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Is it safe for someone with an alcohol problem to drink 0.5% ABV drinks?

Important disclaimer – I run The Alcohol-Free Shop, which we started in 2006 – two years after I stopped drinking because of alcoholism.

This is a question we get asked fairly often.

We always tell anyone who asks that it’s a purely personal choice, and we never actively encourage anyone. We tell them only to do it if they are fully confident in their sobriety – at least, as much as anyone can be.

On a purely physical basis there’s no issue with the tiny amount of alcohol (less than 0.5% ABV) in the drinks, unless you are taking a drug like Antabuse/Disulfiram which makes you ill if you take any alcohol.

The main concern people have is the mental association of drinking something that looks and tastes (at least for the good ones) like an alcoholic drink.

For some people, that can be a problem – which is why we never encourage people to do it with a carefree attitude. You have to be sure that it won’t be a trigger for you to want to drink again.

But speaking personally, I drink alcohol-free beer nearly every day. It’s my drink of choice. Why? Because I like the taste and it’s refreshing. I don’t want to drink water, or cola, or orange juice. Especially orange juice. One, maybe. Two, or more? No thanks.

I’m aware some people will have the view I am a ‘dry drunk’. Fine. Think what you want. The fact is I don’t get drunk. I don’t do the things I did when I was drinking. Now I just make the same mistakes as ‘normal’ people.

I don’t have any craving for alcohol at all.

A lot of our customers are in recovery and find alcohol-free drinks help them, as I do.

Many soft drinks have small amounts of alcohol added to them. It helps the flavour and mouthfeel. But because they are soft-drinks (and the alcohol is under 0.5%) legally they do not have to put it on the label. But a drink that is de-alcoholised to 0.5% has to state it.

It’s quite possible you are already drinking as much alcohol in a soft-drink as you are in a non-alcoholic beer.

And I presume the people who avoid it for the alcohol content (not the mental association – that’s a different argument) also avoid bread – that nasty stuff often has up to 0.5% ABV too…

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John Risby

John Risby

Founder and co-owner of The Alcohol-Free Shop and AlcoholFree.com. John is a recovering alcoholic who stopped drinking in June 2004. Born and raised in Manchester, he now lives in Malaga with his wife and young daughter. He came to terms with being an alcoholic many years ago, but still finds the concept his daughter is Spanish very strange.

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