Have millennials started starving a segment of commerce in a socially positive way? That is the recent question on minds of trend piece writers, with the publication of a recent Atlantic article that postulates the latest trend sweeping generation Sriracha is sobriety. Added to the list of things millennials are killing — along with homeownership, the institution of marriage and diamond jewelry — is apparently alcohol.
Well sort of. Soberish might be a better word to describe it — since the article points out that many of these millennials aren’t embracing the sort of sobriety associated with entering a 12-step program and forswearing alcohol and other substances for the rest of their life. Many of the soberish millennials interview for the article, for example, noted that they had substituted the use of cannabis for the use of alcohol. And still a larger group might be more accurately described as pursuing the path of moderation when it comes to their drinking habits — they aren’t not drinking so much as they are drinking less.
“There does come a time when there has to be some introspection,” Britta Starke, an addictions therapist and program director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center at the University of North Carolina told the Atlantic. “Folks in the millennial generation have maybe a better sense of balance. Some do yoga or meditation or are physically active, so they don’t need to find stimulation and stress reduction in substances,”
The article drew no small amount of skepticism, with many people noting that describing millennials as a generation of teetotalers is rather widely off base. An alcohol delivery service PYMNTS spoke to noted it hasn’t seen any major drop-off in millennial ordering, and millennials remains its most active customers. Millennials drink somewhat differently than older buyers in Gen X and boomers — they show a preference for spirits over liquor and wine and beer — but there doesn’t seem to be much of a generational move nationwide.
And the data on this topic is notably thin — and in somewhat contradictory.
Some data out in early February, for example, did indicate that millennials are drinking more had alcohol — tequila and vodka in particular — but that seems to be part of a larger over all trend toward spirits among American consumers and away from beer and wine. Data from U.S. trade group the Beer Institute shows drinkers chose beer less than half the time — 49.7 percent — of down from 60.8 percent of the time in the mid-’90s, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
A Collage group survey found that millennials not only don’t drink less than previous generations — they actually drink more, and with greater variety. They are also the generation most likely to associate alcohol with relaxing and socializing. A 2018 report from Berenberg Research found nearly the exactly opposite — that respondents in their teens and early 20s were drinking over 20 percent less per capita than millennials, who themselves drank less than baby boomers and Gen Xers did at the same age. There is also data that nearly 1 out of 3 patients in alcoholism recovery are millennials — indicating that heavy drinking is a problem in the generation. UNC’s Britta Starke anecdotally noted that she sees an “alarming number of people under 35” with advanced liver disease or alcohol hepatitis. Some millennials are moving toward moderation, she noted, those who have are not moving hard in the other direction.
She also noted that if millennials are migrating en masse to a different form of self medication with cannabis there probably isn’t much of an argument to be made for the advance of sobriety or wellness in the generation. And, other than anecdotal reports of those that have traded in wine glass and shot glasses for pipes and joints, there is also data that indicates that at least for some millennials cannabis is simply the superior commercial offering.
“It still seems like this is a generation of self-medicating, but they’re using things differently,” says Starke, and the normalization and ever more common legalization of cannabis have a big part in that.
So is it time to switch to non-alcoholic cocktails? Some bars certainly are in major metros — and Bon Appétit estimates that the market for low- or no-alcohol beverages could grow by almost a third in just the next three years.
Could — but of course as with millennial trends, timing is everything. Sobriety — or being soberish anyway — is currently making the round in trend pieces. But then, two years ago so did the man-bun.
Whether this stays around longer will require some tracking.