Can You Get Drunk on Low Alcohol Beer?

The craft beer boom made mind-bogglingly strong beers more popular, but many beer drinkers are now seeking out lighter brews that deliver great taste without any of the slowdown. Not only does drinking lower alcohol beer help you avoid hangovers, its long-term benefts are even more profound, as it can help you stay fitter and promote your mental health.

But let's be honest: most beer drinkers like to feel the buzz of an alcoholic beverage or two, not to mention the flavour that comes from it. So can you get drunk from drinking lower alcohol beers or does it simply trigger a placebo effect?

There is a huge range of factors which will influence how much alcohol you need to consume to get drunk, so it's not possible to give an exact answer here. That said, there are some general rules that can help you figure out how much beer it'll take you to start feeling tipsy.

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY 'BEING DRUNK?'

Before finding out if you can get drunk from drinking low alcohol beer, it's first helpful to think about exactly what we mean by being ‘drunk’. Anyone who's ever had one too many will know the sensation well, yet there are lots of different levels of drunkenness - and a huge range of factors that affect it.

Alcohol tolerance and effects can vary widely from person to person and occasion to occasion. Factors which affect inebriation include:

  • Sex
  • Weight
  • Body fat percentage
  • Mood
  • Level of hydration
  • Time since you last ate
  • Composition and size of last meal
  • Volume and strength of the alcohol
  • Speed at which you drink
  • Tolerance
  • Certain medications

Defining exactly what quantity of alcohol will get you drunk is difficult and it can vary significantly from one person to another.

Tales from a Small Beer pub crawl

Stepping away from the science for a second, Felix James, Co-Founder of Small Beer, regales a story from a night out with the Small Beer team.

"We once took the team on a memorable pub crawl that involved visiting 10 London pubs that were serving Small Beer on draught. It was fantastic to visit some of the city's best pubs, have lots of fun with the team, and then wake up with a clear head the next morning, remembering what a great evening it had been.

"Evenings like this are exactly the reason that James and I were so eager to brew a lower alcohol beer that you want to keep drinking; a beer that not only tastes fantastic but that delivers that perfect two-pint feeling, where you feel totally relaxed. All of our beers are brewed below 2.8% ABV, so your body can process the alcohol much quicker. This means that you stay in control and hydrated, even if you drink five or six pints.
 

"Now that it's been over five years since we brewed our first Small Beer Lager, it can be far too easy to take for granted how liberating it is to wake up early the next morning without feeling sluggish or like you missed out on any of the fun."

WHAT IS BLOOD ALCOHOL CONTENT AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

To find out if you can get drunk on low alcohol beer, it's useful to have a scientific measure of what drunkenness means. Blood Alcohol Content or BAC is the most commonly used metric used to gauge a person’s level of squiffiness. In scientific terms, BAC measures the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream. If a breathalyser test reveals that a person has a BAC of 0.04%, this means there is 40mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

According to the University of Notre Dame, when your BAC reaches 0.04%, you are likely to feel more relaxed, your inhibitions will be lower and may experience a sensation of warmth and happiness. On the flipside, your judgement and memory may also be slightly impaired.

However, you can still legally drive a car in most parts of the UK, so long as your BAC is below 0.08% or 80mg/100ml. Most other countries in Europe (including Scotland) are stricter when it comes to driving after drinking alcohol, as the legal alcohol limit is set at 0.05% or 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

Scientists may disagree on how to accurately estimate BAC, but one factor in any equation is the volume of alcohol that a person consumes. Alcohol by volume or ABV is the metric used to calculate the volume of alcohol contained in a drink. If you drink a pint of beer that is 4% alcohol by volume, you are consuming 23ml of pure alcohol - as 23 is 4% of 568ml.

To put it simply, a drink with a higher ABV is more likely to raise your BAC and leave you feeling worse for wear. Search online for a ‘BAC chart’ and you will find many estimations of how alcohol consumption is likely to affect your BAC based on your weight or sex. We must stress that estimating your BAC in such an unscientific way can be extremely dangerous, particularly if you are weighing up whether or not to drive.

CAN YOU GET DRUNK ON NON-ALCOHOLIC BEER?

No, it is practically impossible for an adult to get drunk on a non-alcoholic beer with an ABV of 0.5% or less.

In 2012, scientists at a German university had the idea to stage a ‘drinking experiment,’ which involved letting a few dozen students loose on a few non-alcoholic beers. Although the beer still contained 0.4% alcohol and despite guzzling 1.5 litres in under an hour - which is just over 2.5 pints - the student closest to intoxication had a BAC of less than 0.01%.

As this experiment proves, the amount of alcohol contained in a non-alcoholic drink is so low, it’s simply not possible to drink enough liquid in such a short space of time to raise the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream to a point where you feel drunk.

What’s the difference? Low-alcohol vs no-alcohol beers

CAN YOU GET DRUNK FROM DRINKING 2% BEER?

Lower strength beer styles with an ABV of around 2.5% - like small beer and table beer - contain around half the amount of alcohol than most ‘full strength’ beer styles, but they can still raise the alcohol concentration in your blood to the point where you notice it.

A lower strength beer will certainly take the edge off and provide the social glue feeling of having a pint or two, but the lower level of alcohol means that it’s far harder to reach a point where you feel the consequences of being drunk. In addition, the lower alcohol level also means you’re process the alcohol and hydrating as you drink, so the chance of a hangover is low to non-existent.

At Small Beer, we don't think you need to live life at the extremes - or be forced to choose between complete sobriety and having to drink more than you need. We brew all of our low alcohol beers below 2.8% ABV, which means that you can still get a light buzz without regretting it.

Tags: balance