The September 21, 2023

The availability and sales of “zero-alcohol” products have soared in recent years. In Australia, these are products containing less than 0.5% alcohol by volume, designed to mimic the flavour, appearance and packaging of alcoholic drinks.

The market for these products is projected to continue growing at a faster rate than alcoholic beverages.

This boom has been driven by production improvements that mean non-alcoholic products taste similar to their alcoholic inspirations. There have also been generational trends towards being more mindful of the amount of alcohol consumed.

Zero-alcohol products do not cause the physical harms associated with alcohol. But they are not without risk and may not be as healthy as they seem. Our new research explains why.

World Health Organization report released earlier this year highlighted the limitations in evidence for the benefits of no- and low-alcohol beverages (which the WHO calls “NoLos”) and the overall lack of policy and regulation in the industry. The absence of oversight may mean potential harms associated with zero-alcohol products go unrecognised. Although replacing alcohol drinks with zero-alcohol products might be used as part of an effort to cut down on drinking, there is a lack of rigorous research to support this. And the approach may not be suitable for everyone.

review of ten studies found people with an alcohol use disorder (including addiction to alcohol, problematic or heavy drinking), experience increased cravings for alcohol when they consume zero-alcohol products. They also display physiological responses similar to those that occur when drinking alcohol such as increased heart rate and sweating.

It’s not just about the alcohol

The substitution of alcohol for zero-alcohol products does not address social, environmental and cultural factors. These often influence drinking behaviour. This is particularly relevant in Australia where drinking alcohol is normalised and encouraged.

For young people, zero-alcohol products could serve as a gateway for drinking and send a message underage drinking is acceptable. This sets up the potential for early alcohol initiation and risky drinking practices.

Zero-alcohol products are manufactured and packaged to look just like existing alcohol products. Many carry the same company branding as the alcoholic version, which blurs the lines between the two offerings.

4 tips to minimise risks now

There are some actions you can take and considerations to keep in mind when it comes to zero-alcohol drinks:

  • be aware zero-alcohol products may act as a drinking trigger or cue for those with experience of alcohol addiction and for young people
  • if you want to stop or cut back on drinking alcohol, don’t substitute products that mimic the taste or appearance of alcoholic drinks. Go for soft drinks, fruit juices or sparkling water
  • report advertisements and marketing for zero-alcohol products that are inappropriate or could cause harm by lodging a complaint via Ad Standards
  • join the community push for zero-alcohol products to be subjected to the same regulations as alcoholic products.

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