Mid Mocktober Thoughts: Drinking Is The New Smoking
We're halfway through Mocktober, and we've been hearing nonstop from our friends that they're quitting alcohol. They're sick of feeling foggy and sluggish, don't have time for hangovers and frankly don't like booze wrinkles either. This is a conversation that would have been impossible for me to have two years ago, when I still lived in denial, believing that "having a glass of red wine per day was good for me". If you're ready for some unbranded, raw founder content, read on ...
It was the last hangover that did me in. After taking most of the summer off alcohol, I went back into it with reckless abandon at a Labor Day wedding. I’d already started to enjoy a lot of social situations without alcohol, but a wedding without drinking? That seemed too extreme. So I went for it (last one on the dance floor, as usual), and returned from that champagne-soaked evening needing a vacation from my vacation.
Was that really necessary? I thought as I slowly became more conscious of how terrible I felt, even days after the peak hangover had subsided.
It’s a question we’ve asked ourselves far too many times, but simply override because we can’t imagine our lives without alcohol. And if the FDA allows it to be on the shelves of our grocery store without a massive “THIS IS REALLY BAD FOR YOU” warning, why question it?
Turns out the younger generations are. Because alcohol is about to be canceled.
In the past two months, major media outlets reported that “no one is drinking anymore” (Vogue), “alcohol messes with your emotions” (NY Times) and “more and more people [are] evaluat[ing] the relationship that alcohol plays in their lives” (CNN). Studies show that only 21 percent of Gen Z drinks alcohol regularly, in comparison to 42 percent of Millennials. As we see the younger generations giving up alcohol, Vice Magazine’s recent take really hits home: “alcohol has lost its cool.”
For those of us who associate good times with alcohol, this news can feel threatening. We’ve been conditioned to think that we need alcohol to fully experience a night out and believe that as long as we aren’t getting sloppy whilst carefully ordering “low-sugar” drinks, we’re being responsible. We love the familiar feeling of relaxation we get from that first sip.
We’ve always known hangovers can’t be good for us, but we’ve normalized them, blaming our low-grade anxiety and depression on our jobs, relationships and gluten, while completely ignoring the fact that we’re regularly pouring ethanol down our throats. Masters of quick fixes, we buy electrolytes, take sweaty workout classes, get facials, and do cleanses to counteract the damage from our evening wine habit.
Since founding Little Saints, a non-alcoholic beverage brand, in 2021, I’ve spoken with thousands of historically chronic drinkers–like myself–with a similar story. But, despite these drinkers’ intellectual understanding of how alcohol harms their bodies, giving it up is no easy feat. So much of our social lives revolves around drinking, creating an all-too-strong connection between good feelings and well-marketed rocket fuel. This type of cultural conditioning explains the fear some of us feel when confronted with the sudden canceling of our drinking culture.
It's a good thing that science is coming in hot on this one. In a recent, widely-shared and highly-discussed podcast, Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, presented scientific evidence that drinking even very small amounts of alcohol is still bad. According to Huberman, alcohol harms us physically (impacting inflammation, cancer risk, and even brain structure) and mentally (impacting stress, mood, and feelings of motivation). The old adage that “one glass of red wine a day is good for you” turns out to be completely false –new studies show there are no health benefits to drinking.
I’ll never forget the first party I went to without alcohol. It was at Summit LA 2017 (deemed by Departures Magazine as an “invite-only, curated mix of start-up founders, tech titans, thought leaders and investors”), where my best Midwestern girlfriend and I watched in awe as the vast majority of Summiters socialized without alcohol. While I didn’t fully realize it at the time, that was my first indication that drinking was losing its cool.
If Summit planted the seed, the pandemic really made me pay attention. After a 2020 soaked in Negronis, I participated in Dry January to kick off 2021 and was struck by how great — physically and emotionally — I felt without alcohol. Since then, every time I’ve let curiosity, peer pressure or just plain desire wrangle me into a few drinks, I’ve noticed alcohol becoming less and less attractive.
The way I feel about drinking today is eerily similar to how I felt about smoking in the years before I quit. A social smoker between the ages of 16 to 30, I knew how bad smoking was, but I considered it fine because I “wasn’t addicted”. Just like I have long ignored my intuition telling me that alcohol is poison to my body, I also used to ignore the more clearly-defined health warnings associated with smoking.
It wasn’t until my chicest friend–with glowing skin and a radiant presence–confronted me about my “social” smoking habit. She kindly told me that smoking “wasn’t me”. While she didn’t say it, her undertone was clear: she didn’t want to be friends with someone who didn’t take care of herself. It was a bad look.
If you haven’t gotten the punchline by now, it’s this: drinking is the new smoking. How long will it be before we’re embarrassed to identify as a drinker? Or to be seen holding drinks in an accidental Instagram story? If Gen Z’s perspective is any indication, the time is coming–fast.
As for me, I’ve been socializing with my own alcohol-free creation and quitting alcohol … again. This time, I think it’s for good.