Youth drinking is declining – myths about the trend, busted
Popular science article in The Conversation
Summary and key points
Alcohol consumption among younger generations has been declining for years. Starting in the United States in the late 1990s, and spreading to several other high-income countries in the early 2000s, young people began to consuming less alcohol compared to previous generations, or to avoid consuming alcohol altogether.
This is a decline of 44% in the past decade.
The decline was even steeper for younger teens.
Reasons for adolescents going increasingly alcohol-free
Growing risk awareness about alcohol
That youth go increasingly alcohol-free reflects a general trend in young people’s attitudes toward risk. From smoking to sex, young people – including those in early adolescence and in their early twenties – are generally more risk averse than previous generations.
Access to and preference for safe spaces
Young people’s attitudes toward risk extends to their decisions about spaces where they choose to, or feel able to, spend time. While some public spaces have become less accessible for youth, evidence also shows that youth view socializing in such spaces with alcohol as unsafe and morally suspect.
Changing norms and attitudes about the role of alcohol
Another reason is the changing alcohol norm: recent research shows that alcohol use has become less routine and expected for young people. At the same time, going alcohol-free has become more socially acceptable.
A fourth reason is that in general adolescents’ attitudes toward alcohol have become more negative. At the same time, young people’s attitudes toward going alcohol-free have become positive and accepting.
Researchers argue that this stems from a longer, more protracted transition into young adulthood, as well as young people’s concerns about the future and feeling a strong sense of pressure to succeed in life, including economically.”Laura Fenton, Amy Pennay, John Holmes
Most young people do not consider peer pressure an important factor in their decisions to consume alcohol or not, except for a small number of university students who resented how alcohol-centric social life at university is, according to interviews conducted by Fenton, Pennay, and Holmes.
Myths and realities about youth alcohol use and the alcohol-free trend
It is not correct to assume that adolescents engage in other harmful behavior, when they’re not consuming alcohol, such as smoking cigarettes or cannabis.
The opposite is true: youth smoking and cannabis use rates decreased at the same time as youth alcohol consumption rates fell.
There were some signs of increases in cannabis use among schoolchildren before the pandemic and smoking among young adults after the pandemic. But both of these – like the rise in teen vaping – occurred years after the decline in youth alcohol use was well-established. In other words, some groups of young people may be smoking cannabis or tobacco and vaping more, but they are unlikely to be doing so in place of using alcohol.”Laura Fenton, Amy Pennay, John Holmes
There is little evidence that young people are replacing alcohol use with using more technology in.
The opposite is true: young people who use the internet the most also tend to consume the most alcohol.
Though at least one study has identified links between young people’s decisions not to consume and their health consciousness, the general trend is not about giving up alcohol, but about not really developing an alcohol consumption habit in the first place.
The decline in youth alcohol consumption is about teenagers deciding, actively or passively, not to take up alcohol consumption.