Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Rise of the ‘Flexible’ Drinker: More of Us Are Saying No to Booze – But Are We Still Being Pressured to Drink?

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Are we… becoming a nation of non-drinkers?! Kelly Bertrand looks at some fascinating new research that suggests Kiwis are turning away from the booze, we look at the rise of the flexible drinker.

It’s always been lauded as a pastime as Kiwi as watching rugby and putting down successful people – drinking. We’re a nation of booze lovers and it’s always been apart of our DNA as a conduit for social interaction.

But according to new research, that’s now changing, and it’s the Gen Zers that are leading the trend towards sobriety – or at least, a more measured approach to our drinking, as more Kiwis identify as being a flexible drinker.

And, interestingly, the old adage of ‘suck it up and come and have a drink’ might be on its last legs too.

In a recent study commissioned by Lion – yes, the people who make most of the alcohol New Zealanders drink – 80% of the 1000 Kiwis polled said they have now taken a ‘flexible’ drinker or ‘part time’ attitude towards drinking.

More than half say their approach to drinking has changed in the last year, with respondents saying they’ve become more flexible with drinking alcoholic beverages in the last three years, and 65% of Kiwis feel perfectly comfortable not drinking on a night out.

And a direct contradiction to the old ‘come on, mate!’ pub peer pressure, 91% of blokes say they wouldn’t care if a mate didn’t drink on a night out.

If you’re a millennial or older reading this with open-mouth surprise, welcome to the club because the above was NOT my experience of going to da club. 84% of younger people are will alternate between booze and non-alcoholic drinks during a night out compared to 76% of those 45+. But with drinking’s ‘cool’ allure fading, many younger Kiwis especially are turning to low or no alcoholic options – which explain those ‘Zero Zones’ that have been popping up at supermarkets in recent years.

Brooke Thompson, a 25-year-old electrical apprentice from Queenstown, says she’s always had a chilled approach to drinking – her favourite non-alcoholic drop is Speights’ new Summit Zero (pride of the south and all, right?!) and reckons her generation has seen the harmful side to drinking more than most.

“My parents always treated alcohol as a social activity, maybe a casual beer on the weekend after a rugby game or a glass of bubbly with the girls, so I was introduced to alcohol in a very moderate, positive light,” she says. “I’ve always enjoyed having a drink, but never let the pressures of my peers influence me to do something that didn’t align with my lifestyle.

“I really enjoy taking a flexible approach to my alcohol consumption – some weeks I’ll sober drive, some weeks I’ll have a non-alcoholic beer, and sometimes I’ll have a few traditional drinks on a night out. I weigh up what’s appropriate for me and my body and try to live intuitively. 

“I think there is a huge group in our generation that have seen the impacts that excessive consumption of alcohol can have, and therefore choose to lead a more flexible lifestyle when it comes to their drinking habits. For my friends and I, we support each other in our decisions to drink flexibly. It’s really cool to see that a lot of Gen Z’ers are choosing to do the same!”

Brooke says she’s never experienced any backlash or pressure in her decision not to drink, and thinks it’s down to the changing attitude towards alcohol.

“From what I’ve seen amongst people my age, attitudes towards drinking are changing towards becoming much more flexible. There’s a misconception that we will be singled out if we aren’t drinking, but the research has shown that 65% of Kiwis feel comfortable not drinking on a night out – so that’s not really the case at all. I really believe that you should just be true to yourself and choose what you want.”

Want more on this topic? We chat to a mum of two who entered rehab during lockdown and talk to a woman in recovery about the big question: how do you know if your drinking is hurting you? Plus, the conversation that led journalist Patrick Gower to give up drinking for good.

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