âAlcohol is the new cigarettes,â says New York-based Ruby Warrington, author of Sober Curious and founder of Club SÃDA NYC, an alcohol-free event series for teetotallers and those considering abstinence. âThe same way smoking became a lot less glamorous, the more studies that come out about the long-term health implications of drinking, the harder it will be to justify the habit.â
Warrington reduced drinking when she started yoga, rarely drinks today and considers herself âsober curiousâ. âItâs about people choosing to question their relationship with alcohol,â she tells Vogue. âAbout the way they use it, the reasons why and the real impact on their overall wellbeing.â
Giving up alcohol might be a new trend, but itâs backed up by solid evidence of its health benefits. âThe safest level of drinking is none,â was the concluding communiquÃ© in the Global Burden of Disease Study published in The Lancet medical journal last year. The study reported that alcohol led to 2.8 million global deaths in 2016 and was the leading risk factor for death and disability in the 15-49 age group.
And there are plenty of people in the public eye putting this advice into practiceâlike American musician Anthony Rossomando, whose personal experience of giving up drinking led to co-writing Shallow, the Academy Award-winning song performed by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born. âIt is the hardest, easiest song I ever wrote,â he tells Vogue. âI was known for being a âlife of the partyâ kind of drinker. But the flipside is I would also hide out and use alone, crash into a depressive state that I couldnât share with anyone.â He stopped drinking four years ago. âIt was a medical doctor who actually switched the light on in a dark corner of my mind. Sometimes itâs best to hear the thing we donât want to hear from someone we respect, without bias. I had convinced myself I was fine, while simultaneously couch surfing, breaking promises and dying on the inside.â
Unless drinking trends are reversed, global consumption is set to rise
The World Health Organizationâs 2018 report on alcohol and health showed that 237 million men and 46 million women of the estimated 2.3 billion global drinkers in 2016 suffered from alcohol-attributed addiction, disease or injuryâpredominantly in Europe and the Americas. Worldwide, almost a billion drinkers are âheavy episodic drinkersââand although this figure has been going down, our current habits mean that the number is set to rise.
But better news is brewing. Over half (57 per cent or 3.1 billion people) of over-15s globally now abstain from drinking alcohol, while 12.5 per cent of the world population havenât had a drink in the past 12 months. Of the worldâs female population, 13.1 per cent declare themselves âformer drinkersâ, compared to 11.9 per cent of men. And according to the Office of National Statistics, the proportion of adults in the UK who say they drink alcohol is at its lowest level since 2005, with a two per cent rise in those not drinking at all.
British hairdresser Adam Reed stopped drinking over seven years ago. âI had an ever-growing drink problem that was leaving me with constant fear and in embarrassing situations,â he tells Vogue. âIâve since worked with a therapist, who helped me realise that I suffered from social anxiety and was an alcoholicânot the best combination.â So he rerouted his social life. âI first went to AA, which didnât really work for me. Instead, I had to totally stop going to places where alcohol was present. I went through a massive change and lost a huge amount of friends in the process. That was quite difficult, but it made me realise who really mattered in my life. I met my husband after stopping drinking. We now have an adopted son, many dogs and my life could not be further from what it was prior to stopping drinking.â
What are the health benefits of reducing your drinking?
âReducing the amount you drink, or having several drink-free days, will lower your risk of serious diseases such as cancer, liver disease and strokeâand improve your overall health,â says GP Dr Sarah Jarvis MBE, medical advisor to the Drinkaware charity. She tells Vogue that alcohol is a contributory factor for seven types of cancerâbowel, breast, laryngeal (voice box), liver, mouth, oesophageal (food pipe) and pharyngeal (upper throat). âNot everyone who drinks will get cancer, but scientists have found that some cancers are more common in people who drink alcohol, with added risk for those who consume excessive amounts.â
Thankfully, alcohol-free drinks are flooding the market. With an influx of adaptogen-infused and kombucha-laced waters on supermarket shelves, in alcohol-free bars and at âmindfulâ drinking festivals, thereâs never been a more socially inclusive time to stop. Budweiser, Peroni and Heineken have all launched 0% lagers in the last two years, with Heineken reporting a 7.7 per cent upturn last yearâits best performance in over a decade, in part thanks to its alcohol-free range. In the US, Kin Euphoricsâ herbal cocktails promise to âelevate your state without the hangoverâ, while in the UK, Seedlip, an upmarket non-alcoholic gin made predominantly from peas, hay, rosemary and thyme, sold out at its 2015 Selfridges launch within three weeks. The second batch sold out in three days; the third, in less than half an hour. Itâs now one of the storeâs best-selling drinks and is served at restaurants in Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Australia, Canada and the US.
âIâm physically healthier,â says Rossomando. âI wake up to the sun as opposed to hiding from it, and my energy is from sleep or exercise, instead of wired nerves or outside substances. Also, sobriety is a wonderful excuse for a bit more sugar or fat on occasionâperks!â
Is abstaining from alcohol part of the wellness wave?
âItâs a logical progression,â says Warrington. âIf you’re investing a ton of time, money and energy in practices to help you feel better, it becomes more and more obvious that drinking is often at odds with this. For example, how alcohol spikes your anxiety (even though you were using it to ârelaxâ), messes with your sleep, gives you bad skin and leads to questionable food choices!â
Fashion designer Henry Holland routinely abstains for weeks at a time since first quitting alcohol as part of a fitness regime last year. âIâm 35 and definitely feel like at this stage in my life Iâm surrounded by people with a similar mindset,â he told the crowd at Warringtonâs book launch in March. âWe are, with our relationships and careers, in the right space to be comfortable not drinking.â
Adds Reed: âI was scared that my work would suffer due to the lack of ânetworkingâ opportunity, but soon realised that it was better than me being seen in some of the states that I had been seen in.â
Are there any health benefits to drinking alcohol?
âThere may potentially be a small benefit to very small amounts of red wine (up to 50ml â or a shot) on risk of cardiovascular disease if youâre aged between 50 to 60,â Dr Gautam Mehta, associate professor in hepatology at University College London tells Vogue. âHowever, this is completely offset by the risk of cancer. So there is, in fact, no safe limit of alcohol intake. Itâs just a question of managing riskâjust like crossing a busy road or travelling by aeroplane.â
ZoÃ« Irwin, creative director at John Frieda, takes long drinking breaks throughout the year. âTimes of sobriety have made me feel clear-headed and given me increased energy and better sleep,â she tells Vogue. âHowever, I love the taste of wine and the different warmth it gives my long extended suppers with friends, when the second glass brings a level of relaxation and openness to the conversation that meeting in a coffee shop or for lunch does not. By taking long periods of time without drinking, it has made me more considered over my consumption. I order a glass rather than sharing a bottle.â
Does drinking alcohol compromise the liver?
âIn general, people wonât suffer chronic liver problems if they stick to current guidelines [up to 14 units a week],â says Dr Mehta. âAlcohol is detoxified by the liver and everyone has a different capacity for this. Most people who develop liver cirrhosis need to drink at high levels [more than 20 units a week] for a number of years. But alcohol can cause other problems, such as an increased risk of cancer, at much lower levels. An example is breast cancerâeven one drink a day can increase risk by 15 per cent.â
Why are Gen Z and millennials drinking less?
While Gen X is coming to terms with past relationships with alcohol, it’s a different story for younger millennials and Gen Z. While The Lancet reports that, in 2016, more than a quarter of all 15- to 19-year-olds were drinking globally, the number of non-drinkers continues to riseâa UK study saw the number of non-drinkers aged 16 to 24 rise from 18 per cent in 2005 to 29 per cent in 2015. Numerous national studies show the same trend in North America and Japan. Researchers reckon this could be down to increased awareness of health risks, changes in the way they spend leisure time and a delayed initiation into alcohol consumption.
âI think social media has played a huge role in younger generations drinking less,â says Warrington. âFor starters, being drunk in selfies is not a good look and so many modern ârole modelsââie the Kardashiansâdonât drink.â
But what of alcohol and the creative genius?
Creativity and alcohol have long been linkedâfrom Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh drinking absinthe and nibbling at his paints to French poet Arthur Rimbaud who, in A Season in Hell, wrote, âMy life was a celebration where all hearts were open and all wines flowed.â But for every great artist of yesteryear battling addiction come many more global Gen Z activists battling to save the world today. âOn a deeper level, itâs just not cool to be getting wasted when there are so many pressing issues in the world that will have a direct impact on young peoplesâ lives in the future,â says Warrington. âThis is not a time to be getting âout of itâ. Itâs a time to be very much in it.â
And the effect on productivity?
âIt feels like you at least double the number of hours in the day because youâve got all of the day and youâve got all the hours the night before when you would have been in an alcohol conga or something,â says Holland.
âThe most profound change is the improvement in my mental and spiritual health,â Rossomando concludes. âI have a deeper sense of awareness, gratitude and patience. Being a better listener makes me be of better service to others. This is a spiritual principle I wasnât able to connect with during my drinking years.â
Even Ernest Hemingway declined to drink while writing. âJeezus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked?â he told Writerâs Digest in 1961. âYouâre thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimesâand I can tell right in the middle of a page when heâs had his first one.â
The post Millennials and Gen Z-ers world over are drinking less. This could be why appeared first on VOGUE India.