Experts on alcohol abuse have found one demographic group that’s drinking at an alarming rate. Not teenagers. Not college-age people. It’s baby boomers.

For reasons not well understood, teenage and college-age Americans today are consuming alcohol at lower rates than young people 10 years ago, according to the Monitoring the Future study at the University of Michigan.

The most widely discussed hypothesis is that young people have changed the way they organize their social lives today, said Katherine Keyes, a Columbia University professor of epidemiology who has tracked drinking trends.

That might make some sense at first glance, since teenagers a generation or two ago were more likely to meet in the parking lot behind the school gym and hope someone brought a cooler of beer. But Keyes notes that this downward trend started well before the advent of smartphones and social media. She points, instead, to cigarettes and the successful anti-smoking campaigns of recent decades. That may have had a cascading effect among young people. Cigarettes, Keyes said, are often the first thing teenagers experiment with, and can function as a “gateway drug” to alcohol. But smoking isn’t cool anymore, and teen smoking has dropped dramatically.Nationally, alcohol consumption presents a complicated picture. Overall, drinking is relatively flat, according to Aaron White, senior scientific adviser at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But if young people aren’t drinking as much as they used to, that means some other cohort is drinking more heavily.

That’s where the boomers make their (tipsy?) entrance.

There are generational trends in alcohol consumption, and one that’s been known for half a century is that baby boomers tend to like alcohol more than the “silent generation” that preceded them.

As the silents move on to their reward, and as the boomers (the cohort of people born between 1946 and 1964) age, the boomers make up a greater portion of the 65-plus age bracket tracked by researchers who study alcohol consumption.


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