Cutting your drinking with alcohol-free or low alcohol drinks
Swapping a standard strength beer, wine or spirit for a low alcohol or alcohol-free version could help you cut your drinking and improve your health.
If you’re looking for a way to cut down on alcohol without cutting it out completely, alcohol-free or low alcohol drinks could be right for you.
There are more alcohol-free and low alcohol alternatives to standard beer, wine, cider, gin and spirits available than ever before. And with recent advances in technology meaning better tasting products, if you want to drink at lower risk, there’s never been a better time to give them a try.
Low alcohol and alcohol-free drinks aren’t suitable for everyone – nearly all still contain alcohol. They may not be considered acceptable if you avoid alcohol for religious reasons, and they aren’t recommended for anyone who is pregnant, dependent on alcohol, or under 18s.
Without realising it, the units of alcohol in your drinks can quickly add up. This could take you over the UK Chief Medical Officers' low risk drinking guidelines – not more than 14 units a week (for both men and women), spread over three or more days with several drink-free days and no bingeing.
Getting into the habit of drinking fewer standard alcoholic drinks and replacing them with alcohol-free or low alcohol alternatives can form part of a sustainable approach to cutting down on alcohol in the longer-term.1
Swapping a standard strength alcoholic drink for a low alcohol or alcohol-free one will mean you consume fewer units of alcohol and are more likely to stay within the guidelines - but only if you aren’t adding them on top of any alcohol you usually drink.
The benefits of switching to stick within the low risk drinking guidelines are clear. In the short term, you’re more likely to get a better night’s sleep and less likely to have a hangover, so you feel fresher the next day.
And sticking to the guidelines will also lower your risk of the serious long-term effects of alcohol - including cancers, mental health problems, high blood pressure, stroke, liver and heart disease.
More and more people are cutting down by using alcohol-free and low alcohol drinks. In fact, figures from 2021 show one in five UK adults used alcohol-free drinks as a way of moderating their alcohol consumption.3
These days, there are more, better tasting, low alcohol drinks to choose from than ever before. Drinkaware research has found regular drinkers of low alcohol products thought the taste had improved over recent years. Negative perceptions of taste were more common amongst people who hadn’t tried them, with many people pleasantly surprised with the taste when they did.4
Introducing lower alcohol or alcohol-free drinks to your routine is simple, and it doesn’t mean you have to stick to them all the time. Here are some tips if you’re ready to give them a try.
Because they have much less alcohol in them, switching a standard alcoholic drink for a low alcohol or alcohol-free can be a good way to cut your units - but only if you aren’t adding them on top of any alcohol you usually drink.
You may be surprised how easy the swap makes it to cut down a few units here and there, if you are having one less beer, wine, cider or gin. Then you can start enjoying the benefits of cutting down, such as getting a better night’s sleep or reducing your blood pressure.
If you drink alcohol, it makes sense to track how many units you are having, to make sure you are sticking to the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines. That means no more than 14 units a week (for both men and women), spread over three or more days with several drink-free days.
The MyDrinkaware app is an easy way to keep track of both the units and the calories in your alcoholic drinks, with personalised goals and stats to keep you motivated on your journey.
Choosing a low alcohol or alcohol-free alternative to beer, wine, cider or spirits is a great way to cut your alcohol intake. But that doesn’t mean you should put your ‘saved’ units towards a heavier drinking session on another night.
Binge drinking (more than six units in a single session for a woman, or more than eight units for a man) is dangerous – you’re at greater risk of accidents, alcohol poisoning, violence and other short- and long-term health issues.
Low alcohol and alcohol-free drinks still usually contain some alcohol. They may not be considered acceptable if you avoid alcohol for religious reasons, and they aren’t recommended for anyone who is pregnant, dependent on alcohol, or under 18s, or for anyone who has been advised to avoid alcohol completely for other medical reasons.
It’s also important to remember that some alcohol-free drinks are high in sugar – so they aren’t automatically a ‘healthy’ choice. If you’re worried about gaining weight, alternating with a glass of water avoids some extra calories, or choosing a labelled low-calorie drink.
Low alcohol and alcohol-free drinks can be a great way of cutting down on the amount you of drink at home or pacing yourself on a night out, helping to avoid the short-term effects of drinking too much.
Drinkaware research has found people who haven’t tried low alcohol or alcohol-free drinks are more likely to have negative perceptions of their taste than people who do drink them.5
Many people who drink low alcohol and alcohol-free, choose them as a practical choice – for example when they need to drive in the morning, or simply because they have a lot on the next day.6
There are strict limits on the amount of alcohol allowed in your system to be able to drive, with a lower limit in Scotland than England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The safest and best advice is to avoid alcohol completely if you need to drive – you can check the drink drive limits in the different parts of the UK here.
And some people find they can be a good way of being supportive. Our recent research found around one in six parents (16%) drank alcohol-free or low alcohol products to support their partner while they were pregnant.7
For example, if you regularly have a couple of bottles of beer after work, switching to a 1.2% ABV low alcohol one instead of the usual 5% ABV would cut the number of units you drink in an evening making a huge difference over a week and reducing your risk of longer-term harm.
This is the difference swapping an average-strength standard beer (4.4% ABV) for an alcohol-free version (0.5% ABV) can make to your alcohol intake:
Units per pint, for typical strength standard beer (4.4% ABV)
Units per pint, for alcohol-free beer (0.5% ABV)
Fewer units per pint if you switch to alcohol-free
 Department of Health & Social Care. Low Alcohol Descriptors Guidance (13 December 2018). Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/763840/low-alcohol-descriptors-guidance.pdf [Accessed 26 October 2022]
 Drinkaware, Alcohol-free and Low alcohol drinks – research report (July 2022). Available at: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/research/research-and-evaluation-reports/alcohol-free-and-low-alcohol-drinks-in-the-uk
Last Reviewed: 4th January 2023
Next Review due: 12th December 2025