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Alcohol-free? Maybe.
Photo: Ali Loxton
You did not worry when your company instituted a zero alcohol policy. You thought it would not affect you. You don’t drink. But, when you were chosen for a random test you failed. Not that you were legally intoxicated. Your blood alcohol level was less than half the legal limit in your state and it is a strict one. The company limit is one-third that level and you were above the company limit. Now you are on probation at work, despite not having a beer or a glass of wine at lunch—or ever.

What happened? Alcohol is used in a lot more things than mixed drinks. Alcohol is an antiseptic, but one that will not poison you in small amounts. Mouthwash manufactures use it as a common ingredient for that reason. Rinsing your mouth with an alcohol-based mouthwash raises your alcohol level in any breathalyzer test. It can raise it above a low limit—0.02 to 0.04 percent.

Many liquid medicines also contain alcohol. Alcohol is an excellent solvent. It keeps medicines in solution, retards bacterial contamination, and acts as a mild analgesic. It is also cheap. That makes it ideal for liquid acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or cough medicine. Except, of course, if you are trying to avoid alcohol.

Vanilla Extract

Alcohol is also used in many cooking ingredients. Vanilla extract may contain up to 40 percent alcohol. The major reason that alcohol is used is its solvent properties. The alcohol from alcohol-based flavoring evaporates out in the cooking process. Your vanilla cookies will be alcohol-free. Use it in an uncooked product—adding vanilla extract to make a vanilla milkshake—and you consume the alcohol along with everything else.

None of this will get you drunk, consumed in normal quantities. If you go home for lunch, drink a home-made vanilla milkshake, take a dose of liquid ibuprofen (that contains alcohol) to get rid of yesterday’s yard-work aches, and brush your teeth, rinsing with an alcohol-based mouthwash, the alcohol in your system is still well below the impaired driving limit. But, you may well have enough alcohol in your blood system to exceed an employer’s zero-tolerance level. 

You may not like the idea of taking alcohol, in any amount. What can you do? Be aware. Read ingredient lists, and look for non-alcoholic substitutes. If alcohol is used in food or medicine, it is listed on the label. You may have to check carefully, but it will be there. Better yet, look for products marked “alcohol free.” Use only those. You can find alcohol-free mouthwash and medicine. You do not have to use alcohol-based flavorings. 

If you avoid drinking, why consume alcohol elsewhere?

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By Mark N. Lardas, copyright 2007, Mark N. Lardas, all rights reserved. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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