If you say you don’t want to date a smoker, nobody bats an eye. As a society, we’ve long understood that cigarettes are bad for your health, so it makes sense if you don’t want to be around someone who’s constantly lighting up — even if it’s just because you don’t like the smell. But a new wave of daters are getting the ick about another vice: drinking.
There are plenty of similarities between drinking and smoking when it comes to negative health side effects, as well as the way it’s perceived. In fact, the search term “alcohol is the new cigarettes” has more than 13 million views on TikTok and thousands of videos comparing the two. Throughout the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, up to 45% of Americans were smokers. Smoking was allowed in bars and restaurants until the mid-’90s, when some states began prohibiting it. And until it was banned in 1990, you were even allowed to smoke on planes. Now, that level of lighting up seems completely bonkers.
Cut to today and instead of smoking 24/7, we’re drinking everywhere — in bars and restaurants and on planes, yes. But beyond that, folks love a wine walk, a boozy brunch, and even beer-fueled bike rides. Just like smoking in the past, drinking is ubiquitous and normalized. But, like smoking, many people have come to the conclusion that society’s constant need to drink seems excessive. And when it comes to dating, it’s even giving people the ick.
Is Drinking Kind Of Passe?
A 2022 CivicScience survey found that 19% of respondents are sober-curious, which likely corresponds to the a rise in participation in challenges like Dry January, Sober September, and Sober October. Meanwhile, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found a major spike in alcohol consumption, as well as alcohol-related deaths, between 2019 and 2020.
“I think a lot of people started questioning alcohol’s role in their life after the pandemic,” says TikToker Tess Allen, who posted a now-viral video on Jan. 19 dubbing alcohol “the new cigarettes.” Younger generations in particular seem more aware of the dangers of alcohol — which include everything from hangover-induced headaches and anxiety to long-term health effects like high blood pressure and liver cancer — and are more likely to ditch the drink as a result.
In 2022, research published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal found a sharp increase in disapproval among teenage respondents, indicating a seismic shift between the generations when it comes to the way drinking is perceived.
“What once was potentially a taboo subject is now something people are more open to discussing — it’s cool to not drink,” Allen tells Bustle. “You see people on TikTok talking about their damp lifestyles, celebrities opening up about sobriety, and there are more podcasts and resources.” Bella Hadid quit drinking at the end of 2022, Kim Kardashian is famously not into alcohol, and both Demi Lovato and John Mulaney are sober to treat alcohol use disorders.
At the time of posting her video on the subject, Allen was 70 days sober, and many of her friends were experimenting with drinking less, too. “I just felt like there was this collective push to reconsider alcohol altogether,” she explains. And it’s one of those lifestyle changes that can have a ripple effect, especially when it comes to dating.
The Drama Of Drinking & Dating
It can be really difficult to date, and to find places to go on dates, when you’re sober-curious, especially since the go-to meet-up location tends to be a bar. Jen*, 33, who cut back on alcohol in the past year, opts for nondrinking dates whenever possible as a way to side-step the issue. When the other person insists on a bar, she instantly gets the ick. “I’ve had far too many drunk dates,” Jen says. “It’s not where I’m at right now. I want that to be behind me.”
Then there are folks like Karla, 29, who often don’t even make it to the first date due to differing lifestyles. “For me, my family has a history of alcoholism, so drinking is something I look out for when I’m dating someone or on the apps,” she tells Bustle. “If I see a lot of pictures of beer pong or people doing shots or something like that, or always pictures in clubs, it gives me the vibe that ‘Oh, this person’s a big partier and will probably want every activity that we do to include drinking.’”
Karla says she loves a glass of wine or a craft beer on occasion, but that she doesn’t want her entire relationship to be based around drinking. “It’s just not sustainable,” she says. “If people only want to meet up for drinks, that’s not a relationship. That’s just you wanting to get drunk all the time.”
Hannah O’Donnell, a United Kingdom-based professional certified coach who documents her sober journey on TikTok, has a similar viewpoint. “Being around a sloppy date is an instant turnoff,” she says, pointing to why she no longer matches with drinkers. While not everyone gets messy when they sip alcohol, O’Donnell prefers getting to know her dates sans booze. She says she’d choose a three-hour sober date, where she can actually get to know the person, over a three-hour drunk date any day.
For others, the ick is lurking at the surface but doesn’t always take hold. “If someone has two or more [dating profile] photos in which they are drinking and/or states on their profile that they drink more than just socially, I wonder if we have similar lifestyles,” Ilse, 30, tells Bustle. “But it’s not a dealbreaker. If we seem to have a lot of other things in common, I’m still open to getting to know them.”
Ilse cut back on drinking after seeing studies about alcohol consumption and how it impacts physical and mental health. “I have a harder and harder time consuming it or seeing others do so regularly,” she explains. She’s still open to bar dates, but keeps an eye on the vibe.
“I don’t mind [if my date drinks more than me], unless it impacts how they treat me or others around them,” she says. “I do pay close attention to how they react to me drinking less — if it is off-putting to them, it’s a signal that our lifestyles may not align and that they may not be open-minded.”
Clearly, it’s becoming more common to view excessive drinking with the same disgust as smoking, says Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist who shares on TikTok. If, for whatever reason, you’re totally over beers and bars, he recommends mentioning it during the first couple of conversations before you meet with someone new as a way to ensure you’re on the same page.
If they’re still in, you can plan your get-togethers accordingly. “There are tons of other date ideas that don’t involve alcohol, such as bike riding, hiking, going to the gym, rock climbing, playing Frisbee, going to a concert, et cetera,” he tells Bustle. And if your date is down to stay sober, it might just stave off the ick.
Kate, 35, says she’s impressed when someone suggests a creative night out that doesn’t involve bar crawls or bottles of wine. “I went on a date where we played board games,” she tells Bustle. “In the past, I would have rolled my eyes. I felt like we had to get drunk or else it wasn’t ‘fun.’ Maybe I’m old, but now that seems cliché.”
Liu, R. (2015). Modeling flight attendants' exposure to secondhand smoke in commercial aircraft: historical trends from 1955 to 1989. J Occup Environ Hyg. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2014.957830.
Seitz, H. K., & Becker, P. (2006). Alcohol Metabolism and Cancer Risk. Alcohol Research & Health, 30(1), 38-47. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860434/
Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D., licensed psychologist
*Names have been changed.