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Why Are Gen Z Opting for California Sober Lifestyles?

by Michaela Piontková

It’s a warm spring Saturday, a day perfect for a hot girl walk. Today, however, the air doesn’t only smell like blossoming flowers - and the soundtrack to your walk isn’t children laughing in the playground. 

Rather, the air brings you back to life in uni halls and you hear adult giggles instead.

Yes, today is 420. 

Associating the smell of marijuana with student accommodation might sound irrelevant to some. After all, not all students smoke, and it’s a common perception that majority drink, just like the all other adults. 

If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have Dry January. 

This year, however, the trend changed into what some called High January. As the name suggests, some people swapped alcohol for marijuana, very similar to the Cali Sober trend that appeared few years ago. 

At the time more countries legalised the drug, many of the older Gen Z and young millennials found themselves cutting down their alcohol usage and transitioning into smoking or digesting weed.

If you look up interviews with people practicing this trend, you’ll notice a certain pattern. They

graduated university, had that one last drunken night, and after waking up in the morning, they realised that they actually hate being hungover and were embarrassed remembering what they did only a few hours ago - a universal experience often names Hangxiety (hangover - anxiety). 

Most of them reported that when they were students, excessive drinking wasn’t seen as something they should be concerned about. 

In fact, it didn’t exist. When you’re a university student, it’s a part of the life you’re living, after all, it’s become a recurring joke that being a student is just being an alcoholic whose parents are proud of them. 

However, when you leave that environment, stop drinking for a bit, and then come back to it; you realise that what you were practicing might have been borderline alcoholism.

Terrified by this realisation, a lot of us became sober curious, a term that means that you try to cut down on alcohol without making it official. That allows you to try to be sober without the shame of having a glass of wine after you have been rejecting it for the past three months.

Studies show that this shift started to happen in the year 2020. It’s not a coincidence that it was the time the pandemic hit and so many of us moved back home. 

Living with your parents really gives you a different perspective on your habits. It was also much easier to become sober (or sober curious) when there weren’t any nights out to attend - for many, the reason to drink was simply for the social aspect and out of FOMO (which many reported to be the real issue). 

On the flip side, many Gen Z and Millennials drank to cope with anxiety which naturally increased living in such an uncertainty that the global pandemic brought to our lives. Consuming less alcohol then seemed harder and so they started searching for a substance that would be less harmful yet would provide them with that little escape from reality. 

As mentioned before, more countries started to legalize marijuana making it more accessible. Many celebrities started openly confessing to the use of the drug glorifying its effects and so the Cali Sober trend was born.

According to a Civic Science survey, one-third of 

the participants of Dry January substituted alcohol with marijuana. 

IWRS reported that people over 21 aren’t as interested in drinking, with 54% of Zoomers at legal drinking age in the U.S. saying they haven’t had an alcoholic drink in the past six months, compared to 37% of the total population over 21, according to an April 2023. 

New Frontier Data, a cannabis research firm, also found that 69% of 18–24-year-olds prefer cannabis to alcohol.

The statistics clearly show that marijuana is slowly replacing alcohol in popularity, but what does Gen Z actually think about the drug?

Speaking to peers, the majority asked agreed that weed should be legalised in the UK, even if they don’t smoke it themselves. 

“I think that it should be legalized for better moderation.”

“I believe that if alcohol is legal, then so should weed be. It’s a much less harmful drug with more

benefits. I know people who smoke to reduce anxiety, and to be more creative. No one gets violent after smoking a joint, unlike drunk people.”

“I don’t personally care, I don’t smoke it, it’s not something that I enjoy, however, I’m not against it

being legal. I don’t see it as something bad.”

“I think that people need to realise that yes, weed is a drug, but so is xanax which is legal. So is alcohol, so are other prescription drugs that you can build dependency on.”

There are many case studies focusing on the benefits of using cannabis, proving that it can indeed be helpful for patients with chronic pains or people with mental health disorders

However, experts also warn that overconsumption of the drug is dangerous and that the Cali trend, while it might work for some, can also have a negative impact on others.

While Gen Z have a more positive relationship with marijuana, and it has positive effects for a variety of struggles, let’s try to make sure it doesn’t become another problematic substance that is abused just like many do with alcohol - and other legalised substances like vapes.

Edited by Emily Duff

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