Young people’s attitudes towards alcohol are changing — but not in the way you think

Streetbees spoke to 1,700 people aged 18–35 around the world (over 21 in the US) to explore how and why drinking habits are evolving.

Photo by Ethan Hu on Unsplash

The relationship between young people and alcohol is changing.

Young people are drinking more. And they’re drinking less.

Confused? So are drinks companies. When they look at the under-35 market, they see more than 1 in 2 people claiming to have changed their drinking habits over the last year.

So far, so simple. But — almost the same number are drinking more (26%) as those who are drinking less (28%). So what’s driving the divergence in the market?

Why are some young people drinking less?

For people cutting back, the main reason is a healthier lifestyle. These are social drinkers, with most of their consumption coming when out with friends and family, or on special occasions. More than 1 in 3 don’t keep any alcohol in their home.

As for the amount they drink, 2 in 3 consciously monitor it — imposing limits on their intake (27%), keeping track of units (20%) and even counting the number of bottles they get through (19%). “I’m focusing more on a healthier lifestyle”, said one 27-year-old respondent, “and cutting back on alcohol is a big part of that.”

“I consider my health to be more important than anything,” said another, aged 21, “and I try to be healthy as much as possible” — something that is reflected in the results, with less than 1 in 5 drinking alcohol in order to wind down.

What about those drinking more?

It’s a different story for those consuming more. A big motivation for drinking isn’t just to lubricate social or special occasions; instead, they are attracted to alcohol’s calming qualities, using it as a means to relax (47%) or de-stress (36%).

When you tend to drink alcohol, based on whether your alcohol intake has increased or decreased in the last twelve months

They are also more than twice as likely to drink with a meal at home, or simply as a hobby, and they are also twice as likely to keep alcohol in their homes as their cutting-down counterparts.

“I feel I have more opportunities to have a drink and relax, particularly after a long day”, one 24-year-old said.

“I just enjoy it” said another, aged 23. “My life has become a bit more stressful recently — studying, job hunting, moving house — so I have a tendency to use it to relax.”

So what does this mean for alcohol brands?

This is a complex market for brands to understand. From country to country, consumers claim their consumption is motivated by typical factors such as taste, price and brand. But the actual reasons why people might increase their intake, rather than decrease it, are based on factors related to their lifestyle and emotional states.

Ultimately, for brands looking to ensure that they are tapping into demand, there are two ways in: either a) meet those cutting-down halfway by providing them with healthier, low or non-alcohol options; or b) position products as enabling relaxation and winding down.

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A quick word on our methodology: The figures in the article are taken from Streetbees community members in the UK, US, Nigeria and South Africa, carried out in April 2018. All of the data was collected by mobile and web surveys, and is accurate to within 3 percentage points 19 times out of 20.