Harm Reduction Incognito: Low-ABV Drinks

    As “harm reduction” enters the mainstream lexicon, people hearing it for the first time may associate it with things like safer consumption spaces, or prescribed heroin. In reality, harm reduction is everywhere—even though it’s not always described as such. Yet a lifesaving strategy by any other name does smell as sweet.

    Some critics of harm reduction mistakenly think it “enables” drug use. Seeing all the measures in life that qualify as harm reduction helps to illustrate that it’s not about enabling, but simply about keeping people alive and safer in a world full of many different kinds of possible harms. Some people like to say harm reduction is about meeting people where they’re at…but not leaving them there.

    A classic example is seat-belts. Another is the holes in the tops of pen caps that allows a child to breathe if they accidentally swallow one. No one wants children swallowing pen caps. But they do. So why not prevent them from dying when it happens?

    The most recent example we’ve come across is relevant to the upcoming holidays: an article in HuffPost about “low-ABV [alcohol by volume] drinks” that result in “tipples that are not only delicious but also keep the drinker in the game without getting too drunk or, in some cases, packing on the calories.”

    The article doesn’t mention the phrase “harm reduction” once. Yet that’s just what it prescribes. Rather than banning alcohol from a party entirely, or encouraging sobriety only, these drink recipes serve to reduce the potential harms of the “nonstop socializing and drinking” that often make up the holiday season.

    And crucially, harm reduction isn’t just about reducing the most serious harms. Harm reduction practitioners often use the phrase “any positive change” to explain what results they’re looking for. ABV drinks can reduce severe harms like alcohol poisoning, but also less severe harms like, as the authors mention, consuming unwanted calories.

    Here’s a list they give of “bartender’s favorite ingredients” for low-ABV drinks:


    *Prosecco, Cava and other sparkling wines


    *Sherry, port and other fortified wines

    *Soju, sake and other rice wines

    *Amari, like Zucca Rabarbaro or Fernet Branca

    *Liqueurs like Lillet and Pimm’s


    “Excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking can lead to poor decisions and increase your risk of accidents, high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke,” Dr. Jia Shen, cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego tells Huffpost. But “if you plan to consume multiple drinks in an evening, especially those with liquor, play it safe. Choose beverages with lower alcohol content.”

    Photo via Trust Restaurant Group/HuffPost

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