Turning their backs on booze: Four young women explain why it's cool to be part of Generation Sober
01:55 GMT, 19 November 2012
As 18th birthday invitations went, it was unusual. ‘Please respect my wishes and don’t bring alcohol,’ wrote Anna, the teenage daughter of a friend.
Rather than marking her rite of passage by having a few (legal) drinks for the first time, she took the opportunity to declare to the world that she would be staying teetotal. And Anna is far from unique.
New figures from the Department of Health show there’s been a sharp drop in levels of drinking among young people, especially among women under 25.
Generation sober: Sophie, Stephanie, Alexis and Stacey have waved booze goodbye
The report found only 17 per cent of 16-24 year old women had consumed more than eight units on a single day during the previous week, down from 23 per cent a year earlier and significantly less than older generations.
In fact, shocking figures from Alcohol Concern last month showed the cost of drink-related hospital admissions for baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) is ten times higher than that for 16 to 24-year-olds.
Researchers believe these young women are shunning alcohol for several reasons. First, young people have seen the toll drinking can have on their parents’ and grandparents’ generation and are determined not to repeat the same patterns.
They could also be inspired by a young generation of celebrities — including Jessie J, Florence Welch and Daniel Radcliffe — who say they don’t have time to drink and would rather focus on their careers than deal with hangovers.
Their attitudes have made the older generation of stars, who were famous for falling out of cabs drunk, look positively outdated.
Sober stars: Jessie J (left) and Daniel Radcliffe are among the celebrities who've given up alcohol
Alcohol sales peaked in 2004 and have fallen by 13 per cent since then, says the British Beer and Pubs Association
Dr Sarah Jarvis, medical adviser for the alcohol charity Drinkaware, says she has noticed a real change in women’s approach to alcohol.
'Young women come to me and say they actually don’t want to look like drunken celebrities who are pictured falling out of taxis flashing their underwear. Young people really have to be on top of their game now.
'The pressure to stay at work later and work harder is much greater and job insecurity means they don’t want to take time off sick with a hangover.'
Here, four members of the new 'sober generation' explain why they'll never drink again…
'I TELL PEOPLE MY DIET COKE HAS VODKA IN IT'
Sophie Atkinson, 23, from Newcastle, works in promotions and gave up drinking three years ago after worrying about the effects of alcohol on her health.
I fought my way through the crowd and eventually arrived at the bar of one of Newcastle’s most popular clubs. 'I’ll have an apple juice,' I said to the barmaid. She leant in closer to hear better and I said it again.
She was incredulous. 'What An apple juice Just on its own'
She couldn’t believe it. That was spring 2009, one of the first times I went out in my hometown — famed for its party lifestyle — since giving up drinking.
I was in my third year at the University of Salford, and I was determined to stick by my decision not to drink — no matter how hard it was.
In my first year, I got drunk like anyone else, knocking back vodka and Red Bull at least twice a week. I’d have a laugh, but then a hangover, and I always had a nagging voice in my head saying ‘Why are you doing this’
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Healthy choice: Sophie (left) and Alexis gave up alcohol because of concern about hangovers
'YOU CAN'T FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS WITH A BLEARY HEAD'
Alexis Knox, 24, fashion stylist and DJ, from London, gave up drinking two years ago because she felt alcohol was stopping her from concentrating on her career.
I stopped drinking when my work as a fashion stylist stepped up a notch in December 2010.
Even though I didn’t drink loads at the time, I thought that there had been a few occasions when I’d let opportunities slip through my fingers — I’d forgotten important contacts had given me their details on a night out, for example, and that made me feel frustrated.
Stopping drinking meant I’d always have a clear head and be ready for any breaks which came my way — and it also made it easier to look after my reputation.
Now we live in an age of social networking, everyone has access to your life. Having a photograph on Facebook of you looking drunk and messy isn’t good for your professional image.
When I’m out people always want to know why I’m not drinking and ask if I have a problem. But I don’t — I just knew that in order to handle my job the hangovers had to go.
I don’t mind explaining why I’ve given it up and I find a lot of people — men and women — envy my resolve not to drink.
People seem to be moving towards much cleaner living these days because they don’t want alcohol to hold them back. You can’t follow your dreams with a bleary head.
'HOW DO I TELL MY DATES I DON'T DRINK'
Stephanie Roper, 32, a personal stylist, from Halifax, gave up drinking for a month to run a half-marathon. Almost two years later, she’s never gone back to it.
A few weeks ago I emailed my friends in a panic. 'Help! I’m going on a date. What do I do'
My big dilemma How to tell him I don’t drink . . .
I first gave up alcohol to help me train for the Liverpool half-marathon in February 2011. Immediately I felt more alert and much less tired. And I was amazed to find that I didn’t really miss it.
The day after I’d done the race, my boss joked I should have a big glass of wine to reward myself and I realised that was the last thing I wanted.
It was then I decided to go another fortnight without alcohol, then a month, then two months. To start with it felt odd, I felt out of place and nerdy and I stopped going out for a while.
But soon I got used to it when I realised I could still have a brilliant time drinking water — and before I knew it 18 months had passed.
Then I faced my biggest test: A date without drink. The reply from my friends was almost unanimous — ‘No, don’t mention you’re teetotal.’
'He’ll think you’re weird,' said one. 'It might put him off,' said another. In the end, my date, Mark, sent me an email asking if I wanted to meet for a drink before we went for dinner. I seized my chance. 'I don’t drink,' I wrote.
I was worried he’d think I was either plain rude, or an alcoholic, but fortunately he was a perfect gentleman. He enjoyed a glass of wine and we had a lovely evening. There wasn’t really a spark between us, so we haven’t been out again, but the drinking wasn’t an issue at all.
I think it’s becoming much more acceptable now to admit you don’t want a drink. In my circle of friends, people respect it.
Giving up booze has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. My skin, which used to be prone to breakouts, is much clearer, and a stranger commented the other day on how shiny my hair is. I feel far more energised and in control of my life.
Now, the idea of wasting one of your two precious days off with a hangover seems ridiculous.
Tragic: Stacey (right) gave up after her mother died from alcohol abuse, while Stephanie is worried about how dates will react to her being teetotal
'I NEVER WANT MY CHILDREN TO SEE ME DRUNK'
Stacey McEvoy, 21, a graduate from Brighouse, West Yorkshire, gave up alcohol in May after her mother’s death.
With tears in my eyes, I read out a promise to my mother as I stood beside her coffin. 'I will never drink again, Mum. I hope you’ll be proud of me. My life will be different from yours and that will be your legacy.'
Days earlier, she’d passed away after suffering alcoholism for more than ten years. I hadn’t seen her for seven years because she’d left me with my grandparents when I was just 14 years old.
Her downward spiral of addiction and her chaotic life made it difficult for us to have any kind of relationship.
Mum really turned to alcohol to forget about her problems and her drinking got worse after she and my father split when I was seven. It turned into a serious addiction.
She wasn’t a nasty drunk, but she wasn’t present like a mother should have been — there was no helping me with my homework or asking about my day.
she existed in her own world, without me. Hence why she thought it best for me to be with my grandparents, although at the time it felt like she was abandoning me.
She did try to get help, from support groups rather than rehab, but it didn’t work. Soon after her death I vowed never to touch alcohol again.
I’d never drunk much anyway — just two or three glasses on a night out — and I never really enjoyed it.
A lot of my friends drink and I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t want to rule their lives and I know it can be fun in moderation.
But sadly, I also know the darker side of alcohol and what is a harmless pastime for some can ruin the lives of others.
I’m not prepared to put myself at risk of going down the same route as my mum.
I haven’t touched a drop in the seven months since my mum’s passing and can’t imagine ever doing so. I haven’t missed it either and have had lots of support, especially people I’ve talked to on support forums such as Children Of Addicted Parents and People (coap.org.uk).
Of course sitting in a bar with a glass of Coke sometimes makes me feel like the odd one out, but it’s worth it. I’ve recently graduated with a degree and have high hopes for the future.
I want to give my future children a childhood where alcohol isn’t important and where they’ll never see someone they love being drunk.