Kraus, L., Room, R., Livingston, M., Pennay, A., Holmes, J., Törrönen, J.

Long waves of consumption or a unique social generation? Exploring recent declines in youth drinking


Addiction Research and Theory, published online: 07 Jul 2019. doi: 10.1080/16066359.2019.1629426

Background: There is growing evidence for recent declines in adolescent alcohol use in the Western world. While these changes have been subject to scientific debate, the reasons for this downward trend are not yet understood.

Method: We consider broader theoretical framings that might be useful in understanding declines in youth drinking. In particular, we reflect on the historical observations of ‘long waves of alcohol consumption’, the ‘Total Consumption Model’, and the ‘Theory of Social Generations’. Based on this, we explore some of the main hypotheses that are presently discussed as possible explanations for changes in youth drinking.

Results: We suggest there may have been a change in the social position of alcohol as a social reaction to the negative effects of alcohol, but also emphasize the importance of changes in technology, social norms, family relationships and gender identity, as well as trends in health, fitness, wellbeing and lifestyle behavior. As a result of the interplay of these factors, the ‘devaluation’ of alcohol and the use of it may have contributed to the decrease in youth drinking.

Conclusions: For interrupting the recurrent cycle of the ‘long waves of alcohol consumption’, we need to take advantage of the present change in sentiment and “lock in” these changes by new control measures. The model of change presented here hinges on the assumption that the observed change in the position the present young generation takes on alcohol proceeds through the life course, eventually reducing alcohol use in the whole population.


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