Sobriety is the new cool, and the best part is it looks good on everyone
Words: Zoya Pon | Illustrations: Eva Faerch
Chances are that these days your night out Instas feature more fashion, food and art than cocktail cameos, and as more us opt for sober lifestyles we're more likely to be rocking a post-retreat glow, than a morning after hangover. Here's why...
All My Friends Are[n't] Wasted
According to a survey**, 42% of millennials (18-34) are drinking less than they did three years ago. Another survey** shows that only 53% of millennials had drank alcohol in the past month. This is compared with 65% of Gen Xers (aged 35 to 54) and 72% of Boomers (aged 55+).
Nowadays getting off your face is no longer seen as the same rite of passage into adulthood as it was a generation ago. Millennials are more likely to get Dutch courage from a fire outfit; they get their kicks on Superbalist. I'm not saying we're not up for a party, but consider this: one in four millennials would rather spend money on experiences in the form of festivals or traveling, so while we're definitely out and about, we're opting for a different style of partying.
Makayla* is sober-curious, trying it out, and when asked why her reply is relatable. "I would wake up feeling horrible, I would do stupid things when drinking and honestly, I just wanted to give it a try."
Lukhanyo's* reasoning is as practical, and being semi-sober for him is "far cheaper and better from a health and diet perspective."
Millennials are rewriting everything we thought we knew about youth, and perhaps it's only natural that how we drink would change, too.
"Just one drink," said everyone ever
Initially confused why someone would choose not to drink "just because", this notion of "sobriety equals recovering alcoholism" is old-fashioned, and my reaction shows our deep-rooted idea of drinking being the norm.
Millennials are challenging binge-drinking culture, something that has become so commonplace that "I need a drink!" as a response to stress is a reflex. When people insist on buying a round of shots and then pressuring trying-to-teetotals into joining them, it's problematic, no matter how well-intentioned.
Calvin* is semi-sober, which is to say that he still enjoys the odd drink about once a month, and has set some other clear boundaries for himself. "Whenever I become stressed or depressed I cut out alcohol." This makes sense as alcohol is a mood-altering stimulant, which leads to a decrease in your serotonin levels the morning after.
Zaza* realized the effects of his regular binge-drinking when he decided to detox. "I got to a stage where I just wanted to stop drinking for a few weeks. After four days I got withdrawals. I got physically sick; the shakes, nausea, headaches... I went to a doctor who told me that I was fully addicted to alcohol."
A shocking revelation and more common than we think.
Drink in the facts
A peep at statistics on binge-drinking in South African culture is especially worrying, and according to the World Health Organization more than a quarter of us who drink here are classified as binge drinkers.
That's me, most people that I know, and if you're consuming five glasses of wine or five 340 ml beers in one session a month, then that's you, too.
WHO places SA as the 6th drunkest African country, and number 19 in the world, where the average South African drinks around "27 litres of pure alcohol per capita per year."
While the stats are sobering they're not the main reason Millennials and Gen Zs are swearing off shots. It's mostly down to growing awareness around mental health, wellness trends and a shift in how we get our kicks. The trend is not inspired by alcoholism, but it's definitely a factor, and the push towards a healthier lifestyle has certainly encouraged it.
The real question we all want to ask is: how does one navigate socializing, when we generally turn to alcohol to give us that extra boost we think we need?
Makayla says, "People act really weird about it and try even harder to make me drink when I go out, which makes me feel uncomfortable." The company you keep could be the reason behind your need to keep up. Most sober socialites I spoke to decided to cut out the people who weren't supportive of their decision. "I think I might stick with it" Makayla says. "I've found it very beneficial."
Here's a little secret, I'm not a big drinker, I'm a "lightweight" and I've been teased all my life for it (though I've been secretly smug about the lack of hangovers, too). The sober trend has cemented my resolve. F*ck FOMO. To hell with keeping up. I'll sip on my vodka and dry lemon as slowly as I want. Or not at all, if that's what I feel like.
*Names have been changed
** Eventbrite / Nielsen Consumer & Media View