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Alcohol and Health

The Risks of Big Soda’s Alcohol Drinks

Published:
May 30, 2024
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17 min read
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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.
May 30, 2024
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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.
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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.
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17 min read

Big Soda’s Shift to Hard Sodas Has Serious Public Health Impacts

  • Major soda companies have started developing alcoholic versions of popular soft drinks, catching the attention of health experts.
  • Hard sodas are associated with many health risks but the familiarity of well-known soda brands can influence consumption — adding to their risks.
  • Reframe offers science-backed research to help us understand alcohol trends to prevent us from hopping right on the bandwagon!

Health experts constantly warn against excess consumption of soda, due to its negative effects on our health. Big Soda has consistently worked to get around changing trends. First through its development of zero-sugar and diet sodas and now with its debut into alcoholic sodas. 

While hard sodas may be the latest buzz within the alcohol industry, health experts have started to raise a red flag due to preliminary assessments of its risks. Let’s delve into how Big Soda has so much power and the specific risks associated with its new alcoholic lines.

The Power of Big Soda

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Big Soda refers to major soft drink companies as a whole. It includes the giants such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and more. The name Big Soda comes from these brands not only dominating the soft drink market but also their significant lobbying and political power. 

Since large corporations like the ones that make up Big Soda are involved with a majority of the revenue in the beverage industry, they have the financial power to control politicians — influencing public policy. Although sugary drinks continue to be a detriment to our public health, Big Soda has manipulated politicians and prevented tax on sugary drinks — which can significantly affect consumption. 

Keeping prices low is a primary way that Big Soda keeps consumption going, despite the health warnings. According to a report from the World Population Review, almost 1 out of 5 people report having a soda at least once a day in the US. Despite the strikingly high consumption of soda, overall consumption has waned over the years. To keep up, Big Soda has entered a new market — the alcohol industry. 

Recent Shifts in Big Soda to Hard Soda

Although soda consumption remains high, health warnings have played a part in decreasing overall consumption. With consumers being more mindful of their health, we’ve seen a rise in alternative and wellness drinks. 

Big Soda has attempted to keep up with health trends with new zero-sugar and sugar-free options. While that has kept Big Soda still dominating the market, warnings against artificial sweeteners may be causing these companies to take a hit. Recently, it was exposed that Big Soda paid dietitian influencers to produce content that helps convince the audience that harm from artificial sweeteners is minimal. 

In an attempt to continue to drive consumption, major companies have developed a new strategy — entering the market of alcoholic beverages. A relatively recent shift, it seems as if major companies are testing the waters by debuting alcoholic beverages in the US market. Let’s see what they’ve come out with. 

Examples of Big Soda’s Alcohol Drinks

Big Soda has partnered with major alcohol companies in the past. In previous years, we’ve seen soda companies dabble in the alcohol market. Coca-Cola and Coors had developed alcohol versions of Topo Chico and Fresco. 

While these beverages are nothing new, these initial partnerships between Big Soda and alcohol companies put a greater emphasis on the alcohol portion of the drinks — clearly promoting them as new alcoholic drinks.

However, Big Soda’s more recent shift into alcoholic beverages seems to lean more on the non-alcoholic drink aspect of the beverage (we'll explain). The three most recent releases include:

  • Jack and Coke. Coca-Cola has partnered with the whiskey company Jack Daniel’s to produce a ready-to-drink (RTD) version of the popular cocktail that mixes whiskey and Coke.
  • Hard Mountain Dew. Pepsi and alcohol giant, Boston Beer, has recently developed an alcoholic version of the popular soda, Mountain Dew. Containing 5% alcohol, Mountain Dew alcoholic drinks come in several different flavors. 
  • The Beast Unleashed. Monster, the energy drink company, has developed The Beast Unleashed, introducing alcohol to their highly-popular energy drinks. 

We can see through these newer hard sodas that they stay synonymous with the non-alcoholic version in their names and appearance. This differs from previous partnerships such as Topo Chico, which is clearly marketed as a distinct product as a seltzer rather than sparkling water. Big Soda’s newer strategy aims to blur the lines between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages and targets the consumer’s familiarity with household names such as Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew. Let’s see why this may be alarming. 

Specific Concerns With Big Soda’s Alcohol Drinks

Experts have raised concerns specifically regarding Big Soda’s alcoholic drinks for good reason. With The COVID-19 pandemic boosting the popularity of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, a new rise in hard sodas may increase alcohol consumption even more. 

Traditionally, the three main categories of alcohol include beers, wines, and spirits. The RTD category complicates the distinction between alcoholic beverages and non-alcoholic drinks, as it has characteristics that appeal to consumers in both groups. 

Hard sodas produced by major soft drink companies fall into the RTD category and are arguably even more dangerous than ones produced solely by alcohol brands. This is due to the added familiarity of the brand names of major soft drink companies. Research shows that humans are more likely to choose something they are more familiar with. This added familiarity not only helps drive sales for these major corporations but can also negatively influence younger drinkers.

Young adults of drinking age may be drawn towards these drinks with familiar names and packaging. While hard sodas have a lower alcohol by volume (ABV) than some other beers, wines, and spirits, regular consumption can certainly serve as a gateway for young drinkers to begin consuming other alcoholic beverages. What does this mean for our public health?

Public Health Impacts of Hard Soda

Alcohol has detrimental impacts on our public health. Even more so, as alcohol consumption has increased dramatically within recent years. The pandemic created a need for convenience and RTD beverages are speculated to play a factor in our declining public health. As hard soda falls under the RTD category, some negative public health impacts of excess consumption include the following:

  • Increased alcohol consumption. While lower-ABV beverages are commonly marketed as a better alternative to higher-alcohol drinks, hard sodas or other RTD beverages can increase the normalization of drinking. Lower-alcohol beverages can also serve as a gateway to other alcoholic drinks — increasing overall alcohol consumption.
  • Rise in alcohol-related harms. Increased consumption also means an increase in alcohol-related harms. This can include acute effects such as intoxication and alcohol-related accidents. It can also include long-term effects such as alcohol-related health conditions and impacted mental health. 
  • The toll on the economy. Alcohol-related harms also take a significant toll on our economy. According to the CDC, excessive drinking cost the US $249 billion in 2010 due to decreased workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and motor vehicle crashes.
  • Youth exposure. Hard sodas or other flavored alcoholic beverages known as alcopops can attract young drinkers whether it’s intended to or not. The added flavor and low alcohol content can appeal to younger drinks who may not be accustomed to the taste of alcohol. Increased alcohol consumption in young adults can have an impact on their risk of developing long-term health conditions and dependence.

Excessive consumption of alcohol, not just with hard sodas, is harmful to our public health. To get a better idea of why hard sodas are getting a bad rap, let’s see how they compare to other alcoholic beverages.

Hard Sodas Vs. Other Alcohol Drinks

Hard sodas are most comparable to other flavored malt beverages such as hard lemonades and seltzers. They are similar in taste to their non-alcoholic counterparts with a slight taste of alcohol that typically makes them more palatable. Studies have found that sweeter tastes are more popular among younger drinkers and females.

In addition to the taste, the ABV of hard sodas is also in line with other flavored malt beverages typically ranging from 5-8%. This is similar to lower-alcohol beers. However, some craft beers can go up to 15% ABV. Hard sodas are also lower in ABV than most wines and spirits which range from 5-20% and 35% and above respectively.

On the lower end of alcohol content, hard sodas are often marketed as a better alternative. However, excess consumption of alcohol (no matter the type) can be a serious problem.

Risks of Excessive Consumption of Hard Sodas

Excess consumption of alcohol is associated with many risks on its own. On top of that, hard sodas have specific hazards that add to their potential consequences. Some risks that excessive consumption of hard sodas causes include the following:

1. Alcohol-Related Health Impacts. Excessive consumption of alcohol has lasting impacts on our health. Alcohol is a toxin that damages our cell and organ function — increasing the risk of developing different diseases and cancers. Some health conditions associated with excessive drinking include the following:

  • Liver damage
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Risk of developing cancer
  • Mental health impacts 

2. Soda-Related Health Issues. Sugary drinks like soda are also associated with a number of health concerns. Excess consumption of sugar can affect our blood sugar and insulin response — leading to conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases. 

3. Target Population. While ads for hard sodas don’t explicitly promote underage drinking, RTD beverages such as hard sodas are notably appealing to younger drinkers. Research shows that drinking at a young age can not only affect development but also increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder.

4. Alcohol-Related Mortalities. Excessive drinking causes about 178,000 deaths in the US per year, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The lower alcohol content of hard sodas may cause the misconception that it is associated with fewer consequences. However, the nature of alcoholic sodas creates specific risks that make them just as dangerous (if not more) than other alcoholic beverages.

Taking a Stand Against Big Soda’s Alcoholic Beverages

Standing Up To Big Soda’s Alcoholic Beverages

Big Soda has a lot of power and we can take some of that away by choosing not to consume. Some ways we can stand up to Big Soda’s shift to alcohol include the following methods:

  • Quit/cut back on alcohol. Avoiding Big Soda’s alcohol drinks and alcohol in general lowers sales and shows companies that there is less demand for these drinks. This can indirectly lead companies to produce less of these harmful products and shift their focus elsewhere.
  • Find alternatives. In addition to exploring zero-alcohol drinks, alcohol-free activities can serve as healthy distractions. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find a new hobby or a secret talent.
  • Support local businesses. Big Soda only has power if we give it to them by paying for their products. It’s true that sometimes local products can be more expensive, but by supporting small businesses, we give major corporations less power and dominance over the market.
  • Spread the wealth of knowledge. While we don’t need to give a TED Talk on the harms of hard sodas at every social gathering, helping spread awareness about the potential risks can help others consume more intentionally as well. 
  • Reach out for support. If we’re concerned about our consumption habits, we can explore different support options to help us make more mindful decisions. Different types of support such as social support through family and friends or treatment options such as alcohol-reduction apps and traditional treatment programs can be explored to suit our individual needs.

Large soft drinks companies stepping into the alcohol industry have severe consequences that we may not see at first glance. However, uncovering the slippery slope that Big Soda’s alcohol drinks helps us not fall trap. 

Breaking It Down

There’s a reason that brands continue to come out with new products and flavors. Take the cookie company Crumbl Cookies for example. The rotating menu of weekly flavors keeps everyone talking about it — helping keep their sales high. We see the same with Big Soda which has debuted new alcoholic versions of popular soft drinks. While this may seem like another trend, the detrimental effects of the growing popularity of RTD drinks have health experts worried. The familiarity of major soft drink brands may further drive alcohol consumption, especially among younger drinkers.

Big Soda can seem impossible to take down, but choosing to avoid their drinks can go a long way in reducing some of their hold. Stand up to Big Soda by preventing them from meeting their sales quota!

Summary FAQs

1. What are hard sodas?

Hard sodas are alcoholic versions of soft drinks. 

2. Are hard sodas worse than other alcoholic drinks?

It can be difficult to compare the harms of different alcoholic beverages. Each type can have its specific risks. Hard soda may be lower in alcohol content than spirits but can contribute to alcohol-related harms in a different way.

3. What are the dangers of soda companies developing hard soda?

Some of the dangers include familiarity and increased normalization of alcohol. This can encourage alcohol consumption, especially in young drinkers.

4. How much alcohol do Mountain Dew alcohol drinks have?

Hard Mountain Dew is 5% ABV.

5. Who is most affected by the increase in popularity of hard sodas?

Young drinkers are most at risk due to the increase in popularity of hard sodas. It can serve as a gateway to higher-alcohol beverages and increased consumption.

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