Are Alcohol Free Drinks a Good Idea in Sobriety?
When it comes to alcohol free drinks, there are two schools of thought. The first is that they are a great substitute for alcohol that you can enjoy in recovery, and that they may even help you stay sober.
The second school argues that alcohol free drinks may be a slippery slope that can lead you back to drinking.
Is it really this simple though?
What are alcohol free drinks?
When most people talk about “alcohol free drinks” they are usually talking about drinks that are like alcoholic drinks, but contain no alcohol.
Alcohol free beers, wine and even spirits are now readily available in the UK. Their popularity has been rising in recent years, due to an increase in the numbers of people living a sober or health-conscious lifestyle.
Many of these drinks are created by brands who attempt to mimic their non-alcohol free beverages. Companies have been able to do this with various levels of success.
The case for alcohol free drinks
Here are some reasons people believe alcohol free drinks are a good thing in addiction recovery.
Takes the edge off
If you are newly sober, you are likely to often get a hankering for an alcoholic drink. Even people who have been sober for a long time may feel like drinking sometimes.
Some people argue that drinking an alcohol free drink quenches their thirst, and may stop them from reaching for the real thing. However, people usually crave alcohol due to emotional difficulties in sobriety. An alcohol free drink is not likely to address this
Helps you blend in
Picture the scene. You’re at the bar, everyone around you is drinking, and you are the only one with an orange juice in your hand. Someone makes a joke about you not drinking they think is light-hearted, but it stings.
As if it wasn’t difficult enough to adapt your life to not drinking, there are occasionally people like this who make it more challenging. Fortunately, these people tend to be few and far between.
In the past couple of decades, there has been a massive shift in the drinking culture in the UK. While of course many people still drink, in most places it is more acceptable not to drink.
Most of the time, if you are at a bar and order an orange juice or similar drink, no one will care. However, you may care. It may be important for you to feel that you are not the odd one out.
May prevent a relapse
This one is pretty tenuous. Some people may believe that if they are craving alcohol that they can drink a non-alcoholic beverage instead of a normal drink, and this will stop them from drinking.
This is, of course, a ridiculous idea. For those afflicted with alcoholism, it is the effect of alcohol that is craved, not the taste. Having an non alcoholic beer will not help with cravings, it may actually make them worse.
This is an example of where your brain can take you when you are craving alcohol in recovery. If you start thinking like this, it is time to call up a friend, sponsor or a mentor in recovery, to talk it through.
Against - Why alcohol free drinks are not a good idea for a recovering alcoholic
One point to consider is that many non alcoholic drinks still have traces of alcohol in them. Okay, so it may not be enough to get you drunk, but it is still dangerous territory if you suffer from alcoholism.
If you really want to drink an alcohol free beverage, be sure it is completely alcohol free. Check the ingredients before taking the plunge.
Did you drink for the taste?
There are not many former cocaine addicts who can honestly say they did it for the smell. The same is true for alcohol. When you were drinking, was it for the taste, or was it for the effect?
Of course it was for the effect, so why the sudden fascination with the taste of alcohol? Sure, the taste of alcoholic drinks can sometimes be enjoyable. But do they really taste so good that you would jeopardise your sobriety so that you can have one? If you are honest with yourself, you might come to the conclusion that you don’t actually care so much for the taste of alcoholic drinks. Instead, some part of you is still hoping that you will get drunk by drinking them.
Encourages old behaviour
To maintain sobriety, you have to change lots of things. How you think about other people, how you think about yourself, the things you regularly do and the people that you associate with.
Drinking alcohol free beer can be seen as maintaining some of your old behaviours. It is even worse if you drink in a pub or with old drinking friends. Doing this may keep you trapped in dysfunctional ways of thinking.
Can cause relapse
This is the biggest issue with alcohol free drinks in recovery: they sometimes lead to relapse. While some people may get away with having a few alcohol free beers and think nothing of it, for other people it can cause a real problem.
You may believe that you will be ok, and then become triggered once you have an alcohol free drink. It is natural that having something that looks and tastes like alcohol will make you think about alcohol.
For this reason alone, it is not recommend that anyone in early recovery drinks alcohol free drinks. Once you have solid sobriety you will be able to view your motives for drinking an alcohol free beverage with more clarity. It may also be a good idea to discuss this with someone who knows you well and who can check your motives with you.
Can cause euphoric recall
Euphoric recall can occur when someone remembers the positives of their addiction, while forgetting the negative aspects. This can lead to relapse. In essence, they recall what drugs and alcohol did for them as opposed to them.
In alcohol recovery, euphoric recall may happen when you remember a time when you were drinking with friends in a bar or a club and everyone was drunk and happy. With euphoric recall, you forget that the evening ended with a big bust up or that you were violently ill for the next two days.
Another example of euphoric recall is thinking back to times when you drank wine by yourself, and felt relaxed and completely at ease. Your brain coveniently neglects to remind you about all the days afterwards when you had to drag yourself into work and endure a day of being barely functional.
Drinking alcohol free drinks may cause euphoric recall. The smell and the taste of an alcohol free beer may bring with it a flood of memories. These memories may be pleasant ones, but they are not likely to paint the real picture of how your drinking days ended.
Low-alcohol drinks in addiction recovery
Low alcohol drinks have also become more popular in the UK in recent years. So called “alco-pops” and low-alcohol beers are now found in most drinking establishments. Is it OK to try one of these? Just one?
The simple answer is no. While you might consider trying an alcohol free drink after careful consideration and with some time up in recovery, low-alcohol drinks will always be a no-go.
When you are in recovery and you ingest any amount of alcohol, you are likely to feel cravings strong enough to make you drink alcohol. Trust us, don’t even try it.
This can also be said for probiotic drinks like kombucha. While these beverages are only around 0.5% and can benefit your health, the same applies as with low-alcohol drinks: it really isn't worth the risk.
If you want to get the benefits of drinking probiotics without the risk of relapse, try milk or coconut kefir instead. They have all the probiotic benefits as kombucha, but without the alcohol.
High-free cannabis in recovery
In recent years, cannabis has become available in the UK that does not get you high. Instead of containing psychoactive compounds, it has CBD in it. While this cannabinoid will relax you, it will not make you euphoric.
This type of cannabis looks and smells almost identical to regular cannabis. The emergence of this new cannabis has caused a similar predicament for some people in recovery as the one posed by alcohol free drinks.
It is OK for people in recovery to smoke CBD? Our recommendation is the same as with alcohol free drinks: If you are in early recovery, it is best to avoid. If you have more time in recovery, again check your motives for wanting to use it in the first place.
Everyone is different
What works for one person in recovery, won't necessarily work for another. The same applies to alcohol free drinks
Some non alcoholic beverages bare little resemblance to the real thing, others more so. Only you can decide what is right for your recovery. What one person can get away with in recovery can send another spiralling into relapse. We can only provide some guidance based on experience, in that generally they are not a good idea, especially for a person in early sobriety.
To get further advice it is best to speak to those that are further down the road in recovery than you. They can share their experience on such matters. To connect with like-minded others for free, subscribe to our Recoverlution Community. Here, you can access message boards, meetings, groups and chats, all for free.
- Difference between alcoholic and 'non-alcoholic' beers https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/alcoholic-drinks-and-units/difference-between-alcoholic-and-non-alcoholic-beers
- Are they really alcohol free? https://free-beer.co.uk/are-they-really-alcohol-free/
- Non-alcoholic drink. (2022, September 5). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-alcoholic_drink
- Cannabidiol (Cbd) - Uses, Side Effects, And More https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1439/cannabidiol-cbd
- Why Non-Alcoholic Beer is Still Dangerous For Recovery https://www.stoutstreet.org/2017/08/28/non-alcoholic-beer-dangerous-recovery/