Like many of my Gen Z colleagues, getting drunk is not on my agenda | Maddie Thomas
Over the past two years, the times I’ve drunk the most have been at (legal) lockdown dinners with my tight-knit group of 50-something friends. We sat around a table at curry nights and roast dinners, happily filling champagne glasses late into the night. We tried our hand at paella and made sangria. I also made a drowned tiramisu at Baileys once, but that didn’t seem to count.
Getting drunk, however, was never on my weekly or monthly schedule. To be honest, it’s not on my agenda at all. And it’s a trend that we’re starting to see more and more in people my age: Gen Z, people born between 1997 and around 2010, seem to be drinking less and zooming in more.
In 2018, a highly cited study found that Gen Z drank 20% less per capita than their millennial counterparts. That rings true.
In the past, if you wanted company, the easiest way was to get out. And going out usually involved a drink. Now you can talk to up to five friends at once, often across multiple platforms, from the comfort of your bedroom. You can start looking for a new relationship in pajamas, without makeup, by swiping left and right.
In the early 2000s Australian television series The Secret Life of Us, a group of 20-30 year olds navigate life, relationships and careers in Melbourne. Almost every five minutes someone says, “I’m going out, do you want to come have a drink?”
But these days, sleepless nights seem to take a back seat. This is due to things that were not a priority for previous generations: the fear that drunken moments would be documented and posted on social media for all (including future employers) to see. The need to save money to combat the financial catastrophe inherited by Generation Z. Job market. Rising health awareness, also resulting in non-alcoholic wine and beer come to the fore. Mental health also plays a role, with pre- and post-lockdown studies reporting high levels of psychological distress among young people.
When I was in college, before the pandemic, free booze was the most talked about draw. It took very little persuasion to get people there. But now, getting people to show up is a whole new challenge.
This may surprise more than one. You would think that university students are surely desperate come back to campus en masse and do everything in person? For my roommate, a 2001 baby, all the bells and whistles and bar tabs in the world don’t necessarily attract her and her peers to social events. For a cohort that has spent their entire college life online, there’s less incentive to leave their comfort zone and get drunk on a group of people they barely know.
Is Covid to blame? I think it’s bigger than that.
The confinement has undoubtedly led to an increase in alcohol consumption at home. Stanley Tucci taught us how to make cocktails, and a day of state-by-state press conferences often ended with a glass of wine, with 42% of millennials report an increase in their alcohol consumption during the first months of the pandemic. But as a social drinker facing almost no social calendar, Covid made me drink less.
Some of my generation may laugh at this, but I feel like most people my age see drinking as a good “adult” thing. There seem to be more festive roast dinners washed down with a glass of wine than a night of shots ending at 1am with a kebab in a gutter.
My friends who get into online dating don’t meet exclusively for a drink, either. They go for walks, go ice skating, have dinner on the beach or meet over coffee. There seems to be less need for a cover of alcohol confidence, and with that comes the confidence that you won’t embarrass yourself if you get inconsistent.
A simple question led to this piece: “Do you drink? Part of me hesitated to give an unequivocal “yes” without caveat. In college, there was an air of judgment about not drinking to get drunk or going out all the time. What would you do with your hands in a photo if you didn’t have a glass to hold? But now we “adults” and as we take pictures and post all the times we raise a glass, we can remember them too. Let’s drink to that.