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Millennials are increasingly reevaluating their relationship with alcohol. A movement known as “sober curious” is gaining popularity with these young adults, who are questioning both the physical effects of alcohol and the way drinking is ingrained in American culture. And now, bars and breweries are looking to capitalize on the trend by offering alcohol-free options. Hari Sreenivasan reports.
And finally tonight: a budding movement that suggests changes in millennials' relationship with alcohol.
Hari Sreenivasan has our story from New York.
New York City, Times Square. This party started just before sunrise. For more than five years, Daybreaker has hosted these early morning events around the world. People come out for two hours of dancing, but alcohol is strictly off the table.
Drinking gets in the way of dancing a lot. People are always making trips to the bar. People have drinks on the dance floor. They're engaged with their drink, instead of engaged with other people.
Daybreaker's goal is to be healthy and have fun while staying substance-free.
It changed the way I go out, too. So I feel like I don't need to drink now. I don't need to, you know, have anything in my body, and just enjoy the dancing.
It's part of a growing idea called sober curious, people who don't misuse or abuse alcohol trying out alcohol sobriety. The movement, still in its infancy, is not meant for those recovering from substance abuse problems.
It describes a questioning mind-set that can be applied to any and all drinking occasions.
Ruby Warrington coined the term in her book "Sober Curious."
We caught up with her at Getaway Bar in Brooklyn, where mocktails are the main event.
For millennials and Gen Z's, alcohol consumption is way, way down. And I think there are a few things playing into it.
One is that people are just much better educated about the different ways that what we consume influences our well-being, whether it's the food and drink we consume, whether it's the media we consume.
And although sober curiosity hasn't reached every corner of the country, booze-free bars like this one have popped up in Illinois, Maine and even the U.K.
It gives people choosing sobriety from alcohol a chance to get out and socialize without the pressure of drinking, people like wellness coach and yoga teacher Emily Nachazel.
I am not an alcoholic. I am not totally sober, but I go through periods of my life where I'm not drinking or I go to events and I choose not to drink.
And, yes, really just questioning that relationship, is this something that I want to do right now vs. kind of doing it all the time?
Nachazel says sober curiosity makes sense for a lot of millennials.
We are a generation of really wanting more, and not just in, like, want more money, but we want to, like, know ourselves better. We want to be the healthiest. We want to have jobs that we're passionate about. And so this is like another space where we are able to get to know ourselves.
NYU clinical psychologist Belinda Carrasco says, although this generation is less alcohol-centric, millennials struggle with alcohol in their own way.
If you think about millennials, they mostly relate with one another digitally.
But what happens when you don't sort of develop those skills to navigate interpersonal, not only relationships, but also interpersonal conflict? Then perhaps alcohol plays a role, as not only a social lubricant, but, again, it's an attempt to self-soothe, manage anxiety, self-medicate.
Carrasco says millennials certainly aren't the first to try out sobriety.
Sobriety has existed for the longest time. And it is more about the rebranding, right?
We, the jury, find the defendant…
Oh, it's non-alcoholic.
Even big alcohol is getting in on this booze-free trend. Companies like Coors, Heineken, and even Guinness now offer alcohol-free beers.
And craft brewers like Brooklyn Brewery, who recently released its first non-alcoholic beer called Special Effects.
Robin Ottaway is the brewery's president.
What do we do when we drink? We get together with friends or family. We socialize. It's conviviality, right? And those moments are pretty important to us as humans. If you can extend those moments and not have some of the negative effects, that's pretty good.
It's potentially risky for these smaller companies to venture outside their normal products. But Ottaway says they couldn't pass up the opportunity to market to more people, including millennials.
They're growing up in a completely different world and have different spending and consumption habits. And I think our timing has proven to be pretty — pretty good.
A survey funded by the National Institutes of Health confirms that thinking: Alcohol use among Young people has been on the decline since the mid-'90s. That is happening even as marijuana use is rising.
The same survey found, in 2018, nearly 40 percent of young adults used marijuana, compared to 25 percent in the mid-'90s. But the toll of alcohol addiction is far larger. For millennials who are simply trying to test out sobriety, it's not always easy to forgo drinking.
It seems so embedded in our culture right now. Well, let's go grab a drink.
Yes. Try dating without alcohol.
To be fair, like, I have had a lot of men be totally fine with it. Yes, let's meet for coffee. Meeting someone new one-on-one is challenging enough.
And, yes, there's an app for that.
Sober Dating. There's Sober Travel, Sober Events, Sober Groups. So, think of it, for lack of a better example, as like a sober Facebook.
M.J. Gottlieb, who's been sober for seven years, created Loosid to help connect people practicing sobriety, even the sober curious.
One of the biggest reasons why I didn't get sober for so long is, I found myself invariably at diners and coffee shops. And I was like, if this is all there is, I'm going to continue to use, which I did.
For people like Gottlieb, the sober curious movement is having a positive side effect, creating more safe spaces to socialize for those in recovery.
Ruby Warrington believes, because people now have more choices, the sober curious movement will stick around.
Once you have kind of opened the door of sober curiosity, it's very hard to go back to just drinking, blindly accepting hangovers as a part and parcel of life.
Emily Nachazel has certainly latched on to the idea and says she's now very intentional about her use of alcohol.
I can have a good time without alcohol.
Are you surprised by that?
No, but I think we lean into it. And there are other ways that you can feel good. There's other ways you can be social without having alcohol.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Hari Sreenivasan in Brooklyn, New York.
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Hari Sreenivasan joined the PBS NewsHour in 2009. He is the Anchor of PBS NewsHour Weekend and a Senior Correspondent for the nightly program.
Rachel Wellford is a general assignment producer for PBS NewsHour.
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