More Young People Are Sober Curious Or Going Completely Teetotal

When you think of someone in the 16- to 24-year age bracket, you probably imagine the messy irreverence of late school, university, and the difficult thud into the adult world. You probably also imagine that they are largely hungover or on their way to becoming hungover. But the most recent data shows that a full 29% of 16- to 24-year-olds do not drink alcohol at all — more than a 10% rise since 2005 — and far more of them sober curious, drinking alcohol much less than previous generations.

It’s a terrible term, to be sure — nobody is curious about being sober, as we’ve all experienced sobriety, by default, for most of our lives. But it reveals a very interesting trend — or bucking of the trend — in today’s youth. While the cool factor was once associated with mixing unlimited spirits with a fiercely unfounded confidence, probably with a cigarette in the other hand, more and more young people are beginning to follow a more sober mindset.

To many who remember their most audacious moments from young adulthood with nostalgia and a little pride, being sober during those formative years can feel like a loss or a shame. But, besides foggy memories, what are they really giving up?


The reasons for veering toward sobriety are multifaceted. Many young people are struggling with a rising cost of living and, frankly, drinking is very expensive. If you’re struggling to get your adult life started, the idea of spending a huge chunk of your disposable income killing your brain cells is harder to accept. And while many older generations benefited from free or cheap university, when you’re getting tens of thousands of pound into debt to go to uni,  spending the experience actually learning something seems far more vital.

And, of course, many see the burgeoning new market that a sober demographic creates. The non-alcoholic drinks industry is booming — not just in terms of soft drinks and juices, but non-alcoholic beer, cider, and spirits are growing exponentially into a £100 million industry. While not drinking may have once carried a social stigma, especially in the UK, there are now mocktail bars, late-night coffee shops, and more, ready to cater to non-drinkers.

In a way, choosing to not drink shouldn’t seem so shocking. It’s expensive, it’s largely bad for your health, it leaves you feeling like pond scum the next day, and, besides the social lubrication, it’s hard to think of too many benefits. So why is the sober curious movement continuing to make headlines?

Probably because it makes us look at our habits — in a way that makes us morbidly fascinated and slightly uncomfortable. Many sober curious people aren’t totally sober, they just drink less frequently and, when they do, they don’t drink as much. For many, it’s hard for us to fathom — and maybe that should be the real headline.