Sober is the new sexy: Why many Aussies are cutting back on the booze

Sober is the new sexy. Image: Getty.
  • A Nielsen report found that 66% of 21-34 year old alcohol drinkers in Australia are making an effort to reduce their overall alcohol intake.
  • One of the primary reasons for cutting back on alcohol is being more health-conscious.
  • Business Insider spoke to companies Non and Brunswick Aces, which produce varieties of non-alcoholic beverages, to provide their insights on the sober trend.

‘Going out for drinks’ is a common refrain among Australians, whether it’s for a celebration or as a way to catch up with friends. And while ‘drinks’ usually means alcohol, there is a growing trend of Aussies opting to not only curb their alcohol intake but even reach for a non-alcoholic bevvy instead.

According to Drinkwise, 20% of Australians abstained from alcohol in 2017, an 11% increase from 2007.

A Nielsen report noted that Australians are cutting down the amount of alcohol they drink, with “one in four claiming they have done so recently”. It added that 66% of 21-34 year old alcohol drinkers said they are making an effort to reduce their overall alcohol intake.

The main reason for Aussies reducing the amount of drinking? Choosing a healthier lifestyle, according to Nielsen.

In 2018, Michael Livingston, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University, highlighted the decline of young Australians consuming alcohol compared to older Australians. He found that Australia’s attitude to alcohol has changed over the past 15 years.

“In general, people are more concerned about the risks of drinking, more likely to support restrictive alcohol policies and generally more aware of the potential harms,” Livingston told Business Insider in an email.

“However, the attitude shifts haven’t flowed through to consumption changes for older drinkers. We’re not sure exactly why this is – obviously changes to attitudes are more likely to affect young people’s behaviours: they’ve not established drinking habits yet and haven’t developed years of associations between alcohol and celebration, commiseration et cetera.

“In contrast, older people are pretty set in their drinking ways – improvements in knowledge and attitudes are not going to be enough to shift their behaviours in the same way.”

And amid this reduction in alcohol consumption is the popularity of short term alcohol-free events like Dry July and FebFast which have the double benefit of donating to various causes.

But what can you drink instead?

Non-alcoholic beverages

Sure, water and soft drinks are an option when you’re trying to cut down on the booze. Alternatively, there is a plethora of non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirit options which have been popping up in Australia and around the world.

There are companies such as Seedlip, which claims it produces the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits, and major alcohol brands like Heineken and Carlton and United Breweries which have rolled out their own ranges of non-alcoholic beers.

A report from IWSR, which does research on alcohol trends around the world, found there is a “discernable trend” of mindful drinking in Australia.

It found that more than half of consumers surveyed indicated that “they have or would consider drinking low-/no-alcohol products, spurring a small but burgeoning low-/no-alcohol industry in the country”.

One of those companies specialising in these non-alcoholic options is Melbourne-based Brunswick Aces.

The company launched in 2017 and produces non-alcoholic beverages which it calls ‘sapiir’. It has a non-alcoholic gin called ‘Spades’, as well as ‘Hearts’, which is inspired by mulled wines.

Brunswick Aces Co-founder and CEO Stephen Lawrence told Business Insider Australia in an email that the company started out as a project between neighbours “to create something we could all share and enjoy when some of us weren’t drinking.”

Now it exports to New Zealand and Singapore, with expansions set for the US and Europe in 2020.

Image: Brunswick Aces.

Lawrence attributed the company’s success and the broader growth in the non-alcoholic beverage space, to the attitude toward health in Australia.

“Aussies are inherently healthy, and as we have seen in the rise of moderation in the food industry with a reduction of meat consumption, as well as the popularity of no sugar drinks and the rise of kombucha, this health trend has expanded to encompass the alcohol industry,” he said.

While Brunswick Aces doesn’t vouch for complete abstinence from alcohol, Lawrence said it promotes a lifestyle of moderation. “We support the healthy consumption of alcohol and sometimes that means having a non-alcoholic G&T on a Thursday night in front of the TV, and a few alcoholic G&Ts with friends on a Friday,” he said.

But who exactly is going for Brunswick Aces’ product?

“The majority of our consumers are women over 25 years old but we see a broad cross-section represented in who enjoys our products,” Lawrence said. “The most interesting thing about our customer base is that the vast majority love to host and ensure their guests are well catered for, regardless of their preference for alcohol.

“Our sapiir was developed to bring our own community together and it’s great to see that it’s able to do the same for our customers and their communities.”

Another company which produces non-alcoholic beverages is NON, which specialises in non-alcoholic wine. Managing Director and Co-founder Aaron Trotman told Business Insider in an email that the idea for it came from a conversation about non-alcoholic pairings while dining in restaurants.

“As we developed the drinks, we realised there isn’t enough complexity or “adultness” in non-alcoholic drinks or they are often far too sweet,” Trotman said.

“A ready to pour option without any mixers was what we wanted to develop. Just like when you eat at a good restaurant there’s no salt & pepper on the table.”

Image: NON.

According to Bazaar, the non-alcoholic wines are even stocked in top restaurants in the country including Quay and Bar Liberty.

Like Stephen Lawrence, Trotman points to health as one of the main reasons why people choose non-alcoholic beverages.

“Mindful consumption is the way people consume now,” Trotman said. “Social changes are another one, younger people don’t think it’s cool to get smashed, and this is also social media being caught on camera out of it. With the rise of social media young people socialise very differently now also.”

Trotman also pointed to another factor which could play into the decision. “The #MeToo movement has made women think very carefully about where and how much they drink. It’s all for very good reasons in our opinion.”

Choosing to go sober

There are many reasons why some people choose not to drink alcohol, but it can be difficult to stick to it when classmates, co-workers and your mates can make you feel the pressure to drink.

But one organisation is lending a hand for those in that situation.

Untoxicated is a group for people who want to socialise without alcohol. Launched in 2018, the organisation has since grown to around 3,500 members, with groups meeting in Sydney, Melbourne and online.

Untoxicated founder Faye Lawrence told Business Insider Australia in an email she had been a heavy drinker for around 30 years “until eventually the wheels fell off” and she went into inpatient detox in 2017.

Lawrence described “high-functioning drinkers” as those “who hold down demanding jobs, raise kids, pay the mortgage and keep it together for the most part, all while drinking heavily”.

She explained that when she finally stopped drinking, it was both interesting and terrifying. “I didn’t know how to operate in the world because alcohol was so entrenched with my ‘life and soul of the party’ identity,” she said. “I also didn’t really have any coping mechanisms – I’d always just used booze.”

Lawrence added that in the past, she had succumbed to a lot of peer pressure to drink and even “doled it out to others”. But this time, having known how bad things had gotten for her, Lawrence was firm in her decision not to drink and she found that “people seemed to accept that.”

“I think the difference this time was that I totally owned it,” she said. “There’s nothing to [be] embarrassed about, just because you’re not drinking.

“It’s interesting because people automatically think if you’re sober you’re judging them for drinking, which is just not the case. I still go to bars sometimes; I don’t believe in preaching and I don’t hate booze. Many people are able to enjoy it in moderation.

“But I would like to see acceptance of people’s choice not to drink. After all, we don’t pressure people to take drugs or cigarettes when they quit.”

But the decision not to drink alcohol doesn’t always have to stem from having a problem with drinking.

Lawrence mentions the many and varied reasons why people are choosing to go sober, including those who have never really liked alcohol, those who don’t enjoy the effects of alcohol or being around drunk people, religious and cultural reasons, health and wellness reasons or just wanting to cut back.

And, according to Lawrence, people who have joined Untoxicated “love it” as they are able to socialise with no pressure to drink. “It’s literally and metaphorically taken off the table,” she said.

Still a way to go

While alcohol will always exist – in fact ISWR forecasts there will be an increase in alcohol consumption around the world in 2023 – there is a growing movement catering for those who want to cut down.

Lawrence acknowledged that there is still a “massive way to go” for there to be a greater acceptance in Australia of people who opt not to drink.

“It’s such an issue for Untoxicated members, many of whom really want to cut back or stop, but the pressure from friends and work colleagues can be overwhelming,” she said.

“It’s something you hear over and over again. ‘Don’t be so boring’ or ‘just have one’ or people being ‘playfully’ threatened with being disinvited from events.”

But if you’re trying to curb your alcohol intake, Faye Lawerence advised being true to yourself. “If you feel like you want to give up – for whatever reason – then give it a go,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be forever, maybe just try it for a month with a sense of curiosity and see how you feel.

“I don’t try and persuade people to quit, because it’s not my life and it’s not my business, but for me it’s been a total game changer.

“I’m coming up to two years sober and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. What you gain totally overshadows any perceived loss. I wish I’d done it sooner. And I never in a million years ever thought I’d say that.”

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