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Why we're all going semi-sober and embracing a wellness trend called 'healthy hedonism'

As a generation, we’re drinking less than ever before, but why?

14 Aug 2019

Healthy hedonism – it’s the new 'squeaky clean' way to let loose. Forget the riotous activities of the generations before us, because unless that Bloody Mary’s got a celery stem in it, you can forget it.

According to numerous polls and research carried out globally, sales of booze are down among millennials, with Generation Z plummeting those figures even further. A study of over 10,000 Brits from 2015 confirmed that 29% of 16-24 year olds don’t drink at all, while binge drinking among the same age group fell from 27% in 2005 to 18% a decade later.

What’s more, current data from the NHS shows that drinking at a harmful level has decreased steadily since 2011. And, while 55-64 year olds (our parents generation) are the biggest boozers of all, we haven’t followed in their footsteps, with 16-34 year olds drinking significantly less.

“I’ll drink on a night out or to keep others company over dinner,” came one response when I asked on Instagram for people to share their relationship with alcohol. “I used to drink loads but hated how I felt after a heavy night. Not worth it!,” said another. And while there are many who could still give their parents a run for their money, “All the boozy weddings I’ve been to definitely increased my tolerance. I’ll drink a few times a week – and never just one,” one colleague conceded, on the whole, the attitude towards alcohol from millennials is one of moderation. Several admitted to sticking to just one glass of wine or less in the evening over dinner.

Control – and not wanting to lose it – has been cited as one of the main reasons behind the shift. We’ve grown up in a landscape where everything we do – every indiscretion and night out spent vomming into the club toilets – is documented on social media. We live in fear that the images with our dress tucked into our knickers and videos of drunken antics will land on the laptop of potential future employers. It’s a weird and invasive pressure that’s never been faced before by those growing up prior to the explosion of smartphones. And this new surveillance culture means that nights that went down in legend amongst our parents generation, are documented and uploaded onto social media (ours and others) or stuck on the cloud indefinitely.

Instead, a focus on health and wellbeing is winning. For many, wild nights drinking are being traded in for brunch with friends and morning-after hangovers are being switched out for morning exercise classes (or at the very least, a pain-free lie-in). At the very least, there’s been a shift towards balancing the boozing with more wholesome pursuits. “This more holistic approach to health is demonstrated in the more conservative approach [of 18-34 year olds] to drinking alcohol,” says Mintel’s Redefining Adulthood Trend Report.

“With this group prioritising experiences over things, drinks companies need to focus campaigns on opportunities for making life memorable, associating their brand with more special experiences,” Mintel says. For many of the people I spoke to, alcohol was tied to special occasions and memories – of hazy birthdays with the people we love most. There’s less of a focus on getting blind drunk – “the aim is to get merry, not messy,” one friend told me. “I want to have fun with my mates without the hangover. And if I can remember what happened the next day, that’s definitely preferable.” It may be one of the reasons behind the boom in low or non-alcoholic drinks. “Many drinks brands have taken a responsible approach to drinking in their advertising campaigns, potentially chiming with this more conservative generation,” Mintel says.

“Responsible” and “conservative” aren’t necessarily words associated with hedonism, rebellion and fun. But are those who choose to go semi-sober really the “buzz-kill brigade” or are they simply finding ways to relax and unwind that work for them?

As therapeutic, electrifying and intoxicating as alcohol can be for many of us, is it just down to personal preference? “After one particularly bad hangover, I decided I just didn’t want to feel like that again,” says Natalie, a PR from London, who kicked the sauce altogether for almost a year while at uni and only drinks it occasionally today.

Perhaps balance is boring – drinking one glass of wine instead of eight, or staying in to cook dinner with mates rather than heading out to a bar – or maybe it’s another (just as valid) way of recharging?