Are Young People Just Swapping Vices?

More and more Americans are beginning to view even moderate drinking as harmful to health. According to Gallup’s latest data, 52% of those 18 to 34 think so, up from 34% five years ago. This perception is in line with reports that younger adults are drinking less. Those who drink are less likely than they were in the past to say they had an alcoholic drink within the past seven days—an indication of being a regular drinker. The 61% who most recently reported having a drink in the past week is down from 64% in 2011 – 2013 and 67% in 2001 – 2003.

But this data doesn’t necessarily indicate the rejection of all recreational substances. Marijuana, which attracted the lowest level of health concern in comparison to other substances, is becoming more normalized and accessible as legalization increases. Tobacco is also prevalent among young people—even among younger teens. According to the CDC, in 2023, 1 of every 8 high school students (12.6%) reported current use of a tobacco product. Vaping—widely recognized as “very harmful” by the majority in Gallup’s study—constitutes the vast majority of youth tobacco use today. 

Are young people merely swapping one vice for another, and if so, what does this mean for future health outcomes? When we consider the latest data on young people’s drinking behaviors, we should also zoom out to assess the fuller picture. 


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Dry Atlas is a media company focused on alcohol alternatives. We deliver non-alc insights, news, and recs to over five million people annually. To stay up to date on all things non-alc, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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