Are Millennials Redefining Sobriety?

By Kelly Burch 04/05/19

Millennials may be choosing to lean into moderation more than other generations. 

millennials drinking alcohol

American consumers have traditionally been divided into two camps: those who drink, and those who abstain completely—often because they are in recovery. However, young Americans seem to be pushing back on that dichotomy by taking a more moderate and measured approach to drinking. 

Sam Thonis, who operates a sober bar, told The Atlantic that he has seen a change in attitude among patrons.  

“It feels to me like the older people are, the more they see [our bar] as a thing for sober people. They see it as black or white—you drink or you don’t drink,” Thonis said. “With younger people, there’s a lot more receptiveness to just not drinking sometimes.”

Despite more talk about less drinking, it’s hard to measure the trend. 

“There isn’t any great statistical evidence yet that young adults have altered their drinking habits on a grand scale,” Amanda Mull writes for The Atlantic. “Changes in habit often lag behind changes in attitude, and national survey data on drinking habits reflect only small declines in heavy alcohol use.” 

Cassie Schoon, of Denver, said that she started to reexamine her drinking habits after a particularly bad hangover following election night 2016. 

“I was in this meeting feeling absolutely miserable, and I was like, You know, this is not what grown-ups do,” she said. 

Today, she still drinks, but much less than she used to. Rather than always meeting friends at a bar, she is just as likely to meet at a museum or for coffee, the 37-year-old said. 

“[Drinking] has to be more of an occasion for me now, like someone’s birthday or a girls’ night. So it’s once every couple of weeks instead of a weekly occurrence.”

Leanne Vanderbyl, of San Francisco, had a similar realization as she aged. “It wasn’t until I hit my 30s that I realized that alcohol was no longer my friend.”

For others, the decision to drink less is about weighing priorities. 

“I’ve already calculated how much I’m saving by not drinking, and I’m thinking about where I can put that money now,” said Alex Belfiori, 30. 

Therapist Britta Stark, who works with people with addiction, said that many millennials have healthy self-care practices in place, so they’re not left reaching for the bottle after a stressful day. 

“There does come a time when there has to be some introspection. Folks in the millennial generation have maybe a better sense of balance,” she said. “Some do yoga or meditation or are physically active, so they don’t need to find stimulation and stress reduction in substances.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.