Staying Safe Around Alcohol Free Drinks


After I gave up drinking, I didn’t really go to pubs. I met a few friends on occasion and went to the pub, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Sitting there while someone is getting slowly intoxicated isn’t really fun. It’s like (I imagine) sitting with someone who has taken methamphetamine or heroin. Socialising is about a meeting of minds. Taking drugs alter how our minds work. If you are taking a drug with someone then you can probably happily sit there with them as your brains are altered in much the same way, but when one person takes the drug and the other doesn’t, that ‘meeting of minds’ very quickly fades away. It’s incredibly tedious speaking to people who are intoxicated, and even after just a small number of drinks the differences can be seen.


It is also the case that when I stopped drinking (nearly decade ago) there wasn’t much in the way of alcohol-free drinks. Syrupy coke, orange juice from concentrate, or tap water was about the size of it. But in recent years things have changed. Most places have a selection of alcohol-free options, and I’ve been in three places in the last year or so that had alcohol free options on tap. So, I’ve started going in them more and more. Popping in for a drink before football, dropping in for a friend, and even (during problems with London transport) holing up for half an hour with a book just to break up a nightmare journey home from work.


Some people say you shouldn’t visit pubs if you stop drinking. What they say is ‘Go to a barbers enough times and eventually you’ll get a haircut’. I don’t go to the barber at all unless I want a haircut. It used to be that I used to go to pubs to drink alcohol. Now I go to pubs to be somewhere quiet and relaxing for a few moments, where I can have something nice and cool to drink. The key is that it all depends what you are going in there for. That is why I tend to avoid pubs in the evening when they busy up, I don’t like being places that are busy and noisy.


But pubs, bars and restaurants are all subject to human error. Since I have started drinking alcohol free beers when I am out, I have been accidentally served alcoholic on more than one occasion.


One time I was talking to someone and trying to order a drink at the same time. I asked the bar staff what alcohol free what alcohol-free drinks they had and she was rattling off a list and I agreed to something without really listening. I was drinking it tasted odd, and when I looked it was 2% (I think she must have told me what alcohol-free options they had, then started on the low alcohol). So that one was down to me.


Another time I was in a restaurant and I very specifically ordered a bottle of alcohol-free beer, and when I up I looked at the label purely because it was an unusual label, and saw it was 4.7%. So that was totally on them.


The fact is that human error happens, and if you’re are going out regularly (or even occasionally) then you can expect to end up with an alcoholic drink in your hand on occasion. It’s simple maths.


So, what can you do about this?

I have a simple set of Stand Operating Procedures (SOPs) I now go through when order alcohol free drinks in a pub or restaurant:

  1. Pay attention when you order. Pubs and restaurants can be noisy and chaotic. Make sure you can hear and be heard.
  2. If you order a bottle, always check the label.
  3. If you are ordering an alcohol-free beer on tap, make sure you watch them pull it from the right tap.
  4. Use your sense of taste. When you stop drinking the taste of alcohol quickly becomes very noticeable (and quite foul) so you’ll often taste the difference. But when a drink is very cold, if you are somewhere busy with people talking to you and lots going on, if you gulp it, it can be possible to miss it. So, when you first drink it, do so very consciously, and let the drink warm up in your mouth before you swallow it.
  5. If you have any concerns just stick to traditional soft drinks! I like alcohol free beer but most of the time I’m just as happy with a sparkling water.


Follow these 5 steps and you should be fine, particularly given that mistakes are rare in the first place.

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18 Responses

  1. Had you had a drink when writing this🤣 Sorry but it was like reading one of my family Whats app messages, when you read it after sending and realising that some of the sentences dont make sense, like this one” . I asked the bar staff what alcohol free what alcohol-free drinks”. Dont take it to heart, happens to everyone, especially me👍

    1. You are just rude! What a pathetic comment. William does so much for our community and you are critiquing his writing. Geezo. Let’s see your book or blog then?

  2. At social gatherings I make sure my glass looks different from others . I sometimes put a mark on my glass so I really know it’s mine. I’ve several times put my glass down ( family gatherings etc) and not been able to tell which it was. But yup I do find now that alcoholic drinks taste (and smell) horrible

  3. Seems a pointless article. Lots of the silly aa stuff which is designed to keep you miserable & so in the cult, and then lots of obvious stuff about how to not mistakenly drink booze after ordering AF!
    AF is a new liberation for we forever non-drinkers! We can now go to a bar, explore & try their AF offerings, enjoy the ever increasing variety, tastes & styles – without the downsides!

    1. If you read William’s book, “Alcohol Explained”, you would know that his approach is the complete opposite to AA- they literally couldnt be more different. Its entirely sensible to check the alcohol content of drinks in pubs if you want to remain a “forever non-drinker”. The entire premise of Alcohol Explained is that you dont have to be forever in recovery because its alcohol thats the problem, NOT the person- they dont have a disease, they arent doomed to a life of misery and AA is an outdated concept that stigmatises people instead of the addictive drug that is alcohol.

      1. I agree. AA replaces the alcohol and becomes the addiction. I know someone who has been going to AA meetings regularly for about 20 years almost every night !!! That can’t be right surely. It’s just a constant reminder of ‘bad times’. Alcoholism is an illness I agree but it can be cured and then you move on just like any other illness.

        1. Agree. Being free of alcohol is a mindset – for me if it’s a relief and a fabulous exciting gift, one that I still enjoy every single day after 4.5 years. For others it seems to be a source of angst and daily torture.

  4. Totally agree with the above 3 comments the book is amazing and by doing this process 4 years in it’s invisible to me now I can go out be around people who drink with no problem guilt shame or resentment and leave when I want too I just stuck to water 🙏 four years in and life is just like a great career change . I don’t talk to people much about it unless they ask it’s just over and will never come back thank you 🙌 your page on instagram is awesome 👌

  5. Thank you William for taking the time to share this. When I was 18 months into sobriety an accident happened when I was in Spain and I think it happened so easily because it was a drink you wouldn’t have your guard up about……coffee!
    I saw a lady pick up what looked like a delicious coffee with cream on top and said to the guy at the counter I’d like the same.
    Turns out it had Brandy in and my taste buds detected it straight away so I passed it on to my daughter.
    Lesson learnt! 🤣

    1. Thanks for that story. I would not have thought to be careful around coffee but I can see how mistakes can happen with it.

  6. I’ve seen non-alcohol beer that is 0.5 percent. As a non drinker, is this low enough alcohol content in your opinion or for you? Non-alcohol is deceiving if it contains 0.5 percent but not sure if that is enough to make any real difference? Thank you!

    1. My understanding
      Is anything below .5
      Is alcohol free. I believe it’s just difficult to get all the alcohol out during the process that takes it out. I drink .5 beer sometimes and I for sure don’t notice any alcohol

  7. Been going to AA for twenty years aye? Is he sober.
    I’ve been going to Libraries for twenty years for books, so in your opinion, does that makes me addicted to Libraries or addicted to reading?
    If he is a chronic Alcoholic, the reason he is still alive, is probably because he been going to AA for twenty years..

  8. I’ve held back from giving up drinking because of the joy I get from being in pubs where I live. Where I live pubs are pretty much the hub of human activity – a bit like cafes in France. I can’t imagine not being able to enjoy live music or catching up with the lives of my friends for an hour or two now and then. My challenge, then, is to slowly work out how to disconnect drinking alcohol from being in pubs. Offering to be the designated driver is working a charm so far (!)

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William Porter

William wrote Alcohol Explained to share his approach on recovering from alcohol dependency.

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