Meet “Generation Sober”: Why Millennials Aren’t Drinking Anymore

For many youth, a focus on healthy living is replacing the need to get wasted every weekend.

There was a time when Jacques Martiquet couldn’t imagine a night out without a drink. Extroverted and charming, the 22-year-old UBC pharmacology graduate nonetheless felt nervous about stepping onto the dance floor without a social lubricant. “I used to be a pretty anxious kid, and I wouldn’t dance in public,” he admits.

How times have changed. As the founder of Party4Health, Martiquet has organized more than 40 sober events, altogether attracting more than 1,500 participants in the past year. These have included bike raves, hike raves and undie runs—all of which have involved dancing in public, often in costume and sometimes in his underwear—without the benefit of liquid courage.

Martiquet is part of a growing cohort of young people who are turning the tide on drinking culture. The latest statistics from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) show that although per-capita alcohol consumption is rising in B.C., more young people are cutting back. Tim Stockwell, director of CISUR, says his research shows a “disconnect” between young adults and older people’s habits. “Overall, drinking is going up, but the share of drinking in young adults is slightly down,” he explains.

It’s not just a B.C. trend. Across Canada, the fastest-growing group of “risky drinkers” are not teenagers but women over 35. In the United States, Nielsen research indicates that 18-to-34-year-olds are drinking less than other age groups, while in the U.K. official drinking rates are at historic lows for people aged under 24.

So, is sobriety cool now?

At the very least, so-called “mindful drinking” is becoming acceptable for health-conscious Vancouverites. In the past year, between 100 and 700 people have turned out for free Party4Health bike raves, umbrella dances and morning beach parties. Before he founded Party4Health in January last year, Martiquet helped run morning Wake n Shake pre-work yoga dance parties that regularly attracted about 100 people and inspired him to start his own organization.

And you can expect sobriety to gain even more momentum when U.S.-based Daybreaker officially launches in Vancouver. The group, which runs sober 6 a.m. “yoga raves” in 26 cities worldwide, has advertised for people to run YVR events that involve an hour of yoga followed by two hours of dancing.

The popularity of in-person dry events reflects a growth of global online support groups for non-drinkers and “sober curious” individuals. U.K.-based Club Soda and Australian-based Hello Sunday Morning are two international brands that claim thousands of Canadians among their digital following, including hundreds of Vancouver members.

It’s all part of a quiet revolution aimed at changing society’s relationship with alcohol. And while Jacques Martiquet is not a teetotaller, he no longer needs alcohol to get a party started. For one thing, he says, it’s harder to dance with a drink in your hand. But he is also serious about challenging established social norms.

“It frustrates me that partying is regarded as an enemy of public health. In my life partying is exactly what I need to revitalize,” says Martiquet. He argues that a night out doesn’t have to lead to violence, exclusivity or alcohol poisoning. “That’s a specific type of partying that has been commoditized by big alcohol companies and the drug industry.”

Instead, he likens his events to a combination of music therapy, dance class and social meet-up. “Partying is an incredible force for community development,” he says.

Even so, it’s not always easy to break the social pressure to drink during patio season. Club Soda co-founder Laura Willoughby says bars present a major hurdle by not stocking attractive non-alcoholic options. She encourages consumers to play an active role in getting kombucha, craft sodas and fancy mocktails in stock. “Young people are having fewer drinks but they are beautiful, instagrammable drinks,” she explains. “It doesn’t really matter if the drink has alcohol in it or not.”

And it seems this generation is ready for change. “There is a rising mindfulness in young people and it can lead to more critical attitudes towards marketing material that is shoved down our throats about alcohol,” Martiquet says. “It’s about being aware of what you are doing and how you impact the people around you.”

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