Can Nonalcoholic Drinks Help Me Stay Sober?

If you are recovering from an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or thinking about reducing the amount of alcohol you use, you may consider drinking nonalcoholic drinks. Some individuals consider nonalcoholic drinks similar to smoking cessation tools that still contain nicotine, while others see nonalcoholic drinks as compromising their sobriety.

In this article:

What Does It Mean to Be Sober?

Sobriety can have a different meaning for you than for another person in recovery from AUD. For some, sobriety means limited drinking, such as only using alcohol on holidays. However, for people in addiction recovery, an occasional drink could lead to a relapse and a return to daily alcohol misuse that interferes with work, relationships, and physical wellbeing.1

Sobriety can mean moderate or controlled alcohol use, no alcohol use but use of certain other substances, or no use of any drug or alcohol.1

For many individuals, sobriety and recovery are synonymous. The National Institute on Drug Abuse compares recovery to remission from other disorders. 2 For example, cancer patients who receive treatment can go into remission, which means that their signs and symptoms have significantly decreased or disappeared. AUD is a brain disorder. To go into remission, help is needed. Recovery is a process of change that incorporates various treatments at many different levels.2

Studies conducted on recovery show that certain factors are associated with short-term and long-term abstinence from drinking alcohol.3

In these studies, those who were able to maintain sobriety did the following:3

Whether your definition of staying sober includes harm reduction or strict abstinence from alcohol use, you may need numerous supports, tools, and resources to achieve this long-term goal.

Why Are You Seeking Sobriety?

An individual’s reason for pursuing sobriety can be individual and highly personal. Reasons for wanting to quit drinking may include to:4

  • Be physically healthier
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Prevent liver damage
  • Avoid hurting anyone through risky behavior when intoxicated, such as driving after drinking
  • Avoid injury when intoxicated
  • Avoid hangover and the time required to recover from alcohol misuse
  • Start enjoying the activities you used to do
  • Stop feeling embarrassed or out of control of how you act when drinking
  • Improve relationships that have been damaged by your alcohol misuse
  • Resolve issues with your career or other obligations
  • Improve performance in academics or school athletics

If you have tried to stop using unsuccessfully alcohol in the past, you may be looking for other resources to help you achieve sobriety.

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Why Are You Considering Nonalcoholic Beverages?

Beer with less alcohol, slight alcohol, or no alcohol are considered a nonalcoholic beverage. De-alcoholized wine and mocktails with all the usual ingredients of cocktails except the alcohol are also considered nonalcoholic beverages. These drinks taste similar to their alcoholic versions, but do not cause the effects that alcohol would typically cause.5

The term “nonalcoholic” does not equate to 0% alcohol, however. For example, some nonalcoholic beers have a 0.4% or 0.5% alcohol content. While it would take more than a 12-pack for most people to feel any effects, it can still happen. Ethanol distillation is used to process the grains and other ingredients used to make alcohol, such as beer and whiskey. The distilling process is used to lower the amount of alcohol present in these beverages.5, 6

Opinions are mixed about whether drinking nonalcoholic drinks—including ones that include a very low percentage of alcohol—is good or bad for your health and recovery.

Pros of Drinking Nonalcoholic Drinks

The potential advantages of choosing nonalcoholic drinks include:7, 8

  • You can enjoy the taste of beer, wine, and cocktails without becoming intoxicated
  • You can choose beverages you enjoy with lower caloric content
  • You can participate in social drinking situations in a way that feels familiar
  • You can choose nonalcoholic beer, which may provide some benefits due to its plant-based ingredients and the fermentation process, which adds probiotics to the beverage

Cons of Drinking Nonalcoholic Drinks

If your goal for drinking nonalcoholic drinks is to cut back, the pros may outweigh the cons. However, if you have an AUD and are vulnerable to relapse, drinking nonalcoholic beverages is not recommended for the following reasons: 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12

  • Even small amounts of alcohol can be triggering if you are vulnerable to relapse due to the neurotransmitters that can be released into the reward center of the brain
  • In recovery, people, places, and things can be triggering—including nonalcoholic beverages, especially when consumed in bars or at parties
  • The taste and smell of nonalcoholic drinks—such as the hops in nonalcoholic beer—can awaken sensory cues that may simulate alcohol’s effects, which can be triggering

If you have a tolerance or physical dependence on alcohol, you may feel compelled to use a large amount of nonalcoholic drinks to try and achieve the same effects you get from alcoholic beverages.

How Can I Recognize Alcohol Withdrawal?

If you experience any of the following symptoms when you try to stop drinking or when you cannot access alcohol, you are likely experiencing withdrawal. These effects include:11

  • Shaking
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle spasms or cramps
  • Digestive problems
  • Hallucinations with any of your senses

These are signs your body has become dependent on alcohol to function.11

How Can I Recognize Alcohol Addiction?

AUD is characterized with feeling a lack of control of how much and how often you use alcohol. Because you may feel unable to control your alcohol use and AUD is progressive, this condition can lead to harmful effects in multiple areas of your life, such as:12

  • Issues at your job or school, such as missed deadlines
  • Interpersonal problems, such as frequent arguments
  • Financial issues, such as overspending on alcohol purchases
  • Instability, such as lack of secure housing
  • Legal issues, such as DUI charges

Frequently saying you will stop using alcohol or attempting to stop using alcohol unsuccessfully more than once are also part of the clinical criteria for an AUD diagnosis. Even if there is only a tiny chance drinking nonalcoholic beverages could trigger a relapse, it is not worth the risk.

If you feel you need professional help overcoming alcohol addiction and learning relapse prevention skills, call us at 800-839-1686Who Answers?. Our treatment specialists are available to discuss your options.

Resources

  1. Laudet, A. B. (2007). What does recovery mean to you? Lessons from the recovery experience for research and practice. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 33(3), 243–256.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Recovery. Advancing Addiction Science.
  3. Laudet, A. B., Savage, R., & Mahmood, D. (2002). Pathways to long-term recovery: a preliminary investigation. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 34(3), 305–311.
  4. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017). When Does Drinking Become a Problem? National Institute of Health. National Institute on Aging.
  5. Schaefer, J. M. (1987). On the potential health effects of consuming “non-alcoholic” or “de-alcoholized” beverages. Alcohol, 4(2), 87-95.
  6. National Research Council (US) Panel on the Applications of Biotechnology to Traditional Fermented Foods. (1992). Applications of Biotechnology to Fermented Foods: Report of an Ad Hoc Panel of the Board on Science and Technology for International Development. Washington (DC): National Academies Press 4(US).
  7. Osorio-Paz, I., Brunauer, R., & Alavez, S. (2020). Beer and its nonalcoholic compounds in health and disease. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 60(20), 3492-3505.
  8. Ignat, M. V., Salanță, L. C., Pop, O. L., Pop, C. R., Tofană, M., Mudura, E., Coldea, T. E., Borșa, A., & Pasqualone, A. (2020). Current functionality and potential improvements of nonalcoholic fermented cereal beverages. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 9(8), 1031.
  9. Melemis S. M. (2015). Relapse prevention and the five rules of recovery. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325–332.
  10. Franco, L., Sánchez, C., Bravo, R., Rodríguez, A. B., Barriga, C., Romero, E., & Cubero, J. (2012). The sedative effect of nonalcoholic beer in healthy female nurses. PloS one, 7(7),
  11. Becker, H. C. (2008). Alcohol dependence, withdrawal, and relapse. Alcohol Research & Health: the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 31(4), 348–361.
  12. S. National Library of Medicine. (2021). Alcohol Use Disorder. MedlinePlus.

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