Melbourne: As the world heads toward the end of the year, there are little get-togethers, Christmas lunches, and limited New Year’s parties to come. It appears to be a prime occasion for the youth to drink at night. But something unexpected has happened since the turn of this century. Young people in Australia, the UK, the Nordic countries and North America are on average drinking significantly less alcohol than their parents’ generation when they were the same age. During the COVID-19 lockdown, some surveys indicate that the figure fell even further. Research suggests this is unlikely to be due to government efforts to cut down on youth drinking alone. Widespread social, cultural, technological and economic changes appear to be the key to these declines. Researchers who conducted interview-based studies with young people in several countries have identified four main reasons for the decline in youth drinking. These are identities – uncertainty and worry about the future, anxiety about health, changes in technology and leisure, and changes in relationships with parents. (youth drinking figure)
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Being young in developed countries today is very different than in previous generations. From climate change to being able to plan careers and buy a home, young people know their future is uncertain. The pressure to perform academically is already on the rise and rates of mental illness are increasing. Many young people are thinking about the future in ways that previous generations did not need. They are trying to gain a sense of control over their lives and secure the future they aspire to. A few decades ago, getting really drunk was widely regarded by many young people as a rite of passage into adulthood and a good way to take time out from the routine of work and study. Now, young people feel pressured to present themselves as responsible and independent at an earlier age and some fear drinking while intoxicated, and this loss of control will jeopardize their plans for the future. This emphasis on the future means that young people limit the amount of time they spend partying and drinking.
youth are health conscious
Health and wellness also appears to be increasingly important for young people. Research from 15–20 years ago found that young people viewed the consequences of heavy drinking (vomiting, fainting) either positively or at least vaguely. Recent studies suggest that this has changed, with young people expressing concerns about the risks to mental health and long-term physical health related to their alcohol use. However, Australian and Swedish research also found that some young people view the social benefits of drinking as important to their own well-being. However, for many young people, it appears to include moderate alcohol consumption in place of prescribed intoxication in the 1990s and early 2000s.
How do young people socialize (youth drinking figure)
Technology has reshaped how young people socialize, with conflicting effects on youth drinking. Social media provides new (less regulated) avenues for liquor companies to promote their products. It’s de rigueur to grab a drink for a photo celebrating the night out on social media. Still, young people are also careful in managing their online images. Our research found that young people are concerned about who can see their photos on social media (such as friends, family and future employers), a risk unique to this generation. The Internet exposes young people to a wide range of possibilities for their lives, including new perspectives that allow them to reflect on their drinking choices. It also offers social alternatives that are less likely to cause drinking, including video games and other digital media. (youth drinking figure)
changing family relationships
The styles of raising teens and managing their introduction to alcohol have evolved over a generation. Many parents monitor their children on night outs and monitor their drinking more closely than in previous generations, enabled by mobile phones that most young people in high-income countries do not have. Young people also spend more time with their parents, potentially developing more communicative relationships that reduce their need to drink and rebel.
Alcohol is no longer ‘cool’ (youth drinking figure)
There are many other reasons why young people limit alcohol consumption, including culture and religious affiliations, health status, and personal motivation. Overall, these changes mean that many young people are able to cool off heavily. and no longer see it as a major marker of independence and adulthood. Alcohol consumption has become more socially accepted among young people, along with less alcohol consumption. These factors play out differently for young men and women. Some research indicates that gender expectations of drinking have loosened, with new opportunities for men to demonstrate masculinity without drinking heavily. Still, differences remain in how young men and women use alcohol, with women navigating a variety of gender risks (such as unwanted sexual attention) and when they are viewed intoxicated (including online). , then they are judged more rigorously. Of course, some young people continue to drink too much and there will always be blips in alcohol use around holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But whether young people continue to consume alcohol, the overall decline may have more to do with the broader contexts of their lives, sometimes more than the poorly chosen policies their governments implement. (youth drinking figure)