Alcohol may be losing its cool. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the percentage of adults aged 18 to 25 who reported drinking alcohol has decreased from about 60% in 2003 to nearly 50% in 2021. Plus, the non-alcoholic beverage industry is booming: Between August 2021 and August 2022, there was an almost 21% increase in sales of non-alcoholic wine, beer, and liquor.
Sobriety is no longer just for those with alcohol use disorder: Choosing to be sober or sober curious has now become more of a lifestyle choice that anyone can make with less shame and stigma attached — regardless of whether you have a problem with alcohol. But what’s causing this culture shift toward the sober curious movement, and should you reconsider how much you drink?
Why is alcohol losing its appeal?
The biggest change is that “there's a lot less stigma about not drinking,” says Amanda E. White, a licensed counselor and the author of “Not Drinking Tonight.” Being sober used to be the same as “admitting you were an alcoholic — that was the only reason to not drink,” she says. Nowadays, going sober is more socially acceptable, even cool.
While it’s hard to quantify how much young people are drinking — or not drinking — there are some theories as to why this trend toward sobriety is growing. Some research points to the heightened popularity of marijuana among younger generations. While other studies say it could also be because millennials and Gen Z are more health-conscious than their older peers.
How bad is alcohol for you, really?
The headlines about studies on alcohol can be misleading. One week, you might see a story that says "even a little alcohol can harm your health." Next, you’ll read a story about how alcohol might improve heart health by reducing stress. So, what’s the truth?
While alcohol affects everyone differently, and the health risks depend on many factors (like pre-existing conditions or frequency of use), more and more evidence points to the safest amount of alcohol being none.
Alcohol effectively acts as a poison to your cells, according to Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Stanford University School of Medicine and the host of the “Huberman Lab” podcast. “It can pass into all the cells and tissues of your body … unlike a lot of substances and drugs that actually attach to the surface of cells,” he explains in a podcast episode about alcohol’s health effects. That’s why alcohol’s impacts can span nearly every organ and system in the body — causing issues ranging from heart problems and high blood pressure, strokes, lung damage, liver problems, deterioration of muscles, weakened bones, and cancer, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Is it time to start being sober (curious)?
Swap in a mocktail. Rather than going all-in on mocktails, alternate booze with non-alcoholic drinks on a night out. White says many people trick themselves into thinking they need another, but they’re really just in the habit of having something to sip on or following what the rest of the group is doing.
Take time to dry out. You don’t need to commit to mocktails forever. White recommends starting with a 30-, 60-, or 90-day break from alcohol. Anything shorter may not give your body enough time to adjust, so you may not feel the health benefits (such as better sleep or reduced anxiety).
Be direct about your choices. If you choose to hit pause on drinking, White recommends being open about your decision with other people. This can help you stay accountable and will hopefully make it easier to respond when people ask why you’re not drinking.
Gen Z and millennials have opened up the conversation for people of all ages to evaluate their relationship with alcohol. With more and more menus featuring delicious mocktails to keep up with demand for low- or no-booze options, alcohol may not always be the dominant social lubricant it is today.
Subscribe to Skimm Well
Sign up here to receive our wellness newsletter filled with actionable advice, expert-vetted content, product recs, and more — delivered directly to your inbox.