Valérie, an abstinent alcoholic, discovers that so-called “non-alcoholic” drinks are not without risks: “Many contain 0.5%!”

Drinks labeled “non-alcoholic” but still contain alcohol. Valérie, 41, an abstinent alcoholic, denounces the “hypocrisy” of the manufacturers through her soft drinks. Because in some, despite its name, a small dose of alcohol can be found there. If the limit imposed by law is respected, it is completely legal. Problem: For abstinent alcoholics, they are not safe. Decoded.

“I am horrified by the fact that on the soft drink shelves there are many products with 0.5% alcohol, yet the brands show 0%. For abstinent alcoholics like me, this low dose of alcohol is dangerous.”. This message is transmitted to us through the orange button Alert us. Behind this, the one we will call Valérie, for the sake of anonymity, denounces a dangerous business practice. A practice that, according to her, presents risks that are not minor. She tells us her story.

For Valérie, the temptation is great. But it’s not about falling back. Abstinent for several months, this 41-year-old woman from Brussels no longer wants to hear about alcohol. An alcoholic for over two years, she decided to seek treatment. During this cure she chose to turn to wines, beers and non-alcoholic spirits, convinced that for her it was the best alternative for her. But after discovering that some of these drinks contain up to 0.5% alcohol, she feels cheated. Especially since she believes that her relapse is due, in part, to the consumption of these products. She shares her story with us.

I started drinking secretly

“Before he drank moderately. Then he became more and more”, she breathes Two years ago, when the time for the national lockdown struck, Valérie saw her life gradually change. Depression, limited social relationships, telecommuting… “All that didn’t help,” she concedes. So, little by little, alcohol becomes a refuge. “I started drinking on the sly. I didn’t want my ex-boyfriend to see me.” she explains.

The glasses of wine happen at any time of the day. The aperitif is no longer a pleasure, it is there to fill in the gaps. “I was drinking to calm the withdrawal symptoms. I was shaking, I was nauseous, I wasn’t well,” she explains. When we ask Valérie about her consumption, she has a hard time quantifying it. Remember to empty “3/4” of a bottle of liquor (30% alcohol) every day. “It was huge!”, she exclaims.

A low dose but enough for him to relapse!

Little by little, he sees himself changing. It’s the click. “I decided to be hospitalized for treatment. I stayed there for three weeks.”, she explains. The first months pass without a drop of alcohol until the day of relapse. She followed a second hospitalization and then another relapse. “I said to myself ‘Enough is enough, I don’t want this life anymore, I want to be cured!’she remembers.

This time, Valérie does not choose hospitalization. She stays at home and is accompanied by her doctor and her psychiatrist. The objective is to identify the reasons for these relapses so that it does not happen again. “I explained to my psychiatrist that to help me quit smoking I drank non-alcoholic beverages. But we realized that there actually were. A low dose but enough for him to relapse!”, he assures. From then on, Valérie feels cheated. Because between friends and family, these drinks were the perfect alternative to “do and feel like everyone”. “He allowed me to have an aperitif like the others,” Valerie says.

From now on, this forty-year-old scrutinizes the labels of these drinks in stores in detail. She opts only for those that do not contain alcohol. Dr. Thomas Orban, a GP specializing in alcoholism, confirms that drinks labeled “non-alcoholic” may still contain a small dose. The law authorizes it for drinks whose alcoholic strength is less than 0.5%. This explains why in stores, in the non-alcoholic section, you can find wines, spirits or even cocktails that contain 0.2; 0.3 and sometimes even 0.45% alcohol. “For patients who need to have 0.0%, it doesn’t work. So the first thing you need to do is pay attention to what’s actually there.” says the practitioner.

Same packaging, same label, color and texture

Depending on the products, the value of alcohol differs. In some beers or wines labeled “non-alcoholic”, there is effectively 0.0% alcohol. For others, however, the value reaches 0.45%. In concrete terms, these products do not present any significant health risk. But for alcoholics, the danger exists. By getting used to consuming such drinks, alcoholics can gradually return to their bad habits. “We have people using a product that has the same packaging, the same label, the same color, the same name, the same texture. And symbolically, they haven’t given up drinking at all. For some, that can make them drink again. Or worse yet, for those who weren’t drinking, it can make them drink again,” clarifies Dr. Thomas Orban. In addition, from a medical point of view, for patients suffering from cirrhosis, the consumption of products containing ethanol (even in small amounts) is not recommended. Dr. Thomas Orban also recommends avoiding these drinks for anyone who doesn’t want to drink alcohol, and especially for pregnant women.

Medically, the small amount of alcohol in it can’t really cause a relapse. However, it is the signals sent to the brain during the consumption of this type of drink that can explain why an alcoholic in abstinence uses again. “Alcohol addiction is the desire for something so strong, so organized in the brain that an alcoholic person becomes a specialist in alcoholic beverages. It’s like riding a bicycle and thus becoming a specialist in alcoholism. Riding a bicycle. Never If you don’t touch your bike for 3 years, you will still be able to get back on it and ride again. brain doesn’t really know the difference. it says to itself ‘That’s it, we’re back in my specialization. I’m going back'”, clarifies Dr. Thomas Orban.

Some use soft drinks to stop drinking

On the contrary, these drinks that imitate alcoholic products may have certain advantages. They can be a way to get away from alcohol for sick people. “In my practice as alcoholic physicians, patients use non-alcoholic beverages to stop drinking. Because socially they always ask you why you don’t drink but why you drink. In order not to have to justify themselves anymore, they have a non-alcoholic beer. and do like everyone else. Over time, they often end up giving up these drinks.”emphasizes the medical specialist in alcoholism.

Little by little, this type of drink is attracting more and more consumers. Throughout the development of these new products, there are real challenges on the part of manufacturers. “They have marketing strategies to establish their alcoholic products by introducing the Trojan horse of non-alcoholic beer, for example. This hides the beer with alcohol that will later penetrate the town and the community”imagine the practitioner.

for jean claude Jouretmarketing professor, this is not a new marketing model. “First of all, we observe a strong criminalization of alcohol consumption. And on the other hand, there is a tendency to consume less alcohol because an alcoholic product is caloric. So we are going in the direction of a market that imposes less alcohol. To keep an existing clientele, brands have turned to a new type of product: an alcohol-free product. In order to be able to link it to their alcoholic range and therefore retain their clientele, they maintain identical communication codes”examines the specialist.


Among these codes we find the shape of the bottle, the logo, the name and even the color of the drink. “It is the desire to keep their consumers and prevent them from fleeing to another brand that offers an equivalent product without alcohol. Whether they are winemakers, spirits or even beer, everyone is trying to have a non-alcoholic version of their products.” abstract Jean-Claude Jouret.

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