THIS week, a national competition has been launched in Japan to encourage the population to drink more alcohol. Sake Viva! is being run by their equivalent of HMRC, worried about their sharply declining revenue from alcohol sales. The annual amount the average Japanese person drinks has shrunk from 100 litres in 1995 to 75 litres in 2020. At the same time, the money accrued from taxes on alcohol has shrunk from 5% of total tax revenue in 1980 to 1.7% today. Their tax office is therefore asking people to do their civic duty by opening up an extra can or two of Asahi.

One of the reasons that such revenue has gone down is that younger people are not turning to drink in the same way that previous generations did – and do. That’s far from unique to Japan: across North America, Europe and here in the UK, the last couple of decades have seen an increasing rise in abstinence and moderation. Figures show that the amount of British 16-24 year olds drinking alcohol in the last week fell from 65% in 1998 to 41% two decades later. Or to flip that number round, the amount of young people not drinking was one third, and is now heading towards two thirds.

Also out last week was a paper in the British Journal of Sociology, trying to make sense of precisely why drinking was declining among young adults. This gave various reasons: more choice in terms of what young people could do, more pressure in terms of needing a job and working hard, and a greater interest in health and wellbeing. While the number of children admitting to trying alcohol has fallen by two thirds in two decades, the number eating their five a day has doubled.

Such findings has led to these younger generations being dubbed ‘Generation Sensible.’ But while cutting back on alcohol has undoubted health benefits, the paper also noted a simultaneous rise in mental health problems and self-harm among the same age groups. Numerous surveys also show that younger adults feel more lonely than those in older age groups. And while previous generations grew up with the confidence that life would get better, the majority of young people now feel they will enjoy fewer opportunities than their parents.

When 75% agreed that ‘the future is frightening’, perhaps it’s not surprising that the younger generations are more risk averse. But that’s not healthy for them as individuals, or for society as a whole. For my generation, a friendly pint remains the answer to many a worry. The young may be right that drinking is not the solution: the problem is, they haven’t yet found an alternative to replace it.