Millennials Might Be Drinking Less, And Dietitians Are Thrilled

Photographed by Anna Jay.
Imagine you’re sitting in a Friday morning meeting rubbing your pounding temples with fervor — you’re hoping you can massage away the excruciating hangover plaguing you after one too many cocktails at last night’s happy hour. The shuffle of papers has never been louder, and things are looking bleak.
If you really do have to imagine this scenario because you've never been hungover at work, you might be evidence of the hypothesis in a recently published Atlantic article that surveyed more than 100 Americans in their 20s and 30s about their dwindling alcohol consumption. It also makes you a registered dietitian's dream patient.
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“Many Millennials — and especially the urban, college-educated consumers prized by marketers— might just be tired of drinking so much,” Mull proposed in her article. Although most of the evidence supporting her theory is anecdotal and not supported by stats, Mull wrote that millennials are now drinking “in moderation.” Moderation is hard to define concretely, but Mull suggested it might mean having one glass of merlot once a week, instead of every night with dinner. It might also mean opting for alcohol-free cocktails at brunch.
Kristin Kirkpatrick — MS, RDN, and author of the book "Skinny Liver: A Proven Program to Prevent and Reverse the New Silent Epidemic—Fatty Liver Disease" — says the purported trend towards millennial moderation could be a great thing. She's found her patients are healthier and happier when they drink less. This makes sense because when people do drink in excess, it can raise the heart rate and blood pressure, slow brain activity, and cause vomiting, among other issues, Alcohol.org reports.
"Excess alcohol can zap energy, so many of the people I work with will tell me that they're more likely to go for that morning gym visit, play with their kids, and be more productive at work when they are not dealing with the effects of alcohol the next day," Kirkpatrick says. "They also tend to focus more on nutrient dense foods, fueling their cells with whole foods instead of alcohol.” While skipping a second cocktail doesn't automatically mean you're focusing on overall health, switching out a martini for another serving of avocado toast does sound millennial to us.
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“It’s very dehydrating to the body, and studies have shown that alcohol can impact your sleep and worsen your mood,” says Maggie Michalczyk, RD and founder of the Once Upon A Pumpkin blog. These are huge short-term gains, but there are also long-term effects for your health. Drinking less can help reduce your risk for chronic diseases that can lead to death, Kirkpatrick says. She notes there's a laundry list of risks its associated with, including cancer, liver issues, and cardiovascular problems.
But cutting back on the booze may mean more for millennial women specifically, because their bodies can't process alcohol physiologically as well as men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that women have a harder time metabolizing alcohol because of their body structure and chemistry. Kirkpatrick further explains that women tend to carry more fat and less overall water content, which plays a role in breaking down alcohol.
One millennial woman interviewed in The Atlantic’s story, Cassie Schoon, said: “I drank pretty regularly in my 20s, especially in social situations … It wasn’t until I hit my 30s that I realized that alcohol was no longer my friend.”
Some research would argue that alcohol was never her friend to begin with. A study in The Lancet medical journal found that pretty much no amount of alcohol is truly “safe.” Not all experts are convinced by these findings, Time reported.
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All this is to say that if The Atlantic’s report is true, millennials may be on the right track as they begin to temper their drinking habits. As a dietitian, Michalczyk can list plenty of reasons this a healthy trend. But Michalczyk is also a millennial, and is in tune with the their psyche in general.
“It’s about health,” Michalczyk says. “But as a millennial, it’s also about the simple acts of waking up on a Saturday, feeling great, and knowing you can crush your morning workout class before a nice, healthy, millennial brunch.”
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.
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