Home > Do alcohol-free drinks help heavy drinkers cut their drinking?

Piper, Richard and Leyshon, Mark (2023) Do alcohol-free drinks help heavy drinkers cut their drinking? London: Alcohol Change UK.

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Over the past three or four years, we have seen an explosion in the numbers of people visiting the ‘alcohol-free’ drinks1 reviews section of our website, from 7,292 (2018) to 233,305 (2021) visitors per year, without any real increase in our promotion of these.

Over that same time frame, hundreds of heavy drinkers on our private online community forums have been saying that ‘alcohol-free’ drinks are playing an important role in their change to more controlled drinking. “I simply couldn’t have done this without alcohol-free drinks” has been a typical comment.

As a charity, our significant engagement with heavy drinkers has convinced us that alcohol-free drinks are helpful to many people. We include reviews of these drinks on our website and have developed commercial partnerships with companies that produce and sell these drinks (unless they also sell alcoholic drinks). But as an evidence-based organisation we needed to better understand the scale of this, so that we can place neither too little nor too much emphasis on them and ensure we are providing the best guidance to harmful and hazardous drinkers. Posts on our community forums may be indicative of something happening, but this is not a reliable indicator of the scale.

The idea that ‘alcohol-free’ drinks are effective in behaviour change is consistent with research into health habits which indicates that ‘replacement’ is a more effective strategy than ‘removal’ (Adriaanse et al 2011, Hartmann-Boyce et al 2022, Gardner et al 2012, Lally et al 2008, Webb & Sheeran 2006, Wood & Neal 2007). However the majority of research in health habit formation has focused on eating (swap in a healthy snack) and smoking (replace with e-cigarettes). We have not found any similar research on the role of ‘alcohol-free’ drinks.

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