Is Non-Alcoholic Beer a Safe Option for Alcoholics?
Alcoholics who are new to recovery commonly wonder whether or not it is okay to drink non-alcoholic beverages. On the surface, it does not seem entirely unreasonable to think that one should be allowed to consume non-alcoholic drinks. Alcoholic and alcoholism.
Despite the illusion of harmlessness, there are some solid reasons why those in recovery should not be drinking non-alcoholic beverages. Considering the wealth of choices out there, it is unwise to put yourself in a position that could lead to a potential trigger situation.
What Are Non-Alcoholic Beverages?
Alcohol-free, or non-alcoholic beverages, come in a variety of types. The most common versions are substitutes for beer, but there are also non-alcoholic cocktails as well.
Non-alcoholic beverages are marketed and sold under a number of names such as:
In the United States, a non-alcoholic drink must contain less than 0.5 percent alcohol to meet the standard for being a non- or low-alcohol drink. This standard is either in line with, or even lower than, many regulated European standards.
Because non-alcoholic beverages have little or no alcohol, many people automatically assume they are a safe option. Taking a closer look at whether or not non-alcoholic beverages are a reasonable alternative to consuming alcohol is a wise decision.
Is Non-Alcoholic Beer a Safe Option for Alcoholics?
It is easy to assume that because there is little or no alcohol in non-alcoholic drinks that it is okay to drink them. From the taste to the feel, coming to the conclusion that they assist in recovery is not hard.
In fact, there are a number of reasons, both psychological and scientific, for avoiding non-alcoholic beverages. Not only could reliving the taste of your former poison be a huge trigger, but there are potentially negative health effects as well.
Some of the dangers associated with non- or low-alcoholic drinks include:
Some of these drinks actually have a significant amount of alcohol in them, especially outside of the United States.
Imagining that you are getting some sort of effect from the drink could be a potential relapse trigger.
You may be tempted to drink a lot of them as you subconsciously seek a buzz, resulting in relapse behavior, bloating, and potential nausea.
You may get pleasure from pretending to drink, which also creates a relapse danger.
Drinking non-alcoholic drinks could be a sign of ambivalence in your recovery. Trying to recapture that feeling may be a way of reliving the old days.
Drinking non-alcoholic beer in public increases the danger that you may mistakenly pick up a friend’s real beer.
Beyond the psychological reasons to avoid non-alcoholic drinks, there are convincing scientific reasons as well. A recent study found that even the smell of beer may be enough to trigger cravings and a relapse in certain alcoholics.
Scientific Analysis of How Alcohol Affects the Brain
In the study’s laboratory experiments, rats were allowed to self-administer alcohol or a bitter substance, allied quinine, whenever they smelled an orange or a banana. When the rats consumed alcohol, the smell of the banana was used. When they tasted the quinine, the orange smell was utilized.
Alcohol affects the region of the brain that regulates dopamine, which controls feelings of pleasure or elation. The researchers of the study found that increases in dopamine occurred in the rats’ brains both before and after smelling the fruit associated with alcohol.
Alcoholism and non alcoholic beer
This proves that both the consumption and anticipation of alcohol causes dopamine release and presents a trigger risk. So beyond merely drinking a non-alcoholic beverage, in some cases the mere smell of it may be enough to trigger a potential relapse.
In another study, a research team tracked the dopamine changes in 49 men as they tasted small quantities of beer. Each subject had varying family histories with alcoholism. The results of the study confirmed that even a small amount of beer, not enough to even cause a buzz, was enough to stimulate a dopamine burst.
Since the urge to drink is so strong in such a wide array of people, abstinence is key. For those in recovery, resisting the urge to indulge, whether alcoholic or not, is crucial to avoiding relapse.
Overcoming the Pressure to Drink
Many people new to recovery want to do anything they can to refrain from using again. Alcoholics often consider non-alcoholic beverages as a means to accomplishing this goal.
It is not hard to slip into a logical fallacy by convincing yourself that you need the taste of beer to be able to enjoy life. Remember that giving in to cravings weakens discipline. When your discipline wanes, it is more likely that you may relapse.
“I had two great concerns that seemed like opposite problems: what to drink when alone and what to drink in social situations. My pattern as a daily drinker was to consume the majority of my alcohol intake alone or away from other people… I would definitely need a glass of wine or two to be more comfortable at an event.”
For many people, the pressure of being alone can be just as crushing as the pressure of being around others. Succumbing to this pressure is easier when presented with risky options.
Beware of self-justifications such as:
I still like the taste of beer, so drinking non-alcoholic beers is a safe way to indulge that desire.
I will be less likely to feel awkward in social settings or at a bar.
It prevents me from having to constantly explain why I am not drinking.
I do not want to start drinking unhealthy drinks like soda to make up for not tasting beer.
I may get a psychological boost because the taste will be comforting to me.
If I drink non-alcoholic drinks, I may get the placebo effect and not even notice it is non-alcoholic.
Self-justifications are dangerous risks on the road to relapse. It is important to make sure you are strong in your desire to stay sober, at all costs, even if it means avoiding beverages that do not have alcohol.
Another danger that arises from drinking non-alcoholic beverages is in a term called “romancing the drink.” In this situation, the bad old days make a roaring comeback as if you are trying to live the good new days.
The Dangers of “Romancing the Drink”
The term “romancing the drink” refers to the situation where someone in recovery selectively remembers times when consuming alcohol seemed to work for them. As people advance in their recovery, time heals all wounds, and it is easy to forget how awful life was in the throes of their addiction.
A dangerous pattern develops when individuals think about drinking a refreshing alcoholic beverage on a beautiful sunny day. Alcohol is neither refreshing nor does it make a day any more beautiful. In most situations, these thoughts have no obvious bearing on reality. How about waking up with a terrible hangover on that beautiful summer day?
The point is that if drinking beer or indulging in a non-alcoholic beverage is an attempt to relive some of your “glory days,” then this is considered romancing the drink. If romancing the drink were a game, it would be a highly dangerous one.
This type of action carries great relapse risk. If you are determined to build a new, sober life full of energy and joy, there should be no need to consume pretend alcoholic drinks.
Choosing Not to Drink Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Choosing to avoid non-alcoholic beverages in recovery is a deeply personal and very smart decision. The dangers of drinking non-alcoholic drinks are quite clear. If you are feeling strong cravings and desiring non-alcoholic drinks, carefully consider your internal reasons for doing so.
Some people in recovery are able to consume non-alcoholic beverages with no negative consequences. But do you want to take the chance that you are not that person? Is it worth the risk?
Some people may also feel like there are few options to drinking something other than alcohol or “tastes like alcohol” beverages. There are a great many ways to enjoy yourself, both at home and in social settings, without having to consume anything remotely related to alcohol.
Next time you think there is nothing else to drink, consider these non-alcoholic choices:
Water: Considering that your body is composed of mostly water, try drinking it. There are numerous health benefits to staying hydrated. If you are in a social setting, put the water in a clear glass so it is not so obvious that it is water.
Tea: Tea is not only delicious, but it is also packed with healthy flavonoids and antioxidants. Tea has been the drink of choice for people around the world for thousands of years. Put it to good use in your life.
Juice: Fruit juice is a great alternative to alcohol. Not only is consuming juice good for you, but it is less likely that people will ask you what you are drinking in social settings. After all, a vodka-cranberry drink could just as easily be a cranberry drink.
Non-alcoholic cocktails: While it is typically non-alcoholic beer that can be a problem, drinks like a Shirley Temple are both refreshing and delicious without inviting unwanted questions from friends or family.
Soda: If you are considering drinking soda, do so sparingly. Sugary, carbonated beverages offer very little health benefits even if they satisfy your craving for alcohol.
As the same anonymous blogger stated:
“When alcohol has become an obsession, it is unfathomable that anything could take its place, let alone satisfy… Now I love to sit down for the evening with a cup of herbal tea and am understandably partial to the flavors that offer some promise of comfort: Sleepy Time, Tension Tamer, Calm.”
Although there are safe alternatives to alcohol, avoiding potential trigger situations is key. There is a reason for the credo: “If you sit in a barber shop long enough, you will eventually get a haircut.” Even if you prepared a long list of safe drinks, avoid putting yourself in situations where the temptation to drink alcohol will be great.
It is also important to break out of the habit of always needing a glass in your hand. Even if you are drinking water or juice, there are no health benefits to drinking overly excessive amounts of fluids. Practice moderation.
Remember the negative consequences of alcoholism. It is probably safer to avoid something that may not harm you by itself but that could lead you back down the path to something that does.
Difference between alcoholic and alcoholism
The Subtle Dangers of Beer Addiction
Like any form of alcohol or mind-altering intoxicant, beer has addictive properties. Addiction to beer generally varies from person to person depending on age and other biological factors.
Men are at addiction risk when drinking 15 or more drinks in a week. The number is 12 for women. For anyone, having five or more drinks every time you imbibe puts you in danger of becoming a beer addict.
Beer is particularly dangerous because its alcohol content is much lower than that of wine or liquor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider a serving of beer to be 0.6 ounces of alcohol, or one 12-ounce serving. Consequently, it is easier to drink much more beer than another form of alcohol to attain the same result.
As with other forms of alcohol, beer impacts every major system in the body, including vital organs and the central nervous system.
Beer intoxication includes:
Heavy beer consumption can also cause behavioral changes. Some people may become less inhibited, while others become more aggressive. Excessive drinking can also cause financial and relationship problems.
It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women to drink beer or other alcoholic beverages. Doing so can result in fetal alcohol syndrome or other serious birth defects.
The first step is to pinpoint an addiction to beer or other alcoholic beverages. The next step is doing something about it.
How to Deal With Beer Addiction
Although it is not inherently dangerous for many people to occasionally have a beer, for the 17.6 million adults who are battling alcoholism, even the smallest amount is too much. Drinking beer can lead to cravings, which can lead to binge drinking and blackouts.
If you are already at high risk for alcohol addiction, limiting your intake of beer may help stave off addiction. If your tolerance is increasing to the point that you are drinking more and more to feel the effects, you should seriously consider cutting back.
It is also important to remember that drinking non-alcoholic beverages puts you in danger of potential relapse. If you are tempted to consume non-alcoholic drinks in order to relive the old days or feel “good” again, you are putting yourself at risk.
There is no shortage of resources available to people who think they may be struggling with a drinking problem. There is no reason to be ashamed — many people have struggled with alcohol addiction in their lifetimes.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to beer or any other form of alcohol or addictive intoxicant, there is help. For answers to your questions, visit our resource center or subscribe to our newsletter today. There is a compassionate and caring staff ready to assist you in your path to recovery.