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Gen-Z Alcohol Trends: Are Gen-Z Drinking Less Alcohol?

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Born between 1996 and 2010, Generation Z is coming of age – and we are now learning the defining characteristics of this social group. Having experienced the Covid pandemic, followed by a unique set of circumstances, has shaped the cost-of-living crisis and Gen-Z behaviours.

Whether they’re trying to save money or have experienced the impact of self-reflection during lockdowns and quarantines, Gen-Z’s behaviour when it comes to drinking alcohol is showing a notable difference from generations before.

No and low alcoholic beverages

The market for non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beverages has grown steadily since Seedlip first appeared in 2015 and shows no sign of stopping. In fact, after growing 180% from 2021 to 2022, the no/low market is expected to grow to £450 million by 2024. With the market only set to grow, the trend of no/low alcoholic beverages is here to stay.

So, with a growing taste for beverages without booze, we might ask who is responsible for this shift. Generationally, it is Gen-Z who are moving most significantly towards alcohol-free drinking.

According to Mintel’s market research, Gen-Z has the highest usage of all generations of low- and non-alcoholic drinks. Within this group, people aged 18–24 are the clearest example of no/low alcohol consumption, at a whopping 64%. Whereas older generations may dabble in low/no alcohol, most Gen-Zs choose alcohol-free drinks.

Drinking less frequently

The decline in alcohol consumption within Gen-Z is not only due to Gen-Zs swearing off alcohol entirely; many choose to drink less often and drink less when they do. Gallup’s 2021 survey on drinking behaviour revealed that the average total of drinks per week has dipped from 5.1 in 2003 to 3.6 in 2021, representing how the decline in alcohol consumption is not a binary issue of sober vs drinking. There are many shades of grey in between.

Gen-Z, in particular, are choosing to temper their alcohol consumption with non-alcoholic beverages and periods of sobriety. Drinkaware reported in 2019 that adults between 55–74 were almost twice as likely than people aged 16–24 to report that they drink alcohol at least once a week. Though plenty of Gen-Zs still choose to drink occasionally, it is not a regular habit for this generation like it is for older generations.

Why is Gen-Z saying no to alcohol?

Avoiding health risks

A key reason often cited for Gen-Z’s move away from drinking alcohol is the risks that come with drinking. From heart palpitations to mental health issues, even those who do not experience the risks of alcohol consumption have been made more cognisant of them by open discussions on social media.

The fact that Gen-Z drinks less alcohol than previous generations is not isolated – it is part of a more general trend towards risk aversion. Risky, hedonistic behaviours, including drug use and unprotected sex, have also declined with the advent of Gen-Z, so their sober curiosity is, in part, part of a wider generational character.

Generational culture

The generational character has a lot to do with this shift, potentially. While it has become an accepted culture to drink heavily and often, this might reflect the past few generations rather than the UK population more widely. Just as the drug-taking culture of the 1960s and 1970s was unfashionable to the next generation, so is the excessive drinking culture of the 1990s and 2000s.

Feeling more safe

For some, especially women and LGBTQ+ people, there is an element of safety to avoiding excessive drinking. The recent increases in drink spiking, among other examples of predatory behaviour, have created an uncomfortable culture in pubs, bars, and clubs. Nowadays, those traditionally targeted by predators may choose to ensure as low a level of vulnerability as possible – and being less intoxicated can play a big role in this. It’s a sign of the times, you might say.

Saving money

Another reason for forgoing alcohol in Gen-Z is simple – it’s getting too expensive. With the average cost of a pint rising 70% since 2008, the general cost of living increasing by around 9% to May 2023, and student loans increasing only around 3% in 2023, it isn’t difficult to see how past drinking culture is no longer viable for young people.

Whatever their reasoning, the clear trend is that Gen-Zs are turning away from alcohol. Not entirely, and not in one fell swoop, they are the leading generation in a cultural shift away from booze.

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