Drinkaware is an independent charity working to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK. We're here to help people make better choices about drinking.
‘Low-alcohol drinks’ refers to drinks which have an ‘alcoholic strength by volume’ (ABV) of between 0.5 and 1.2%, whereas ‘reduced alcohol’ means a drink has an alcohol content lower than the average strength of a particular type of drink. This means that wine with an ABV strength of 5.5%, is a reduced alcohol wine, as opposed to a low-alcohol wine.
Without realising it, the units of alcohol in your favourite drinks can quickly add up, taking you over the UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines.
The guidelines advise:
- To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.
- If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it's best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. If you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risk of death from long-term illness and injuries.
- The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis.
- If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free daysa week.
Choosing lower strength alternatives means (providing you drink the same number of drinks) you consume fewer units of alcohol and are more likely to stay within the guidelines.
The health benefits of switching to low alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks are clear. In the short term, you’re more likely to get a better night’s sleep; feel fresher in the morning and have a more productive day at work as a result. What’s more, some lighter products are lower in calories, so your waistline will thank you too.
Importantly, reducing the number of units you consume helps avoid the more serious long-term effects of drinking too much, including cancer, mental health problems, high blood pressure and heart disease.
They can also form part of a sustainable approach to cutting down in the longer term. For example, if you regularly have a couple of glasses of wine after work, switching to a 5.5% wine instead of the usual 12-14% can more than halve the number of units you drink in an evening, making a huge difference over a week and reducing your risk of longer-term harm.
The increase in demand for lighter, healthier drinks means there’s no shortage of options when it comes to high quality, lower strength wine and beer.
You can find ‘light’ wine, especially white, rosé and sparkling in all of the bigger supermarkets as well as lots of pubs and bars. There are also lots of lighter style reds on the market and keep an eye out for in-store promotions and new light ranges.
There’s also a growing range of lower alcohol beers on offer, with several citrus flavoured options.
A non-alcoholic drink isn’t actually the same as an alcohol-free one.
As the name suggests, non-alcoholic drinks are those containing no alcohol at all. Drinks classified as ‘alcohol-free’ do contain a very small amount of alcohol but only at a strength of 0.05% or less.
Like lower alcohol drinks, alcohol-free and non-alcoholic wine and non-alcoholic beer are becoming more popular – and it’s not just for expecting mums and designated drivers.
Introducing lower alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks to your routine is simple, and it doesn’t mean you have to stick to them all the time.
If you’re staying in, why not try switching to a lower alcohol alternative?
If you’re out and about, get into the habit of asking the bar staff which lower strength or non-alcoholic drinks they have. And check the percentage ABV of the house wine with your waiter before you order.
So long as you don’t drink any more drinks than you were before, you may be surprised how easy it is to cut down a few units here and there. Then you can start enjoying the benefits of cutting down, such as getting a better night’s sleep or reducing your blood pressure.