It’s Friday night and Lucie Hilin is passing go. The 18-year-old sociology student is an hour into a game of Monopoly with four of her uni mates. The banknotes are crusty with Cheezels crumbs and there’s Thai takeaway on its way. They aren’t toasting the purchase of every property with tequila. Nor are they recovering from an epic two-day hangover. It’s a refreshingly different Friday from those gen X-ers would have enjoyed as students, when binge-drinking was considered a competitive sport.
Now, Australia’s drinking culture is in flux, and young women are leading the sober charge. According to the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey, the percentage of women aged 18-24, previously the group most likely to drink more than two or more standard drinks a day on average, has dropped from 20 per cent in 2007 to 12.8 per cent in 2016, with women in their 50s now outranking them as the group most likely to drink at risky levels. In 2018, a study by La Trobe University found that young adults aged between 24 and 29 are most likely to have recently reduced their intake, while women are twice as likely as men to quit booze.
The abstinence trend has left the $15.5 billion Australian alcohol market both shaken and stirred. Its biggest players are plunging millions into low- and no-alcohol beverages in an attempt to cash in on the dry dollar, while start-ups producing high-quality zero-proof spirits and craft brews are multiplying rapidly.
Sober curiosity is nothing new, but the latest data suggests that interest has evolved into something more decisive. While millennials appear to be drinking much more mindfully, the next generation – gen Z, broadly defined as those born between 1995 and 2015 – seems to be opting out altogether. According to a report by Deakin University, Aussie teenagers are increasingly turning away from alcohol, so much so they’ve been dubbed “the sober generation”.
So, if the younger generations aren’t bookmarking their 20s by day-drinking until it seems cute to hijack a supermarket trolley, what are they doing? And what does this mean for the nation’s health?
The big reason for the booze downturn is pretty wholesome at heart: wellness. “When we consider the younger generation, there seems to be a great deal of awareness about mental health and wellbeing and the ways in which they need to look after themselves to stay mentally and physically well,” says Briony Leo, psychologist and health coach at alcohol behavior change organisation Hello Sunday Morning. “There is a focus on authenticity and being their ‘best selves’, and some of the things associated with regular and heavy drinking, such as health issues, spending money, misadventure and taking risks, may not appeal so much to them.”
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