You’ve probably noticed a lot of beers described as non-alcoholic and alcohol-free contain a little alcohol – up to 0.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) in many cases.
There are several reasons for this.
One is due to UK licensing laws. While beer with an ABV of 0.05% to 0.5% must be labelled with the unhelpful description of “dealcoholised” in the UK, retailers don’t need a licence to sell drinks up to 0.5% and producers don’t pay alcohol duty on drinks under 0.5%.
Another reason is that beer under 0.5% ABV can be labelled “alcohol free” and “non alcoholic” in many countries.
Can you get drunk on alcohol-free beer (up to 0.5% ABV)?
The big question is though, how many 0.5% beers will get you drunk? Can you even get drunk on low-alcohol (up to 0.5%) “non-alcoholic” and “alcohol-free” beer?
If you’re a healthy adult, no you can’t.
Most people start to feel minor effects of alcohol – such as feeling relaxed and a minor impairment of reasoning and memory – when their blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches 0.04%.
However, it’s almost impossible for your blood alcohol content to reach 0.04% drinking low-ABV beer.
Researchers proved this in this 2012 study where 67 people abstained from drinking alcohol for five days then drank 1.5 litres (about 2.6 pints) of 0.4% ABV beer in an hour.
The researchers measured their blood alcohol content throughout the experiment. The maximum blood alcohol content they measured was 0.0056%.
- 14 times lower the drink driving limit of 0.08% in England
- 9 times lower than the drink driving limit of 0.05% in Scotland
- 7 times lower than the level (0.04%) that most people start to feel the minor effects of alcohol
Why you can’t get drunk on low-alcohol beer
The main reason why your blood alcohol content can’t build up to a level that makes you feel drunk is because your body processes the alcohol in a low-alcohol beer almost as quickly as you drink it.
For instance, a pint of 0.5% beer contains about 0.28 units or 2.2g of alcohol. The average person’s body will process this in around 16 minutes (compared to almost 3 hours for a pint of 5% beer).
So, even if you do manage to drink several pints of 0.5% beer quickly, your body will soon deal with the alcohol. It does the same with foods that naturally contain small amounts of alcohol, like rye bread, apple juice and bananas.
Beware of misleading labelling
One thing you need to be aware of when you drink low-alcohol beer is that UK law allows beers up to 5.5% ABV a “tolerance” of 0.5% ABV either side of what’s shown on the label. So a 0.5% ABV beer could actually have 1% alcohol and stay within the rules.
Let’s be honest though. With modern production techniques, this isn’t very likely to happen.