Woman pouring a glass of wine
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The one boon of clean eating? Sober millennials

A generation is eschewing getting drunk – and it’s not boring, it’s sensible, says Daisy Buchanan

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By Daisy Buchanan on

Perhaps the decline in drinking and the growth of the sober curious movement is the one positive achievement of the cult of clean eating.

“I don’t drink at all, me. Champagne at t’wedding, whisky at New Year. sherry at Christmas and a bottle of stout. That’ll do me.” Nana’s immortal Royal Family line has always made me laugh, but it’s also a neat illustration of our prevailing attitude towards alcohol. We see drinking as a hallmark of celebrations, a way of marking an occasion. It’s how we power down and begin a period of relaxation. For decades, our weekends have followed a fairly familiar trajectory – pub after work on Friday, big night out on Saturday, boozy lunch on Sunday, hangover on Monday.

However, it looks like some of us have different habits. An Eventbrite study recorded the responses of 1,023 Millennials, aged 21-37, and found that 70 per cent of respondents are more likely to brag about how long they’ve been without booze than talk about recent drunken incidents: 18 per cent had never consumed alcohol at a festival; six in 10 would rather dance all night than drink all night; and 71 per cent would choose a smoothie over an alcoholic drink after a big night out. The survey found that most respondents see going out and getting drunk as something the “older generation” did.

For the last year there have been reports that alcohol consumption is declining nationally, and millennials have been accused of being “boring” and “killing the beer industry”. Any individual who has ever chosen to embark upon a period of abstinence will know that there’s always a friend or acquaintance who will treat a request for a soft drink as an insult – we’ve all heard “But surely you can have one?” or “Actually, I read that you can drink on antibiotics!” Broadly, this has been the response to the news on social media.

If you’re a teen or twentysomething who follows social media stars, sobriety looks just as aspirational as Carrie Bradshaw’s Cosmopolitans did, 15 years ago

Why do we get nervous when people choose to drink less, or not at all? Why aren’t we celebrating this brilliant news, which means millennials are putting less of a strain on their bodies in the long term, and that they’re much more alert and less likely to find themselves in vulnerable situations in the short term? The study doesn’t offer a gender split, but it’s worth considering. Last year, Kristi Coulter wrote a powerful essay about her own sobriety and the messages that target women specifically, encouraging them to drink. “The things women drink are signifiers for free time and self-care and conversation — you know, luxuries we can’t afford…booze is the oil in our motors, the thing that keeps us purring when we should be making other kinds of noise.” However, over the last few years, the definition of what is luxurious and what is aspirational for women has slowly shifted. Sobriety has been marketed to women as aggressively as alcohol once was. In the 1990s, twentysomething women were encouraged to be “ladettes”, and ape the hard drinking, hard partying men around them. Now, the most famous female millennial role models are sober. Zoella doesn’t drink. Kim Kardashian doesn’t drink.

Perhaps the decline in drinking and the growth of the sober curious movement is the one positive achievement of the cult of clean eating. The wellness trend has exploded beyond the parameters of Instagram and the most famous, influential clean-eating and wellness practitioners are millennial women. The majority of fans and followers fall into that demographic, too – they’re the ones choosing to drink smoothies at festivals.

Even if you’re not a Deliciously Ella devotee, it’s hard to ignore the conversations about what we’re consuming. If you’re a teen or twentysomething who follows the movement’s social media stars, sobriety looks just as aspirational as Carrie Bradshaw’s Cosmopolitans did, 15 years ago.

I drink, moderately. I’ve had self-imposed periods of sobriety, but I find it hard to countenance the idea of giving up entirely, because I’ve grown up seeing images of alcohol that seem deeply romantic, glamorous and fun. If I give it up forever, I’ll never be Hemingway, or Dorothy Parker! I’d miss cold beers on hot days; riotous, boozy dinner parties; that first brain silencing gulp of cool white wine at the end of a difficult week. The idea that my generation believes drinking is “uncool” makes me sad – but it makes sense. Deep down, I know that drinking probably isn’t doing me any good. If making sobriety into a cool commodity is ultimately going to enable us all to live longer, healthier lives, it might be time to put down my glass and leave the party.


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