From positive shifts like more accessible information regarding the harmful nature of alcohol to negative changes like young people being more concerned about the future, there are several reasons why young Americans consume less alcohol than previous generations did.
Five Reasons Why Alcohol Consumption is Declining for America’s Youth
Are they Generation Z? Or are they Generation Dry? According to a new study, 28–30% of college-age Americans are abstaining not just from drinking alcohol to excess, but they’re abstaining from alcohol completely. That figure is compared to just 20% of Americans in the same age bracket who abstained from alcohol in the early 2000s.1
It is difficult to isolate cause and effect relationships in cultural shifts, as the United States is a large country, and every single person within each generation is still their own individual, unique person. However, when a recent study found that young Americans are more likely to say no to alcohol than previous generations did when they were in the same age bracket, one cannot help but wonder what cultural shifts may have caused such a change.
Young American adults increasingly live with their parents, which can add social pressure and incentive to abstain from mind-altering substances and behavior generally frowned upon by one’s parents.
The advent of social media makes young people more concerned about what others may see in their personal lives. Now that personal details about people are easily available online to potential employers or college admissions staff, youths are more concerned about maintaining good behavior in several areas of life, alcohol consumption included.
Young people, at least in some areas, seem more health conscious and perceive more risk in drinking. One could surmise that this may be the effect of seeing older generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials) now suffering considerably from alcohol addiction and the long-term health effects of drinking too much.
Young people express uncertainty about the future, which some scholars believe leads them to be more cautious. From dire economic conditions for young Americans to increasing geopolitical concerns and environmental worry, young adults cite concerns about the future as a major factor in some of their decisions, alcohol abstinence being one of them.
Public health efforts have focused on targeting educational information at youths in recent years, making information about the harmful effects of alcohol consumption more accessible to young people and rescinding some of the outdated, even false viewpoints about alcohol like “drinking in moderation is okay” and “some alcohol may be good for you.”
Ultimately, an individual’s reasons for abstaining from alcohol are their own. However, it seems younger Americans have benefited from public health efforts to raise awareness of the harm caused by alcohol consumption.
It’s also worth noting that the shift towards alcohol abstinence among Generation Z is not just an American phenomenon. Another study found similar shifts among youths in the United Kingdom. In 2005, only 18% of people between the ages of 16 to 24 living in the UK abstained from alcohol. But in 2015, 29% of young people in the same age bracket were non-drinkers.3
Researchers believe youths in the UK have similar reasons as American youths for abstaining. Dr. Linda Ng Fat, the study’s corresponding author, spoke to this point. “That the increase in non-drinking was found across many different groups suggests that non-drinking may be becoming more mainstream among young people, which could be caused by cultural factors,” says Dr. Ng Fat. “These trends are to be welcomed from a public health standpoint. Factors influencing the shift away from drinking should be capitalised on going forward to ensure that healthier drinking behaviours in young people continue to be encouraged. The increase in young people who choose not to drink alcohol suggests that this behaviour may be becoming more acceptable, whereas risky behaviours such as binge drinking may be becoming less normalised.”
While the findings from the above research should be seen as good indicators, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that young adult and underage alcohol consumption is still a serious problem. According to the CDC, when young people consume alcohol, and especially when they drink to excess, they are more likely than older adults to suffer negative outcomes such as automobile accidents, violent incidences, sexual assaults, injuries, illnesses, low school grades, problems at work, difficulties in interpersonal relationships, memory problems, changes in the brain affecting development, and even death.4
It’s Not All Good News. Other Forms of Substance Abuse are on the Rise Among Youths.
Unfortunately, the same research paper also found that young people increasingly use other mind-altering substances, primarily cannabis. The study found that marijuana use increased from 27% of youths reporting using cannabis in 2002 to 31% in 2018.
Even though alcohol consumption is down for Generation Z, vaping, cannabis use, and prescription drug experimentation are all on the rise for this demographic. While a drop in alcohol consumption amongst youths is good and should be encouraged, much work must be done to ensure ALL forms of drug use decline with each successive generation.
Addiction Treatment is the Solution for ANY Form of Substance Abuse
If you know a young adult who is experimenting with any mind-altering substance, whether alcohol or something else, something they are using to get high that they cannot stop using on their own, please make sure they get help as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until it is too late.
JAMA. “Assessment of Changes in Alcohol and Marijuana Abstinence, Co-Use, and Use Disorders Among US Young Adults From 2002 to 2018.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 2020. jamanetwork.com ↩︎