The United States has long been accused of having an unhealthy culture surrounding alcohol consumption. While children overseas are introduced to alcohol gradually and as a normal part of life, American youth are taught that alcohol is dangerous and illicit… until one day, it isn’t. This, combined with the huge economy surrounding alcoholic beverages, has created a drinking culture that spans generations.
In this piece, we’re going to attempt to answer a simple question: Has millennial alcohol use increased or decreased from that of previous generations?
Generational Attitudes on Drinking
Millennials are often portrayed as “weak” and “entitled.” Because technology and the comforts of modern life make things seem easier, there’s a prevailing stereotype that millennials aren’t as tough as their parents and grandparents.
Part of this reputation bleeds into drinking culture. It’s thought that older generations drank “tougher” as well. Stemming from the American idea that drinking more and more often is a test of fortitude, it’s often thought that baby boomers and generation X members far surpassed millennials’ alcohol use with their own.
But is this generational shift in drinking real or just a perception — what do the stats say?
The Numbers on Millennial Alcohol Use
In 2019 survey of younger millennials, older millennials, generation X, baby boomers and the silent generation, the data shows that there is, in fact, a downward trend in generational drinking frequency.
With this in mind, it doesn’t seem as simple as saying “Millennials drink less than their parents.” The study found that the number of older millennials who reported that they drink often or every day was around 5.9%, compared to 5.6% of generation X and 6.0% of boomers.
When it comes to so-called younger millennials, the trend shifts. Out of this group, only 2.4% said they drink often. So really, it’s not accurate to say that all millennials drink less than their parents, but the younger group certainly does. This suggests a downward trend in terms of which generation drinks more, and when numbers are available for generation Z, this decrease will likely continue.
Many Millennials Are Drinking Less, But Are They Also Drinking Differently?
As the years pass, we get more data and feedback on health and wellness, but it appears that younger people are more engaged in their own health, habits and consumption. This may contribute to a downward trend in alcohol consumption.
A Yahoo! Finance article studied millennial drinking habits by asking for respondents’ preferred alcoholic beverages. While beer still ranks as a popular drink with the younger crowd, many millennials reported they were cutting back or replacing beer with lower calorie drinks like hard seltzers, citing health and/or weight loss as the primary reasons.
This may well be why more and more people — especially younger Americans — are dipping their toes into a sober lifestyle.
Alcohol Use By Age
So, now we know that millennial alcohol use has been curbed slightly, at least when compared to the silent generation and boomer alcohol use numbers. It seems clear that the generation a person grows up in contributes to their drinking habits. But what about their age?
There’s no shortage of studies about which age group drinks the most. A Gallup Poll studied alcohol use among American men and women in the following age groups: 18-29, 30-49, 50-64 and over 65.
With men, 73% in the 18-29 age group and 74% in the 30-49 age group said they consume alcohol at least occasionally. The women’s responses were proportionate, at 66% and 62%, respectively.
There was a significant decrease to 57% in men aged 50-64, while consumption dropped to 54% in those over age 65. In women aged 50-64, consumption dropped to 57% and decreased further to just 41% for those over age 65.
Overwhelmingly for both sexes, 18-49-year-olds show a consistently high rate of alcohol consumption before decreasing in subsequent age groups. This makes sense, considering the association and glorification of drinking in college-age social groups.
Are Any of These Trends Healthy?
We’ve looked at several trends regarding alcohol use across age groups and generations. Are any of them positive?
In General, Fewer People Are Drinking Now Than in the Past
Without knowing more about all of the trends uncovered, it’s difficult to say whether some of them are healthy or not. It’s not inherently unhealthy to enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, so the fact that fewer people are drinking as they age or by generation isn’t necessarily a healthy trend.
On the other hand, if we assume that less drinking means less binge drinking, it is a healthy trend.
Binge drinking means drinking more than five drinks in a single session for men or more than four for women. It can cause significant damage to the human brain, as well as other body systems, when done frequently over a long period of time. It also stands to reason that if millennial alcohol use is even marginally lower than past generations, fewer cases of alcohol use disorder and addiction will follow.
Younger People Seem to Be Avoiding Alcohol for the Right Reasons
Despite being legal, acceptable and in some cultures, glorified, drinking alcohol has associated health risks, especially when it takes place frequently and in large quantities. When young people cite health reasons for why they’re choosing to quit or cut back on alcoholic consumption, it’s a positive.
It’s also good that more people are adopting a sober lifestyle. When more and more people choose to be sober, it removes some of the pressure and normalcy of taking part in heavy drinking. For people with tendencies to develop unhealthy habits with drugs and alcohol, healthier alternatives are always welcome.
Millennials, Drinking and What It Means
Millennial alcohol use has decreased compared to generations past. This is especially true of younger millennials, and as more data is gathered about generation Z, we’ll know even more about the long-term trajectory of alcohol use in America.
Despite this trend, though, there are still millions of people every year who struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, don’t wait — call FHE Health today to learn about your options.