Gen Z Alcohol Trends: Sober Curious, But Still Experimenting With Alcohol


As the generation currently entering its teenage years and adulthood, Gen Z is in the news a lot lately. Born between 1997 and 2012, this generation spans from tweens and teens all the way up to young adults in their mid-20s. They’re the first generation to grow up only knowing a world with the internet and social media. They’re likely to be the most educated generation yet. And by many reports, they’re less likely to drink alcohol than the generations before them.

Gen Z is drinking about 20% less than millennials, the generation preceding them, according to data from Berenberg Research. While underage drinking is on the decline for young people, lots of them are still experimenting with alcohol. Let’s dive into some of Gen Z’s alcohol trends so parents, mentors, coaches, and other concerned adults can start the right age-appropriate conversations to prevent underage drinking.


The Sobering Reality

Recent underage drinking statistics still show many adolescents are trying alcohol. This means it remains important to talk to teens early and often about the dangers of underage drinking.

Nearly 20% of youth between the ages of 12 and 20 self-reported alcohol consumption in the past 30 days, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). But there’s good news: our recent 2023 State of Underage Drinking in North Carolina Survey shows a majority of students feel that talking about alcohol and its risks would help stop more young people from participating in underage drinking. Research shows that age-appropriate conversations can truly make a difference in a young person’s life. Even if you feel like they don’t hear you, they do.


Gen Z Alcohol Trends

Despite the fact that Gen Z is indulging in underage drinking less than previous generations, these young people are still facing their own unique challenges and circumstances.

Viral Trends:

  • BORGs: Blackout Rage Gallons are gallon jugs filled with a mixture of water, alcohol, and a flavored electrolyte drink mix. They’re especially popular among members of Gen Z, and because they involve consuming alcohol along with hydrating and sometimes energizing beverages, they make it easier for kids to dangerously overindulge. It’s a concerning trend that’s being spread across TikTok and is a perfect example of why it’s important to talk to teens about the dangers of underage binge drinking.
  • Rainbow Games: Originating on TikTok, this trend encourages young drinkers to drink an alcoholic beverage of every color of the rainbow. This would mean adolescents could consume 7 drinks in one sitting (whether it’s during a bar crawl or at one party).
  • First Drink, Last Drink: Another viral social media drinking challenge, this trend involves young people documenting themselves or their friends when they have their first drink of the night and then again when they have their last drink of the night. This challenge can be dangerous by encouraging adolescents to drink more alcohol to have a greater disparity between the first and second videos. In reality, it shows the dangers of underage binge drinking in real time.

Indulging in Other Substances:

According to the American Addiction Centers, Gen Z outpaces all other generations when it comes to the misuse of cocaine and prescription benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, etc.). According to the same research, more than 13 million people between 18 and 25 reported using marijuana. These substances are frequently used alongside alcohol, which can be a dangerous combination. It’s important to talk about the dangers of mixing substances when you talk about underage drinking.


A Generation That Chooses Sobriety

A sober-curious movement is also spreading across social media channels. Being ‘sober curious’ for many is about reducing or eliminating the consumption of alcohol or just waiting until you’re 21. It not only helps spotlight the positive aspects of abstaining from alcohol for teens, but it also shows the great impact talking about underage drinking can have!

As younger folks increasingly aim to have a healthier lifestyle and reduce anxiety, the sober-curious movement has taken off. With trends like #DryJanuary, where people abstain from alcohol during the month of January and #SoberOctober, where people do the same, more internet conversations now include practicing a sober curious lifestyle.

The Gen Z shift toward sobriety is likely driven by an increased awareness of the dangers of alcohol and a strong focus on physical and mental well-being. Years of public health campaigns have spread awareness about the dangers of underage drinking and the importance of waiting to consume alcohol until the legal age of 21.

The pandemic may also have contributed to the drinking decline, with more Gen Zers living with parents and starting new hobbies, further reducing the desire to drink underage. The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) 2023 Youth Behavior Risk Survey shows substance misuse rates among young people, including alcohol use, are continuing to improve. The CDC reports that 23% of adolescents nationwide reported drinking alcohol in 2021, down from 39% in 2011.


Navigating Gen Z Alcohol Trends

Underage drinking is on the decline, thanks to years of advocacy from organizations like Talk it Out NC and conversations between parents, mentors, coaches, and children! Open, non-judgmental conversations with Gen Z about the risks and responsibilities associated with alcohol are making a big impact on their underage drinking habits. By staying informed, initiating conversations, and providing support, we can help teens make good decisions about alcohol and other substances. A few tips to help you get started:

  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Choose the right setting.
  • Use age-appropriate messaging.

Looking for more advice? We’re here to help. Utilize our resources to Start the Conversation today and prevent underage drinking.