The Millennial Pursuit of Pleasure

Generation Z are drinking and using drugs less than their predecessors, with the number of 11 to 15 year olds who have used illicit substances halving since 2001. If these figures are accurate then why does youth drug culture seem to have coloured the current social landscape to the extent that many professionals argue that recreational drug abuse has become normalised in the UK.

Bombarded with articles supporting the new risk-averse, sensible generation - too consumed by social media to concern themselves with MDMA - it seems surprising that Gen Z have bypassed the highs of illicit consumption. Especially considering we live in an era driven by instant gratification.

It is interesting to me that, despite the prolific trend of excessive consumption being prevalent in both generations, the rates of both legal and illicit drug consumption are noticeably higher among Millennials. This topic is becoming more and more attractive to researchers, with a recent study concluding that a third of under-25s are now teetotal.

The constant thrust of consumerism is deeply embedded in modern life, and Generation Z has never known anything else. There seems to be no escaping it, from our choice of cereal in the morning, to the music we listen to and the films we watch. The majority of us are becoming aware that we are victims of consumerism. Trends change and although it doesn't seem to matter what we’re devouring, we are ravenous for a pleasure that we have come to believe only consumerism can fill.

The ideology of consumerism has sold the object of desire to a clientele naïve to its paradox. Millennials spent their childhoods in an era of socially sanctioned pleasure, with regulated technology use and minimal social media being the norm. Facebook was something that only the cool kids used and the concept of Instagram or snapchat would have seemed far-fetched and futuristic. Advancements in technology and the extensive growth of unfettered capitalism has changed the landscape of indulgence. Pleasure is no longer so strictly regulated, instead pleasure is prescribed as the rightful passage to fulfillment.  Advertising tantalises us with objects that are claimed to fulfill our desires and the frightening pace of production of quickly obsolete consumer goods allows capitalism to thrive. Previous generations viewed these indulgences as luxury, Gen Z see them as integral parts of everyday life.

However, while as unsuspecting customers we blindly consume, we fail to realise that our consumption will never satisfy our desire; the paradox being that the precondition of desire is a lack of being. Desire is fueled by the yearning for something that we don’t have, and so paradoxically this prerequisite of lacking means that desire can never fully be satisfied. Consumerism has intoxicated our society, making us high on desire, devoted to achieving a satisfaction (or fulfillment) that will never be reached but rather be constantly reproduced by the system it operates in.

To Generation Z, unquenchable desire is an aspect of modern life taken for granted, an annoying side effect of the environment they live in. To Millennials, the constant changing of trends and the failure to reach contentment can be depressing. The promise of fulfillment seems unattainable amid the bleak economic environment and fiercely competitive graduate landscape.  

Are these two outlooks connected in any way to attitudes towards alcohol and drug use? Possibly.

For Millennials, are relatively high rates of recreational alcohol and drug use simply a way of seeking to fill the insatiable longing for fulfillment that consumerism has fraudulently sold them? A search for an unrestrained bodily pleasure that lasts longer than the dopamine hit from an Instagram like.

For Gen Z, is the contemporary emphasis and availability of unrestrained pleasure simply ruining the allure that previously captivated the kids of the 90s? LSD is for hippies and cocaine is expensive and anticlimactic. Maybe Gen Z are just too pragmatic in their pursuit of instant gratification.