The Dangerous Trap of Drinking "Lower Alcohol" Beverages

You might be better off having a whiskey neat and leaving it at that.

When you choose a lighter alcoholic beverage, such as wine or beer, over hard spirits, you tend to think of yourself as "taking it easy" on the drinking front. After all, 10 ounces of wine isn't liable to get you too hammered, but ten ounces of tequila probably will. The problem with this seemingly logical line of thinking is that, when we drink a lighter beverage, we end up allowing ourselves to consume more of it, thereby ultimately getting more drunk.

So says a new study by the Behavior and Health Research Unit at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with the Centre for Addictive Behaviours Research at London South Bank University and published in the journal Health Psychology. In an attempt to help UK residents cut down on alcohol, policymakers have proposed legislation that would encourage the industry to release products that are lower in alcohol content. But what, Dr Milica Vasiljevic from the University of Cambridge asked herself, if lowering the alcohol content just encouraged people to drink more?

To find the answer to this question, she and her colleagues asked 264 weekly drinkers to taste test drinks in a laboratory that was made to resemble a bar. The drinkers were divided up into three groups. The first group was asked to taste test drinks that were labeled "Super Low" in alcoholic content (4% for wine or 1% for beer). The second group had a selection of drinks that were "Low" in alcoholic content (8% for wine and 3% for beer). The third group was given wine and beer that contained the standard amount of alcohol on the market (12% for wine and 4.2% for beer).

The results found that, on average, those who consumed alcohol in the "Super Low" group had 214 ml, whereas those drinking regular wine and beer only had 177 ml. As such, the results indicate that when someone knows their drink is lower in alcohol, they are more likely to make up for the difference by simply drinking more.

"Labeling lower strength alcohol may sound like a good idea if it encourages people to switch drinks, but our study suggests it may paradoxically encourage people to drink more," Professor Theresa Marteau, senior author and Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at the University of Cambridge, said in the university newsletter.

To an extent, we've all witnessed the results of this research in real life, when you compare the classy guy nursing a glass of whiskey for an hour at the bar to the dude who downs eight beers and ends up passed out on the table, but it's worth keeping in mind nonetheless.

Even though previous research has indicated that a moderate amount of drinking can be good for you, recent studies have also found that even having just one drink a day can shorten your lifespan. So if you're looking to detox but can't quite make yourself do it, check out these 7 Genius Tricks for going alcohol-free for a month.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more