As many alcohol-free or low alcohol drinks can contain up to 0.5% abv, some alcohol will be passing your lips whenever you drink them. Which then raises the question:
If you drink lots of low alcohol wine or beer at 0.5%, will you eventually have enough alcohol in you to make you feel drunk?
Just doing the maths makes it sound possible. If you can get drunk on 4% beer, then surely 8 pints of 0.5% is the same thing? If you get drunk on 5 pints of 4% beer, you should get drunk on 40 pints of 0.5% beer.
Don’t Try This At home
One way I could find out would be to drink 40 pints of alcohol free beer, but I’m pretty certain that wouldn’t be good for me. Plus, I don’t want to become the urinating champion of Great Britain!
How many low alcohol beers would you need to drink to feel drunk?
For those of you who are reading hoping for me to experiment on myself, you will be disappointed. Neither would I recommend it to you so don’t try this at home (I’ve always wanted to say that!)
It’s only science and research from now on.
Science Behind Drinking Alcohol
First off, let’s look at the science of getting drunk so we understand how to define being drunk. We’ll then look at whether drinking 0.5% abv drinks can get us to this point.
The main ingredient in getting drunk is ethanol. It’s the ingredient in alcoholic drinks that gets us tipsy. It’s a colourless liquid that’s produced during fermentation as yeast break down the sugars in malts (beer), grapes (wine), potatoes (vodka) etc.
As ethanol enters your body, it makes its way into your bloodstream increasing the blood alcohol concentration (BAC). As this increases, so does the of effect alcohol on you. In other words, the more you drink, the more drunk you get.
Your body will do its best to remove the alcohol via the liver, but there’s a limit on how fast it can break down the alcohol. Your BAC will increase when you’re consuming alcohol faster than the liver can work.
To put that BAC into context, the limit for drink driving in England, Wales & Northern Ireland is 0.08% with a lower 0.05% in Scotland.
Different for Everyone
Getting drunk is different for everyone. It’s very unlikely that two people sitting down drinking identical drinks will experience the same effects as there are many factors that impact how quickly you get drunk.
Physical factors such as body weight and gender will impact how fast your BAC increases. Men have more body water in their system so the alcohol they consume is diluted more than in women. Having a higher body weight will also dilute the alcohol in the bloodstream reducing their BAC compared to someone smaller.
Then there are non-physical factors. Some medications will may affects how alcohol is absorbed into the body, whilst how recently you’ve eaten before drinking also has an impact.
Can You Get Drunk on 0.5% abv?
Now we understand the science behind getting drunk, let’s address the question we’re trying to answer; Can you get drunk on a 0.5% abv drinks?
On average your body takes one hour to process one unit of pure alcohol, where one unit is the equivalent of 10ml or 8g or pure alcohol. In a pint of 0.5% beer or cider, that works out as 0.28 units, meaning your body will be able to process this alcohol every 17 minutes.
You’d need to drink more than 6 of these an hour to drink faster than your body can process the alcohol
In other words, you need to be drinking four pints or more of 0.5% beer or cider per hour to go beyond your body’s ability to process the alcohol. For most people four pints of liquid an hour for a number of hours is beyond their physical drinking limits so it’s looking pretty impossible.
Proved By Science
However, this is still only theory and doing maths, but when I’m doing maths there’s always a risk I’ve got a decimal point in the wrong place.
Luckily some German researchers thought the same thing and did a good old fashioned experiment in 2012 to test the numbers. They asked 67 volunteers to abstain from alcohol for 5 days then drink 1.5 litres of alcohol free beer (0.42% abv) within an hour. Blood samples were taken throughout the experiment with alcohol only being detected within 20 volunteers and the maximum BAC being 0.0056%.
In other words they had a BAC equivalent to 1/7th of the 0.04% that most people start to feel the effects of alcohol.
Margin For Error
Whilst those volunteers didn’t get anywhere near the BAC needed to feel the effect of alcohol, it is a good job there is a large margin for error. This is because may consume more alcohol than you think.
The current laws around food labelling for drinks under 0.5% allow a +/- 0.5% tolerance in measuring the abv so in theory, your 0.5% drink could have up to 1% alcohol.
Low Alcohol Beer or Orange Juice: Which has a lower abv?
There’s also the food you eat. Many foods and drinks include small amounts of alcohol including everyday items like bread and orange juice. It may be that your drink isn’t the only way you’re consuming alcohol, but all these trace amounts of alcohol are very unlikely to get you to the BAC of 0.04% to feel it’s affects.
Enjoy Your 0.5% Drinks
Unless you plan to go drinking at a rate much higher than in the German scientist’s experiment (i.e. over 3 pints and hour), you’re in no risk of getting drunk from alcohol free drinks. Let’s be honest, why would you drink alcohol free beers at that rate? It kind of misses the point of going alcohol free.
The great thing about alcohol free drinks* is they’re made to be enjoyed, not part of a journey to drunkenness. The excellent quality of the drinks mean you can savour the complex flavours that are carefully crafted into them without the worry of the negative impacts of alcohol.
Now you know you can’t get drunk on these drinks, there’s no reason not to go out and savour your favourite drinks over and over.
So go, drink and be merry happy.
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