Why are Baby Boomers ‘the booziest generation’?

Janey Lee Grace | April 2021 | 8 minutes

Janey Lee Grace looks at why fifty- and sixty-somethings are more likely to drink heavily than younger people.

We now live in a topsy-turvy world where the fifty-something parent is more likely to binge-drink than their kids. Headlines announce that ‘Baby Boomers are the booziest generation’ and ‘There’s a binge-drinking boom among older people’.

So yes, young people are officially drinking less their elders. Health data from 2015 suggests that 29 per cent of 16-24 year olds are now teetotal. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers in particular (those born between 1946 and 1964) are caning the booze, at alarming levels. I used to, myself.

Why? One reason is conditioning. As a Baby Boomer, I can tell you that the pro-alcohol conditioning we have received is not easily shaken off. I was born in the Sixties, when alcohol was the glue which people used to bond in every social experience.

I was witness to a paradigm shift, sometime in the late Sixties when the alcohol marketing machine shunted into gear and decided drinking wasn’t just for the blokes. I particularly recall Babycham being pushed as wonderfully glamorous for women. Women, including my mum, had been traditionally coy about booze until then. But in pranced the Babycham deer, and we were sold. The semi-cautious gals suddenly had their ticket to the booze rollercoaster.

The alcohol marketing machine shunted into gear and decided drinking wasn’t just for the blokes.

My university days were in the Seventies and Eighties, which I remember (just about) as an alcohol-fuelled romp punctuated only by dodgy takeaways. Quite frankly, if you didn’t drink, the assumption was that you were boring. Sober = Bores. Come 3am, only the studious nerdy types were in bed – the rest of us were hanging out of the windows of our halls of residence, smoking and worse for wear.

The early Nineties saw the phenomenon of ‘binge-drinking’, club culture and the ‘ladettes’: women who could hold their beer. I was working in the music industry as a backing singer during that time, and sometimes wonder how I came out alive. It was a haze of raves, the Manchester scene, and every fashionista and pop icon seemed to be indulging in the nation’s favourite drug: alcohol.

Given all of those decades upon decades of social conditioning, it’s no wonder the Baby Boomers aren’t faring very well in the ‘sober revolution’. From celebrations to commiserations, we did it all with a drink in our hands. Many of us simply cannot imagine socialising without it.

I was never to be found in a skip, pouring vodka on my cereal or driving under the influence, but I still drank every day. I even had a few during my pregnancies – we didn’t know any different back then – and I was delighted when encouraged by doctors to ‘Try Guinness’ to improve the quality of my breast milk.

From celebrations to commiserations, we did it all with a drink in our hands. Many of us simply cannot imagine socialising without it.

I vaguely remember there being talk of drinking in moderation, but nah, I didn’t have an off switch and as the kids got older, my drinking only ramped up. I never considered myself an ‘alcoholic’ (check out this blog on why Alcohol Change UK doesn’t use the term) either then or now, but I quit all the same.

And that’s when I found out about the ‘sober shaming’ that goes on – especially among my peers. We know that when people give up smoking they are congratulated, but ditching the booze? It’s still often met with an incredulous look. You don’t drink? Can’t you just have one?! As author Jason Vale wrote, “[Alcohol] remains the only drug on earth you have to justify not taking.”

Baby Boomers in particular have been raised to think there are two types of drinkers. One: those at rock bottom who need alcohol services. Two: social drinkers who just sometimes can’t hold their booze. Now we know that dependence is more helpfully thought of as a spectrum. ‘Grey area drinkers’ is a buzz term and there are many shades of grey. I’m one of them – who is now over three years sober and happier than ever.

Now we know that dependence is more helpfully thought of as a spectrum. ‘Grey area drinkers’ is a buzz term and there are many shades of grey. I’m one of them – who is now over three years sober and happier than ever.

I also discovered that being alcohol-free is the best anti-ageing secret. I look to other Baby Boomers who love being teetotal, from Stevie Nicks to Anthony Hopkins (who recently did this Twitter video about being over 45 years sober) to author Marian Keyes (who celebrated 27 years recently).

We often focus on what we can teach our kids, but the reverse is also true. We can learn a lot from the younger generations. Drinking less, or not at all, is one of those things. Incidentally, I tend to say I ‘ditched booze’ rather than I ‘gave up’ alcohol, because for me the distinction is huge. I don’t feel like I’ve given anything up. I’ve only gained things.