2018, when millennials were now 21+ and this ‘young people’ age group was mostly Generation Z. Again, we observed the same effect, the same teetotal early-adopting. National data crunched by UCL showed nearly a third of 16-24 year olds don’t drink at all.

But, this begs the question: why? There are lots of points of view on this, and it's a complicated picture with younger age groups still more likely to binge drink. But here’s just one young person’s take on why more of us are going tee-total.

1. A shift in uni attitudes

If I’d have told someone at university that I was a non-drinker, they would’ve burned me at the stake. But these days, according to a marketing agency’s poll, 80 per cent of uni students don't feel pressured to drink alcohol in bars. Indeed, back in September I helped Club Soda run alcohol-free pop-ups in halls of residences and a laddy-lad in a football shirt came over to ask if all the drinks were non-alcoholic. I fully expected a guffaw when I told him they were. But his reply was “That’s great because I don’t really like drinking.” Of course, this might be more symptom than cause, but it's a big shift.

2. Smart phones

When I started boozing there wasn’t an iPhone in sight but by the end of my drinking career, every pissed move I made seemed to be caught on camera. I would wake up gripped by fear that a viral video of me weeing on the street would be circulating socials. And seeing videos of my dead-behind-the-eyes drunken antics was a real sober-up call.

3. Wasted-weekend guilt

There’s nothing worse than waking up hungover to see that Lucy from your old work has already been to the gym and prepped a vegan lasagne, something that ten years ago (unless you were pressed up against Lucy’s window) you would have had absolutely no idea about. For me, the guilt that I was wasting my weekend hungover while Becky from school was hiking Machu Picchu just became too much for me to bear.

4. Money

One of my last drinking nights out was at a swanky club in London. I offered to buy my friend a mojito and two of them set me back £28. I bought four more rounds that night. While not all venues are robbing you blind, I realised that the dream of ever owning my own flat (which as a millennial already felt a million miles from my grasp) would be completely out of reach if I kept spending all my £19K-a-year wages on overpriced rum cocktails.

5. Mental health

But without a doubt, Hangover Anxiety that lasted two to three days was my biggest reason to go sober. And I know that I’m not alone in that. Beer fear must have been bad back in the day but now? Previous generations might have woken up thinking, “I do hope I didn’t embarrass myself,” but now it’s the more serious, “Am I being shamed on the Mail Online” or “Does someone have a video of me snogging Jeff from IT?”

The takeaway

While guilt and anxiety aren’t good, social media isn’t all bad. It’s also a window into the weekend we could have had, if we hadn’t spent it hungover with the curtains drawn. It can spark change, as well as shame.

It shows us celebrities who shine a light on their sobriety. It encourages us to be healthier, to build businesses, and recycle. It teaches us to question what really makes us happy.

Seeing sober influencers celebrate their day counts can lead us to ask the question: “Is alcohol really making me happy?” And many are now answering that with a: “Nope. It actually doesn’t.” So, what does? Let’s go find out, shall we?

  • Millie Gooch is a journalist and can be followed on Instagram @milliegooch. She set up the hugely successful @sobergirlsociety
  • To meet other millennials who have binned the booze on Instagram, follow: @thesobermillennials @proudandsober @africabrooke @laurievmcallister @soberstory @sober_and_social. On Facebook, Club Soda run a group called ‘Club Soda Flock 18-30’.