Why is Teetotalism on the Rise in the UK?

teetotalism uk

Teetotalism is on the rise in the UK, which may seem like a strange occurrence, given that the country is well-known for its binge-drinking culture. So, why is abstinence from alcohol becoming a more common lifestyle choice? Well, it seems that the trend is largely being driven by millennials.

New data shows that the number of teenagers and young people who don’t drink has nearly doubled in a decade. Researchers from University College London (UCL) found that increasing numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds are viewing teetotalism as acceptable while shunning binge drinking. In 2015, 29% of young people were classed as teetotal.

The Rise of Teetotalism Among British Millennials

Only one in ten millennials view getting drunk as “cool”. In fact, young people are more likely to see drunkenness as “pathetic” or “embarrassing”. Experts believe that millennials are less likely to deal with their problems by drinking because they feel more comfortable talking about their issues instead. Dr Linda Ng Fat, the lead author of the UCL study, said:

Increases in non-drinking among young people were found across a broad range of groups, including those living in northern or southern regions of England, among the white population, those in full-time education, in employment and across all social classes and healthier groups.

That the increase in non-drinking was found across many different groups suggests that non-drinking may be becoming more mainstream among young people which could be caused by cultural factors.

Millennials Are More Health Conscious Than Previous Generations 

The rise of teetotalism among young people may reflect the fact that millennials are generally more health-conscious than older generations. The dissemination of information about health, fitness, and nutrition on the internet – and the ease of accessing this information – has helped to fuel this trend. The rise of social media is also a motivating factor.

Millennials aren’t giving up drinking because it’s trendy (well, maybe some are). They generally are saying no to booze out of concerns for their health. Indeed, heavy drinking – which has been endemic in British culture for a long time now – is highly detrimental to one’s physical and mental health. The British researcher David Nutt published an analysis in 2010 highlighting that overall alcohol is the most harmful drug in society (although, this is no doubt influenced by the fact that alcohol is legal, easily accessible, and culturally acceptable).

In any case, millennials are more concerned about their physical health and psychological well-being than previous generations. After years of heavy drinking, it seems that a lot of millennials are deciding that the downsides of drinking outweigh the positives. Well, that’s been my experience, anyway.

What It’s Like to Give Up Drinking

It’s been over two years since I gave up drinking. Before then, I was cutting down on how much I drank because of the nasty hangovers I was getting. The day after a night of drinking a bit too much, I would experience horrible anxiety, irritability, low mood, low self-esteem, and generally just more negative thoughts. I realised that alcohol was to blame because as the hangover passed, so did my pessimistic outlook.

The problem with cutting down, though, was that my tolerance dropped. And with a lower tolerance, it didn’t take much to get drunk, leading to unpleasant hangovers the next day. I began questioning whether drinking was worth it anymore. It was no longer as enjoyable as it used to be. I felt like drinking was just worsening my mental health and holding me back in life. I started to realise how I had used drinking as a negative coping mechanism. Getting drunk was an easy answer to a lot of problems.

Feeling that drinking was playing a negative role in my life, I wanted to see what would happen if I cut it out completely. I had previously stopped drinking during periods when I thought it was sensible, like revising for exams; but this always carried the promise and reward of drinking after exams were over. Now, on the other hand, I was going to quit for my own well-being.

As it turns out, I didn’t need the prospect of getting drunk to motivate me to stay abstinent. My reward was increased social confidence, greater self-respect, improved physical and mental health, more money in my pocket, and more time to spend doing things that I genuinely enjoy (rather than subjecting myself to noisy bars and clubs, which I could only really tolerate while drunk). It’s also pretty nice not to have hangovers ruining my weekends.

I think one of the greatest challenges in giving up drinking is the fact that this is an unusual decision. Teetotalism can evoke bemused reactions from people. It can also be a bit awkward and annoying to explain yourself to others when everyone around you is drinking. You may not be trying to preach about teetotalism; however, the simple fact that you don’t drink can make others feel uncomfortable. I am often asked about why I don’t drink and if I will ever drink again.

British society still has a long way to go in terms of viewing teetotalism as an acceptable, uncontroversial lifestyle. The glorification of binge drinking is simply too ingrained in the culture. However, the new research on teetotalism among millennials is reassuring. Fewer young people now view a healthy lifestyle as lame or boring. Instead, it is seen as a crucial part of living a satisfying life.

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