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Alcohol and Health

Does Alcohol Break a Fast? The Ultimate Guide to Fasting and Drinking

Published:
November 8, 2023
·
19 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
November 8, 2023
·
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
November 8, 2023
·
19 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
November 8, 2023
·
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
November 8, 2023
·
19 min read

Intermittent fasting is not just a dietary trend. It’s a science-backed lifestyle change that has captured the interest of health enthusiasts worldwide. This method promises weight loss and a host of potential health benefits, from enhanced brain function to improved metabolic rates. But as we explore the intricacies of this eating pattern, it's important to consider all factors, including the role of alcohol. Does alcohol break a fast? Can you drink alcohol while intermittent fasting, even if it’s just one drink? What are the best ways to balance fasting and drinking?

This blog unravels the science behind intermittent fasting and addresses the complex relationship between alcohol and intermittent fasting.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a time-oriented approach to food consumption, but not a rigid set of dietary restrictions. While most diet plans specify “what” to eat, intermittent fasting emphasizes “when” to eat. With its growing popularity, it's crucial to demystify this method and understand its mechanics.

We typically distribute our meals throughout the 16-hour (give or take) window that we’re awake. This looks like breakfast in the morning, lunch around midday, followed by dinner in the evening, and perhaps a few snacks in between. This eating pattern has become so ingrained in many cultures that it’s often taken for granted as the "normal" or "correct" way to eat. However, intermittent fasting challenges this norm by introducing set periods of eating and fasting.

The various protocols of intermittent fasting mainly differ in how they split the day or week into eating and fasting windows. A popular method, the 16/8 method, involves fasting for 16 hours a day and limiting all calorie intake to an 8-hour window. Another approach is the 24-hour fast, during which a person abstains from eating for a full day, once or twice a week.

Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss

What happens inside our body during these fasting windows? When we eat, our body spends hours processing that food, burning what it can from what we’ve just consumed. During this process, it's hard for our body to burn fat because insulin levels are high. However, after a period without food, the body enters a state in which it doesn't have glucose readily accessible to use for energy. Consequently, insulin levels drop, and our body starts to use stored fat as its primary energy source. This state, known as ketosis, is the backbone of the weight-loss potential associated with intermittent fasting.

Intermittent Fasting and Overall Health

Fasting periods also give our digestive system a break. Our body can then direct its repair mechanisms towards cellular structures and proteins, which might offer broader long-term health benefits.

Here are a few of the positives that can arise. 

1. Improved Mental Clarity

A stable fuel supply is paramount for optimal brain function. Eating at random intervals, especially foods high in sugar or simple carbs, causes our blood sugar to fluctuate. These fluctuations often lead to periods of foggy thinking and lack of focus. However, intermittent fasting stabilizes blood sugar levels. 

When our body transitions to using stored fat as energy, it produces ketones. These molecules have been linked to heightened brain function, potentially leading to better concentration, sharper focus, and even enhanced mood. By avoiding the typical spikes and drops in blood sugar, the brain enjoys a consistent energy supply, allowing for clearer thinking and improved cognitive functions.

2. Boosted Metabolism

While it seems counterintuitive, intermittent fasting can actually rev up our metabolism. Prolonged caloric restriction slows metabolic rate, a defense mechanism the body employs to conserve energy. Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, seems to have the opposite effect. Short-term fasts can elevate our metabolic rate, helping our body burn through calories more efficiently. This is a boon not only for those looking to shed pounds but also for anyone aiming to maintain a healthy metabolic profile.

3. Enhanced Cellular Repair and Longevity

One of the more remarkable benefits of intermittent fasting is its ability to stimulate autophagy. This process, which can be likened to a cellular "cleanup crew," involves cells breaking down and removing old, dysfunctional proteins and components. By doing so, the body ensures that cells operate at their best. Increased autophagy can stave off various age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and it can even extend our lifespan. This cellular rejuvenation process holds the promise of healthier aging.

4. Better Heart Health

Cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause of death worldwide, making heart health a priority. Intermittent fasting can positively influence several risk factors associated with heart diseases. These include reduced inflammation, lower levels of LDL cholesterol, stabilized blood sugar, and improved blood pressure

5. Improved Hormonal Balance

Hormones act as messengers regulating numerous bodily functions. Intermittent fasting optimizes our body's hormone levels to facilitate fat burning and muscle gain. The significant drop in insulin levels ensures that stored body fat is more accessible for energy use. Furthermore, fasting can increase levels of growth hormone, which plays a pivotal role in health, fitness, and slowing the aging process.

Can I Drink Alcohol While Intermittent Fasting?

So now we know the benefits of intermittent fasting. But can you drink alcohol while intermittent fasting? Will this derail progress or negate the benefits?

Introducing alcohol into the intermittent fasting mix isn't just about counting the calories in a glass of wine or a beer. Beyond the caloric impact, alcohol presents a more intricate challenge to the body, especially when it's in a fasting state.

When we engage in intermittent fasting, we’re manipulating our eating and fasting windows to tap into several metabolic and hormonal benefits. Introducing alcohol, even if it’s a single drink, upsets the delicate balance that intermittent fasting aims to establish. Let’s explore why alcohol and intermittent fasting aren’t the wisest combination.

  • Impaired liver metabolism. Our liver plays a major role in our metabolic processes. It breaks down fats to release energy, a process intensified during fasting when glucose is scarce. Alcohol diverts the liver from its primary tasks. Instead of processing fats and glucose, the liver prioritizes metabolizing the alcohol, removing it from the bloodstream. Instead of capitalizing on burning stored fats for energy (a key benefit of fasting), the body is now preoccupied with dealing with the alcohol.
  • Increased insulin spikes and hormonal disruptions. Intermittent fasting stabilizes blood sugar levels, reduces insulin resistance, and allows the body to access its fat stores more effectively. Alcohol, especially drinks containing a lot of carbs or sugar, spikes our glucose levels dramatically. This surge prompts our pancreas to release insulin to bring the blood sugar levels down. The spike and subsequent rapid drop in blood sugar can lead to cravings, making it more challenging to maintain the fasting period or make healthy food choices during our eating window.
  • Interrupted fat burning. As previously mentioned, with our liver busy processing alcohol, our body's fat-burning ability is hampered. This not only affects weight loss efforts but also disrupts our body's shift into a state of ketosis, in which it burns fat for energy in the absence of carbohydrates.
  • Disrupted sleep. Quality sleep is crucial for overall health and for the body to reap the full benefits of fasting. Some of us, while intermittent fasting, may wind down with alcohol at night. While some people believe alcohol aids sleep, it actually disrupts the sleep cycle, preventing deep REM sleep (essential for mental clarity, memory, and mood regulation). A disrupted sleep pattern can impact hunger and stress hormones, making fasting and healthy eating more challenging. For these reasons, it’s best to avoid alcohol at night while intermittent fasting.
  • Increased appetite. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions, which can lead to overeating (as any of us who’ve ever had the “drunchies” can confirm!). This can be especially detrimental when breaking a fast, as our body is already in a state of heightened hunger.
  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it promotes urine production, leading to dehydration. Intermittent fasting can already make some of us more susceptible to dehydration, and adding alcohol can exacerbate this. Along with water loss, essential electrolytes might also be flushed out, leading to symptoms such as cramps, headaches, and dizziness.

A refreshing drink can be hard to resist, especially in social settings. However, it's essential to be aware of alcohol’s ripple effects when combined with intermittent fasting. 

Alcohol and Intermittent Fasting: Tips for Success

The good news? You don’t have to completely give up alcohol, and you don’t have to ditch your intermittent fasting efforts. With a bit of preparation, there’s room for both.

Here’s how to balance alcohol and intermittent fasting. 

  • Plan ahead. If you know you’ll be drinking, adjust your fasting window to accommodate that glass of wine or cocktail. For instance, you may decide to skip a day of fasting when you’ll be attending a party or celebration. If you fast for a full 24 hours, you can shift that fast to a different day. Flexibility with intermittent fasting is essential! It allows us to (mindfully!) imbibe if we choose, and it makes the practice more sustainable. 
  • Choose wisely. If you’re drinking, opt for spirits or dry wines, which have fewer carbs than sugary cocktails or beer. These low-sugar beverages are less likely to interfere with the fat-burning state. However, these options still contain alcohol — often in high amounts — so mindful consumption is essential. 
  • Hydrate. Match every alcoholic drink with a glass of water to stay hydrated and counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol. This mitigates potential issues such as dizziness and fatigue and helps prevent a hangover or cocktail headache. Avoid dehydrating beverages such as coffee, energy drinks, or soda. 
  • Limit consumption. Try sticking to one or two drinks. This reduces the impact on your fasting benefits and makes it easier for you to resume your normal fasting routine. If you need help staying accountable, we have a personalized drink tracker on the Reframe app. Research shows that tracking progress while reaching goals — in this case, cutting back on or quitting alcohol — significantly increases your chances of success.
  • Practice mindful drinking. Just as we practice mindfulness in other areas of our lives, we can also apply it to our drinking behaviors. This looks like savoring each sip, noticing the flavors of the drink we’re consuming, and paying attention to our bodily reactions. Mindful drinking not only enhances the experience but helps in reducing the amount consumed, as well.
  • Balance with nutrients. If your fasting window allows, pair your drink with nutrient-dense foods that stabilize blood sugar levels. Nuts, avocados, and cheeses are excellent options. Not only will these foods positively impact blood sugar, they’ll also prevent alcohol from entering your bloodstream too quickly. 
  • Implement a recovery strategy. If you overindulge, ensure the next day is filled with hydration, nutritious food, and maybe a gentle walk. It’s okay to have slip-ups from time to time — it happens to all of us! Caring for yourself during this time is crucial, as it allows your body to return to baseline and replenishes any lost nutrients. If overindulgence becomes a common occurrence, however, this can point to an underlying alcohol misuse problem. Our program at Reframe can help you get to the root cause of your drinking habits and make healthy changes.

Alcohol and Intermittent Fasting: The Takeaways

Intermittent fasting is more than a path to weight loss; it’s a gateway to a healthier lifestyle with numerous benefits for both the mind and body. This method challenges conventional eating patterns, advocating for a disciplined yet flexible approach to our food intake. 

However, be cautious when it comes to mixing alcohol and intermittent fasting. Alcohol can interfere with the metabolic advantages, hormonal balance, and overall health benefits that fasting offers. While intermittent fasting can be adaptable to modern lifestyles, including social drinking, it requires strategic planning and moderation. Ultimately, understanding how to navigate the fasting journey with the occasional drink can let you maintain the balance between pleasure and health.

Intermittent fasting is not just a dietary trend. It’s a science-backed lifestyle change that has captured the interest of health enthusiasts worldwide. This method promises weight loss and a host of potential health benefits, from enhanced brain function to improved metabolic rates. But as we explore the intricacies of this eating pattern, it's important to consider all factors, including the role of alcohol. Does alcohol break a fast? Can you drink alcohol while intermittent fasting, even if it’s just one drink? What are the best ways to balance fasting and drinking?

This blog unravels the science behind intermittent fasting and addresses the complex relationship between alcohol and intermittent fasting.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a time-oriented approach to food consumption, but not a rigid set of dietary restrictions. While most diet plans specify “what” to eat, intermittent fasting emphasizes “when” to eat. With its growing popularity, it's crucial to demystify this method and understand its mechanics.

We typically distribute our meals throughout the 16-hour (give or take) window that we’re awake. This looks like breakfast in the morning, lunch around midday, followed by dinner in the evening, and perhaps a few snacks in between. This eating pattern has become so ingrained in many cultures that it’s often taken for granted as the "normal" or "correct" way to eat. However, intermittent fasting challenges this norm by introducing set periods of eating and fasting.

The various protocols of intermittent fasting mainly differ in how they split the day or week into eating and fasting windows. A popular method, the 16/8 method, involves fasting for 16 hours a day and limiting all calorie intake to an 8-hour window. Another approach is the 24-hour fast, during which a person abstains from eating for a full day, once or twice a week.

Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss

What happens inside our body during these fasting windows? When we eat, our body spends hours processing that food, burning what it can from what we’ve just consumed. During this process, it's hard for our body to burn fat because insulin levels are high. However, after a period without food, the body enters a state in which it doesn't have glucose readily accessible to use for energy. Consequently, insulin levels drop, and our body starts to use stored fat as its primary energy source. This state, known as ketosis, is the backbone of the weight-loss potential associated with intermittent fasting.

Intermittent Fasting and Overall Health

Fasting periods also give our digestive system a break. Our body can then direct its repair mechanisms towards cellular structures and proteins, which might offer broader long-term health benefits.

Here are a few of the positives that can arise. 

1. Improved Mental Clarity

A stable fuel supply is paramount for optimal brain function. Eating at random intervals, especially foods high in sugar or simple carbs, causes our blood sugar to fluctuate. These fluctuations often lead to periods of foggy thinking and lack of focus. However, intermittent fasting stabilizes blood sugar levels. 

When our body transitions to using stored fat as energy, it produces ketones. These molecules have been linked to heightened brain function, potentially leading to better concentration, sharper focus, and even enhanced mood. By avoiding the typical spikes and drops in blood sugar, the brain enjoys a consistent energy supply, allowing for clearer thinking and improved cognitive functions.

2. Boosted Metabolism

While it seems counterintuitive, intermittent fasting can actually rev up our metabolism. Prolonged caloric restriction slows metabolic rate, a defense mechanism the body employs to conserve energy. Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, seems to have the opposite effect. Short-term fasts can elevate our metabolic rate, helping our body burn through calories more efficiently. This is a boon not only for those looking to shed pounds but also for anyone aiming to maintain a healthy metabolic profile.

3. Enhanced Cellular Repair and Longevity

One of the more remarkable benefits of intermittent fasting is its ability to stimulate autophagy. This process, which can be likened to a cellular "cleanup crew," involves cells breaking down and removing old, dysfunctional proteins and components. By doing so, the body ensures that cells operate at their best. Increased autophagy can stave off various age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and it can even extend our lifespan. This cellular rejuvenation process holds the promise of healthier aging.

4. Better Heart Health

Cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause of death worldwide, making heart health a priority. Intermittent fasting can positively influence several risk factors associated with heart diseases. These include reduced inflammation, lower levels of LDL cholesterol, stabilized blood sugar, and improved blood pressure

5. Improved Hormonal Balance

Hormones act as messengers regulating numerous bodily functions. Intermittent fasting optimizes our body's hormone levels to facilitate fat burning and muscle gain. The significant drop in insulin levels ensures that stored body fat is more accessible for energy use. Furthermore, fasting can increase levels of growth hormone, which plays a pivotal role in health, fitness, and slowing the aging process.

Can I Drink Alcohol While Intermittent Fasting?

So now we know the benefits of intermittent fasting. But can you drink alcohol while intermittent fasting? Will this derail progress or negate the benefits?

Introducing alcohol into the intermittent fasting mix isn't just about counting the calories in a glass of wine or a beer. Beyond the caloric impact, alcohol presents a more intricate challenge to the body, especially when it's in a fasting state.

When we engage in intermittent fasting, we’re manipulating our eating and fasting windows to tap into several metabolic and hormonal benefits. Introducing alcohol, even if it’s a single drink, upsets the delicate balance that intermittent fasting aims to establish. Let’s explore why alcohol and intermittent fasting aren’t the wisest combination.

  • Impaired liver metabolism. Our liver plays a major role in our metabolic processes. It breaks down fats to release energy, a process intensified during fasting when glucose is scarce. Alcohol diverts the liver from its primary tasks. Instead of processing fats and glucose, the liver prioritizes metabolizing the alcohol, removing it from the bloodstream. Instead of capitalizing on burning stored fats for energy (a key benefit of fasting), the body is now preoccupied with dealing with the alcohol.
  • Increased insulin spikes and hormonal disruptions. Intermittent fasting stabilizes blood sugar levels, reduces insulin resistance, and allows the body to access its fat stores more effectively. Alcohol, especially drinks containing a lot of carbs or sugar, spikes our glucose levels dramatically. This surge prompts our pancreas to release insulin to bring the blood sugar levels down. The spike and subsequent rapid drop in blood sugar can lead to cravings, making it more challenging to maintain the fasting period or make healthy food choices during our eating window.
  • Interrupted fat burning. As previously mentioned, with our liver busy processing alcohol, our body's fat-burning ability is hampered. This not only affects weight loss efforts but also disrupts our body's shift into a state of ketosis, in which it burns fat for energy in the absence of carbohydrates.
  • Disrupted sleep. Quality sleep is crucial for overall health and for the body to reap the full benefits of fasting. Some of us, while intermittent fasting, may wind down with alcohol at night. While some people believe alcohol aids sleep, it actually disrupts the sleep cycle, preventing deep REM sleep (essential for mental clarity, memory, and mood regulation). A disrupted sleep pattern can impact hunger and stress hormones, making fasting and healthy eating more challenging. For these reasons, it’s best to avoid alcohol at night while intermittent fasting.
  • Increased appetite. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions, which can lead to overeating (as any of us who’ve ever had the “drunchies” can confirm!). This can be especially detrimental when breaking a fast, as our body is already in a state of heightened hunger.
  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it promotes urine production, leading to dehydration. Intermittent fasting can already make some of us more susceptible to dehydration, and adding alcohol can exacerbate this. Along with water loss, essential electrolytes might also be flushed out, leading to symptoms such as cramps, headaches, and dizziness.

A refreshing drink can be hard to resist, especially in social settings. However, it's essential to be aware of alcohol’s ripple effects when combined with intermittent fasting. 

Alcohol and Intermittent Fasting: Tips for Success

The good news? You don’t have to completely give up alcohol, and you don’t have to ditch your intermittent fasting efforts. With a bit of preparation, there’s room for both.

Here’s how to balance alcohol and intermittent fasting. 

  • Plan ahead. If you know you’ll be drinking, adjust your fasting window to accommodate that glass of wine or cocktail. For instance, you may decide to skip a day of fasting when you’ll be attending a party or celebration. If you fast for a full 24 hours, you can shift that fast to a different day. Flexibility with intermittent fasting is essential! It allows us to (mindfully!) imbibe if we choose, and it makes the practice more sustainable. 
  • Choose wisely. If you’re drinking, opt for spirits or dry wines, which have fewer carbs than sugary cocktails or beer. These low-sugar beverages are less likely to interfere with the fat-burning state. However, these options still contain alcohol — often in high amounts — so mindful consumption is essential. 
  • Hydrate. Match every alcoholic drink with a glass of water to stay hydrated and counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol. This mitigates potential issues such as dizziness and fatigue and helps prevent a hangover or cocktail headache. Avoid dehydrating beverages such as coffee, energy drinks, or soda. 
  • Limit consumption. Try sticking to one or two drinks. This reduces the impact on your fasting benefits and makes it easier for you to resume your normal fasting routine. If you need help staying accountable, we have a personalized drink tracker on the Reframe app. Research shows that tracking progress while reaching goals — in this case, cutting back on or quitting alcohol — significantly increases your chances of success.
  • Practice mindful drinking. Just as we practice mindfulness in other areas of our lives, we can also apply it to our drinking behaviors. This looks like savoring each sip, noticing the flavors of the drink we’re consuming, and paying attention to our bodily reactions. Mindful drinking not only enhances the experience but helps in reducing the amount consumed, as well.
  • Balance with nutrients. If your fasting window allows, pair your drink with nutrient-dense foods that stabilize blood sugar levels. Nuts, avocados, and cheeses are excellent options. Not only will these foods positively impact blood sugar, they’ll also prevent alcohol from entering your bloodstream too quickly. 
  • Implement a recovery strategy. If you overindulge, ensure the next day is filled with hydration, nutritious food, and maybe a gentle walk. It’s okay to have slip-ups from time to time — it happens to all of us! Caring for yourself during this time is crucial, as it allows your body to return to baseline and replenishes any lost nutrients. If overindulgence becomes a common occurrence, however, this can point to an underlying alcohol misuse problem. Our program at Reframe can help you get to the root cause of your drinking habits and make healthy changes.

Alcohol and Intermittent Fasting: The Takeaways

Intermittent fasting is more than a path to weight loss; it’s a gateway to a healthier lifestyle with numerous benefits for both the mind and body. This method challenges conventional eating patterns, advocating for a disciplined yet flexible approach to our food intake. 

However, be cautious when it comes to mixing alcohol and intermittent fasting. Alcohol can interfere with the metabolic advantages, hormonal balance, and overall health benefits that fasting offers. While intermittent fasting can be adaptable to modern lifestyles, including social drinking, it requires strategic planning and moderation. Ultimately, understanding how to navigate the fasting journey with the occasional drink can let you maintain the balance between pleasure and health.

Summary FAQs

1. What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a time-oriented approach to food consumption that involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. Fasting periods range from 16 hours daily to 24 hours once or twice a week.

2. How does intermittent fasting affect mental clarity?

Intermittent fasting can stabilize blood sugar levels, leading to heightened brain function. With the body using ketones as an energy source, we may experience better concentration, sharper focus, and enhanced mood.

3. Are there benefits of intermittent fasting besides weight loss?

Absolutely! Apart from weight loss, intermittent fasting can boost metabolism, stimulate cellular repair (autophagy), improve heart health, and optimize hormone levels, especially insulin and growth hormone.

4. How does alcohol impact the fasting state?

Alcohol diverts the liver from processing glucose and fat, leading it to prioritize alcohol metabolism. Drinking spikes insulin levels, disrupts the fat-burning process, and interrupts the benefits that fasting aims to achieve.

5. Does drinking alcohol while fasting affect sleep?

Yes. While some may think alcohol aids sleep, it actually disrupts the sleep cycle, preventing deep REM sleep. This disruption impacts hunger and stress hormones, complicating the fasting process.

6. Can alcohol increase appetite during fasting?

It can! Alcohol lowers inhibitions, potentially leading to overeating, especially when breaking a fast.

7. Is dehydration a concern when combining alcohol and intermittent fasting?

It sure is. Alcohol is a diuretic and promotes urine production, causing dehydration. Since fasting can already predispose individuals to dehydration, alcohol can exacerbate the condition, also leading to a loss of essential electrolytes.

Support Your Intermittent Fasting and Drinking Goals With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet hundreds of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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