Perspectives on Insights

Subscribe to our blog to get the latest updates from our team

Gen Z and Millennials are Leading a Conscientious Drinking Revolution

May 26, 2022
Jotham Illuminati

Jotham Illuminati

Senior Research Consultant

Brands should take note of this conscientious drinking trend as 60% of Gen Z/Millennials both expect and would be more interested in companies that increased their offerings of lower ABV/health benefits products.

Gen Z and Millennials have faced a laundry list of recent and future challenges (Covid-19, a recession and difficult job market, and threats of catastrophic climate change - just to name a few). While older generations may have weathered the events by sipping their favorite alcoholic beverage while watching the chaos unfold, younger generations are rethinking their relationships with alcohol. And Gen Z is leading the way in an industry changing reconsideration of when, why, and what they drink.
Hot or Not-chat-gif-smaller-1

To find out how these trends might impact the alcoholic beverage world, Reach3 Insights and Rival Technologies leveraged Rival’s mobile messaging-based research platform to reach out to consumers across the United States. This month, we chatted with legal drinking age Gen Z & Millennial alcoholic beverage drinkers (ages 21-39) using our proprietary conversational, mobile messaging-based technique to explore how their relationship with alcohol is changing.

When They Drink - Romance Sans the Liquid Courage

Younger generations are being more mindful about when they drink -- and romantic encounters are one area where alcohol is being challenged. Nearly half (48%) of Gen Z have tried or would try a dry date, where singles go on dates but abstain from drinking alcohol during the interaction. Millennials are slightly less enthused about dry dating with just over one in three (37%) having tried a dry date or feeling open to it.

Dry Dating Insight

This begs several questions like why are they forgoing alcohol on dates and how much fun is a sober date?

There are many ‘whys’ prompting younger consumers to try dry dating, but authenticity - getting to know the other person as they are without the help of alcohol – is a primary motivation to ditch the drinks when romancing. In the words of one Millennial dry dater,

“I feel like having a drink during a date can break the tension on the first date and allow you to open up more than you probably would sober. However, I think enjoying each other’s company sober gives you the best representation of that person.”

Some even find dry dating to be an introspective activity about their own reliance on alcohol for navigating romantic social situations. As another dry dater notes,

“I liked that it was more real. And I disliked that sometimes when you are drinking you are more fun”.

Still, others are abstaining to avoid alcohol’s potential negative effects. Impaired judgement and lowered inhibitions can lead to regrettable choices and mismatched expectations on a date. Some feel more relaxed as this person put it,

“I don't have to worry about looking like a fool by the end of the night, or having the date turn into a one-night-stand.”

Women specifically note that dry dating helps them feel safer (i.e., more comfortable and in control). As one woman said,

“Staying sober makes you more focused on your date. plus, if it is a first date, it’s also safer to stay sober since you do not know the person you’re on a date with that well.”

Further, Gen Z and Millennials don’t see many major tradeoffs in fun with dry dating as they naturally gravitate to more engaging date activities like going outdoors and exercising or going to cultural events. As one person put it,

“I don't think dating-type activities always need to involve alcohol. I have done plenty of things from going hiking, watching a movie, checking out a museum, etc. All have been great things to do to enjoy time with someone.”

Why They Drink – Life comes at you quickly and Millennials are significantly more likely to drink alcohol to relieve stress than Gen Z

Stress has become a popular buzzword as the connection grows between chronic elevated stress levels and poor health outcomes. A key part of that equation is how we deal with our stress levels, and alcohol has a role to play for many. Overall, seven in ten (70%) reportedly use alcohol to help relieve stress, but compared to Millennials, Gen Z are much less likely to drink for stress relief.

Stress Relief Insights

However, the picture may not be so bleak. Nearly nine in ten Millennials (87%) and Gen Z (89%) have other stress relief activities besides drinking. Exercise tops the list as the most popular stress reduction activity followed by reading, writing, and mindfulness. Others like to play games, socialize, use recreational drugs (marijuana & psychedelics), and listen to music.

Most use a combination of activities to keep a level head. According to one Millennial,

“My career is actually a huge stress reliever which a lot of people can't put as their answer, but I love my job! I also play video games! It keeps my mind focus on something challenging and strategic rather than what I'm stressing out about...I also love having personal concerts whether it's in my car or shower, music is a great stress reliever.”

What they drink – Low Alcohol/Health Benefits, Goodbye Everclear

In conjunction with changes to when and why they drink alcohol, Gen Z and Millennials are also increasingly reaching for different types of alcoholic beverages. More specifically, 14% of Gen Z and Millennials are intentionally choosing beverages with reduced ABV or added healthy benefits over standard alcoholic beverages. Further, the majority of those who prefer healthier alcoholic beverages are recent adopters (62% of Gen Z and 73% of Millennials who choose these products), suggesting that healthier alcoholic beverages are becoming more popular over time and are winning over established consumers of standard products.

Health is a primary driver of youthful consumer interest in lower ABV beverages. Some want to cut back on how often they get buzzed and have hangovers while others are trying to stick to fitness and health goals. One health-conscious consumer says,

“I want to make sure my health goals stay on track as well as making sure I don’t get drunk.”

Still, other are enjoying their beverages more without the bite of alcohol, noting that flavors are somehow brighter without the booze:

“They taste great. Nowadays, I don’t drink to get drunk, it’s moreso for taste. The lower alcohol beverages have some really crafty flavor combinations not muddled by alcohol.”.

How can brands win younger consumers?

Brands should take note of this conscientious drinking trend as 60% of Gen Z/Millennials both expect and would be more interested in companies that increased their offerings of lower ABV/health benefits products.

This conscientious drinking trend is a growing market opportunity for BevAlc companies as younger consumers think more critically about alcohol consumption. While they aren’t giving up on alcohol, younger consumers are increasingly asking for products that leave them feeling healthier than traditional alcoholic beverages. Meeting this need for healthier products could result in more overall consumption as brands fit products into new drinking opportunities like dry dating or low/no-alcohol stress relief drinks with healthy benefits that aid relaxation. Ultimately, fulfilling the interests of today’s Gen Z & Millennials has potential to transform the BevAlc industry, as younger consumers become tomorrow’s big spenders.   

Want exclusive early access to which products Gen Z and Millennials are reaching for this season? Click here to get your copy of 2022’s BevAlc Hot or Not Product Ratings.

Jotham Illuminati
Jotham Illuminati

Senior Research Consultant

You may also like

Consumer goods


In recent years, sustainability has become a growing trend in the lives of consumers; what was once simply an afterthought (can this item be recycled?), has now...

November 22, 2022 | 4 min read

Despite what people think, backlash and harassment towards women and girls who game are still common in 2022. Whether it's unsolicited comments from family members...

November 11, 2022 | 4 min read

The gaming industry is failing women. Game companies are constantly criticized for their lack of diversity and representation in video games. From over-sexualized...

October 14, 2022 | 4 min read