Every weekend in college was a bender for Isabella. Because she and her friends didn’t have much money, they would buy the cheapest alcohol they could afford then restrict their food intake to get tipsy faster. If she drank that way now, she thinks someone would intervene. But back then? “We always used to joke that you’re not an alcoholic until you graduate.”

But when the pandemic interrupted the last semester of her senior year, Isabella’s drinking habits shifted. While living with her parents away from her college campus and friends, she started thinking about how much she disliked hangovers. She also realized she didn’t particularly like the feeling of being drunk – or the regret and embarrassment she felt the next day over her tipsy self’s actions. “I look back like, that was so embarrassing, I got on top of the bar,” Isabella said. “I don’t wanna look back and feel that way anymore.”

Part of it, she thinks, is just age. When she was younger, she felt like she had to drink to feel more confident. And she was scared of missing out on socializing with her friends but now she’s done with FOMO. She rarely drinks and when she does, it’s much less than she used to. She recently told her boyfriend she’s gotten “the ick” from drinking. And in a chaotic world, her alcohol intake is something she can control. “The world is just generally terrible and it’s nice to have something that I can control.”

Drinking, like most things it seems, is a spectrum. There’s “sober curious,” which describes dabbling in a lifestyle of drinking less or not at all; there’s “mindful drinking,” which is about becoming more intentional about one’s relationship with alcohol; and of course, there’s sobriety, in which people abstain from drinking completely. And it’s not uncommon for young people to choose a different relationship with alcohol – research has shown that Gen Z drinks less than millennials.

Millie, 26, spent the fall of 2020 “really depressed and binge-drinking.” After realizing how frequently she drank to the point of vomiting and blacking out, she decided to be completely sober for 2021. “I thought it’d be a groundbreaking revelation, like this big thing,” she said.

“And I didn’t really feel that way.” She did notice she was saving money, which was nice, but she was irritated by having to take on the role of “mom” when her friends were drinking and she wasn’t. Still, after a year of sobriety, she decided that drinking held more cons than pros. Now, she drinks occasionally but is still trying to find a place in between the two polar opposites of her drinking habits – a middle ground between sobriety and binge-drinking. “Before, I was very much a ‘go hard or don’t at all’ type person so I’m trying to figure out that middle ground.”

Now, there’s plenty of room for that middle ground. As taking a break from alcohol becomes more common, there’s increasingly more support around not drinking. In person groups or social media accounts can create community, and there are now more options than ever if you’re looking for alcohol alternatives — from booze-free wine to craft mocktails, and even to alcohol-free liquor. And, as marijuana becomes legal for people over 21 in more places, that’s become a common alternative, too.

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