Goodbye boozy Britain? Why more young people are going dry

New research suggests that young people in Britain are increasingly swapping pints for soft drinks. We investigate the growing movement for more mindful drinking

In February 2011, a woman called Emily Robinson signed up to run her first half marathon. She didn’t enjoy running very much so, to make training easier, she decided to give up alcohol. Emily began working with the charity Alcohol Concern and went on to help launch the first ever Dry January campaign in 2012, encouraging people to ditch the booze after Christmas.

Fast forward four years and a YouGov survey revealed that 16 per cent of the UK adult population attempted to go dry in January 2016. And it is a shift being embraced with most enthusiasm by young people: a fifth of British adults under 25 are now teetotal, according to the ONS, and numbers are on the rise. Data released last week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that people aged 16 to 24 are less likely to drink than any other age group in Britain, sticking to ‘sober sprints’ or simply not drinking at all.

Mindful pub crawls are among the events hosted by Club Soda

Why? Besides being motivated by wanting to improve their health, a few other factors are at play, suggest experts: the price of alcohol in difficult economic times; wanting to get ahead at work in an increasingly competitive careers market; and the limitless choice of digital TV keeping us at home.

For young people like Londoner Laurie McAllister, drinking – and feeling hungover – was simply losing its appeal. “I didn’t like how I behaved when I was drinking,” the 25-year-old, who started her girlandtonic blog to write about her experiences, tells Positive News. “I often found I would drink when I’d had a bad day or to celebrate a good day and would use alcohol to manage my mood. My life is much better without alcohol in it.”

Those behind Club Soda, a website that rates British venues based on their non-alcoholic drinks and supports people who want to reduce their alcohol consumption, believe it taps into a wider desire to find meaning and improve wellbeing.

I didn’t like how I behaved when I was drinking. My life is much better without alcohol in it

“Club Soda started out as a way to help people reduce the amount they drink,” Club Soda’s co-founder Jussi Tolvi tells Positive News. “We soon came across a lot of young people who have either not drunk much, or not at all, and they’re interested in leading a healthier and more mindful life.”

The Club Soda Guide lists approximately 200 pubs and bars that have tried to improve their range of non-alcoholic options. Those businesses that cotton on to the fact that not everyone needs to drink could be well-placed to survive the challenging business conditions currently affecting pubs and nightclubs across the UK. The Campaign for Real Ales estimates that an average of 29 pubs close per week.

Jussi Tolvi, (left), co-founded Club Soda – a website that rates venues based on their non-alcoholic drinks options

“Financially it’s really difficult for some pubs,” says Tolvi. “It’s a difficult business, but we think there is a whole new customer-type out there who don’t go into pubs because they think there is nothing for them to drink.”

The choice of non-alcoholic drinks options is expanding particularly quickly in London, where mindful pub crawls also take place regularly. “There are some outstanding places that create their own non-alcoholic wine substitutes,” says Tolvi, with some venues even adding beetroot juice to grape juice to better mimic wine’s slightly bitter taste. Some bars and pubs also make their own tonic drinks. “It’s really outstanding stuff,” says Tolvi. “It’s always amazing to find something you’ve never found in a pub before.”

A lot of young people are interested in leading a healthier and more mindful life

The figures released by ONS last week also revealed that Londoners drink less regularly than people in any other part of the country. It is important to note that rates of drinking remain high: 47 per cent of respondents had drunk alcohol during the previous week. Perhaps London’s first Mindful Drinking Festival, a one-day event taking place in Bermondsey in August, will speed the transition further. The day will include non-alcoholic beer tasting, ‘mocktail’ mixing and food pairing demonstrations. “It will be like a beer festival but without the hangover,” says Laura Willoughby from Club Soda.

New data suggests that young people in Britain are increasingly reducing their alcohol intake

Although ‘mindful drinking’ isn’t what Club Soda initially sought to promote, Tolvi thinks the term sums up what they do. Choice is all-important, he points out. “We’re not telling anyone that you have to give up drinking – it’s entirely up to you. What we’re suggesting is that being mindful about it is a good idea.”

The Club Soda team also runs a LGBT-specific social – Queers Without Beers – where more than half of its attendees are students. Events like this, says Tolvi, are great opportunities for young people to socialise without alcohol needing to play a part. “At one event, one attendee ordered porridge instead of a pint!”

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Images: Club Soda Guide