We're old enough to drink – why can't we be grown up enough to accept health advice?

Look, I get it. I really do. Lots of people find alcohol-free beer and wine laughable, some find the very concept offensive.

What I don’t get is why. And, as importantly, why they feel the need to be so vocal about it.

In the 10 years I’ve been running The Alcohol-Free Shop I’ve heard and read it all.

‘What’s the point? Just drink water!’

‘Alcohol-free? I’d rather have free alcohol!’

‘It’s like kissing your sister, it tastes the same but it’s wrong’ (and that’s the polite version of that particular one).

Every time an article is published about alcohol-free drinks, as one was last week in a major UK newspaper, the comments section is filled with similar nonsense.

And Dry January is like the proverbial red rag to a bull. A worrying number of people seem threatened by other people making a choice to take a break from alcohol.

The comments that annoy me the most are along the lines of this one I saw the other day – “waste of time. Just drink the proper thing ffs. The good times down the pub will far outweigh the bad ones on your death bed” – which was probably written by someone who has never seen how slow, painful and distressing such a death can be.

Every time I see comments like these I despair. Not just at the fact these people think they’re being original and funny (trust me, you’re not), but because their comments are often based on ignorance.

Established facts such as the link between alcohol and cancer, or a refusal to accept not everyone wants to drink water or orange juice all the time, are ignored.

I’m not saying this attitude is unique to the UK but I spend a lot of time in Spain and there the attitude is incredibly different. Nearly every bar sells alcohol-free beer and it’s just seen as a good-tasting alternative. Germany, home to probably the best beers in the world, has an amazing range of alcohol-free beers and they’re accepted as a viable and tasty option.

For some reason the UK is trailing far behind.

People often accuse us, and others who work in the alcohol-free industry, of being judgemental. Ironically the people who claim this are often the ones passing their ill-informed judgement on those who drink alcohol-free drinks.

I’m not judgemental towards people who drink alcohol. Most of my friends and family – and even co-workers at The Alcohol-Free Shop – enjoy a drink. I will, and do, happily sit in a bar with friends who are drinking alcohol. Why wouldn’t I?

I used to drink. I enjoyed it for many years. But I came to the realisation I could no longer do it. It was affecting my life negatively and I had to stop. I’ll have been sober for 12 years in June and stopping drinking was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – for me.

But I don’t try to force that on anyone else and if people want to drink, that’s absolutely their choice and I’ve never told anyone not to drink.

So why do drinkers feel the need, or think they have the right, to tell those who enjoy alcohol-free they are wrong?

Our customers drink alcohol-free for many reasons. Some – although the minority – because they’re recovering alcoholics. Some because they have other non-alcohol related health issues and have to avoid alcohol. Others because they are pregnant, want to lose weight, need to drive, or just want to cut back on the amount of alcohol they drink and dont want to be limited to fizzy pop and sugary fruit juice.

But it’s right to say they enjoy drinking alcohol-free, otherwise why would then continue to order? We started in 2006 and have grown every year – maintaining and growing a loyal customer base.

The recent guidelines published by the UK’s Chief Medical Officer confirm that there is no safe-level of alcohol consumption.

Some people – including intelligent commentators – have tried to portray these guidelines as ‘limits’ and accused the government of ‘nannying’.

But isn’t it right that people have the knowledge of the damage alcohol can do so they can make an informed decision?

We now know that processed meat carries an increased risk of cancer but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it now and again. I’ve probably cut back a bit since the discovery of the link – and according to reports so have many others, with sales of sausages and bacon falling – but I’m not going to totally stop. I know the risk and choose to manage it. That’s all the alcohol guidelines are for.

Alcohol Concern, the charity behind the successful Dry January campaign, have launched the inaugural Zero Alcohol Awards. We’ve been nominated for some of the categories and customers have been great in supporting us by sharing some amazing stories.

One email in particular stood out. A woman, with two small children, wrote to thank us for the service we provide. Her husband, aged just 39, suffers from hemiplegic migraines – a rare and serious form of migraines.

She told me how ‘utterly terrifying’ his attacks were, and how he had been hospitalised. It took five months of tests to rule out strokes, diabetes and a brain tumour. His condition is severe and he’s been told he should avoid alcohol for the rest of his life because it’s a trigger and he could end up hospitalised again if he has further attacks.

She understands that some people might think not being able to drink isn’t such a big issue, but she explained how her husband has an active social life and enjoys a drink at home. He felt bleak about his future when he was told he should avoid alcohol.

When they discovered there were great adult alternatives available they became regular customers of ours. She wrote to say our shop had ‘dramatically changed my family’s life’ and her ‘husband has not had to sacrifice any aspect of his life but as a family I can rest assured that he is not going to collapse again through even a small amount of alcohol’.

She ended her email saying ‘I am close to tears as I write this as, if you could see the difference that this has made to our family, you would be too.’

These sort of comments are not rare. We receive them often, and each one is touching and re-affirms why we do what we do.

We can’t eradicate stupidity, so I know I’ll always be reading the sort of comments I started the article with but, hopefully, with enough education – and a collective social maturity – we’ll see fewer of them, and fewer people suffering long-term problems caused by alcohol.

10 thoughts to “We're old enough to drink – why can't we be grown up enough to accept health advice?”

  1. I’m doing dry January and though I drink, I hate the feeling I get when I have a glass too much- for me this is more than two. I also don’t want calorific sweet drinks and sometimes buy alcohol free. I also have alcohol free days. Tempted to go completely alcohol free but I think people are threatened by it and possibly see it as criticism. However this is the time if I’m going to do it. How can we get pubs and other bars to stock alcohol free drinks?

    1. Good luck Christine! As for pubs and bars etc, we have ‘ambassador cards’, that we offer free with orders, that our customers give out to bars and restaurants to let them know there is a demand.

  2. Thanks for this blog post – I also read some of the comments on the Guardian article with dismay. And thanks for having such a great range of beers. I have not drunk alcohol for eight years for health reasons but really missed beer – and discovering your shop 4 years ago has meant I can enjoy beer again.

  3. I have been amazed too at the attitude here in North America – I’ve seen all the comments mentioned and more. For the alcohol industry in North America the memory of prohibition still remains strong and good alcohol-free alternatives are seen as a threat to the favourable regulatory conditions the alcohol business finds itself in.

    1. Don’t worry Ted, it’s not just North America that has the problem – the alcohol industry is global by nature these days (just look at how few companies own most suppliers) and they’re aware of the threat to their profits worldwide. New research has shown that the majority of alcohol sales in England come from a minority of ‘harmful’ drinkers – the opposite of what the alcohol industry claims. Few people – and not me – want alcohol banned, but the lack of responsibility the industry is showing is risking a polarisation of the issue and that’s the last thing they – and responsible drinkers – need. A good measure of common sense is needed all around.

  4. Hi,

    I’m a veggie and sometimes I like to eat meat alternatives. I like coffee but sometimes I drink decaff. I get the same comments about why have a substitute. ‘If you’re doing that, just have the real thing’.

    I know now that I’m going alcohol free, I will receive the same comments but worse. I know this because I gave up alcohol for a year in my uni days and never heard the last of it. I’ve tried plenty of times since but in all honesty, it’s the peer pressure that stopped me from being successful.

    Now I’m in my early 30’s, I’ve stopped caring and people can say what they like. I don’t want to sit drinking sugary soft drinks all day. I am quite happy with my de caff coffee, quorn burgers and alc free lager / wine and I’m also happy for everyone who has a different lifestyle choice – drink away but don’t judge me in the process.

    Great blog and shop – keep up the good work.

  5. Good blog! I have decided to stop drinking alcohol but love beer and pubs. Really enjoying Bernard beer from you and Clausthaler from Waitrose. Always dismayed though that all I can get in pubs is Becks Blue.

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