Gen Z teens are drinking less alcohol, socializing online

Kids these days — they lack the same goals that teenagers had back in 1999, like getting blotto drunk at parties.

Gen Z teens in 2022 were far more likely to stay sober or drink less throughout their high school years than teens in 1999 to 2001, according to a new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review,

Back then, the cool kids were drinking beer at parties or sneaking vodka into school events. However, the tables have turned, and teens once mocked as “nerds” for not drinking are now accepted.

“Twenty years ago … students described a social hierarchy, with early adopters of alcohol at the top and non-drinking ‘nerds’ at the bottom,” said lead study author Jude Ball, Ph.D., of the University of Otago in New Zealand, in a statement.

And by the last year of high school, “drinking was seen as an almost compulsory aspect of teen socializing, particularly for males,” Ball added.

Today’s teens are more likely to choose online socializing over boozy parties. “Now adolescents can expand their social circle, meet potential romantic partners and try on a more flirtatious and confident persona – all without leaving the house,” lead study author Jude Ball said.
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More than half of the 41 high school students surveyed 20 years ago were regular drinkers, and were frequently going to parties. By their final year of high school, all the students had used alcohol with their friends.

“The majority had been drunk at least once or twice, and many drank to intoxication on a weekly basis,” Ball said.

But of the 64 students interviewed in 2022, only one of the high school students in year 10 (out of 12) reported drinking alcohol socially.

“Most had never had more than a few sips of alcohol,” Ball said. Even among the older students, “about three-quarters were abstinent or drank moderately on rare occasions, often with family, rather than with friends.”


Picture of researcher Jude Ball, Ph.D.
Lead study author Jude Ball found very different attitudes toward alcohol among high school students today compared to students 20 years ago.

Some students expressed disappointment that their high school years were turning out to be so dry.

“[Parties] don’t happen as much as I like thought they would when I was younger,” one student commented. “I’m not sure if it’s just like the people around me don’t have them or if they just don’t have them in general.”

So what are these sober teens doing instead? They’re still socializing, but they’re doing it online.

“Now adolescents can expand their social circle, meet potential romantic partners and try on a more flirtatious and confident persona – all without leaving the house,” Ball said.

As one student said, “It’s a lot easier for people to [flirt] online than in person ’cause you can be a whole different person behind a phone.”

Another male student offered, “If you post some real, like, good photos of you … then it’s like, ‘oh wow, that guy’s hot,’ or whatever. Then, next thing you know, girls will start following you on Instagram and stuff and then friends of those girls will start following you and you start getting real popular.”


Students texting one another.
Thanks in part to the internet, high school students today find other things to do besides drinking alcohol.
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In addition to an awareness of alcohol’s health risks, there’s also an increased acceptance of diversity among teenagers today, and that includes a diverse range of activities that don’t involve alcohol.

There aren’t as many “unwritten rules for being a teenager 1685124009 because of the fact that … the internet has made liking different things much more prevalent,” one student observed, adding that students today aren’t “trying to conform to just being one type of person … I think people are just more understanding of the fact that everyone’s different.”

This new study supports other research that documents changing use of alcohol among teenagers over the decades.

In 2021, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that from 2002 to 2021, the reported use of alcohol during the last 30 days among adolescents ages 14 to 15 had decreased by almost 70 percent.