Near Beer: Risks of Consuming Alcohol-Free Beverages

“Non-alcoholic beer is for non-alcoholics” is a phrase heard often in the 12 step rooms of recovery. What does this mean, exactly? The phrase suggests that alcohol-free, or “non-alcoholic,” beer is better left untouched by those in recovery from alcohol dependence because it could create more temptation or desire for the “real thing” that is alcohol. There are many reasons individuals may not drink alcohol, such as for health reasons, religious reasons, lifestyle changes, they simply do not like the taste, or have no desire to consume it. But for those who have struggled with alcohol abuse and addiction, there are risks involved with consuming the increasingly popular, ever-growing range of options in the category of alcohol-free beverages. 

What Are Alcohol-Free Beverages? 

Though it may be obvious, we must initially acknowledge that when we speak of “alcohol-free beverages” here, we are not referring to any and all beverages that do not contain alcohol, such as water, coffee, soft drinks, and beyond. We are speaking of the rapidly growing “Alcohol-Free beverage” market, also known as “AF” (Alcohol-Free) or “NA” (Non-Alcoholic.) This market includes items such as alcohol-free beer, or “near beer,” mocktails, non-alcoholic wine, and alcohol-free spirits, which are sometimes called a “vodka alternative”, “gin alternative” and so on. 

Particularly since the pandemic began, the alcohol-free beverage industry has sky-rocketed. In the last year, sales totaled $331 million, up 33.2% from the previous year, and the industry is only projected to grow from here. Along with the development of a multitude of alcohol alternatives that often smell, taste, and have the mouthfeel of alcohol, numerous “sober bars” and alcohol-free beverage shops have popped up in cities around the United States. 

A large contribution to this booming industry appears to be a “booze burnout” that many experienced after several months of quarantine in 2020. People started turning to alternatives to reduce or moderate their alcohol intake. Sobriety, albeit temporary, has also grown into a wellness trend in recent years, with monthly challenges like “Dry January” and “Sober October” encouraging people to lay off the booze for a month. This crowd seems to be who the alcohol-free beverage market often caters to, though there are many reasons one may be drawn to alcohol alternatives. For alcoholics and individuals who have had issues with alcohol, however, consuming alcohol-free beverages could be bad news. 

Risks of Consuming Alcohol-Free Beverages 

Much of the data from consumers purchasing alcohol-free beverages reflects that a majority of these individuals are purchasing alcohol-free beverages alongside alcoholic beverages. In fact, data shows that 78% of non-alcoholic beverage buyers are also purchasing alcoholic beer, wine or spirits. For many, consuming alcohol-free beverages is used as a way toward moderation, not abstinence from alcohol.

However, for individuals whose lives depend on fully abstaining from alcohol, such as those in recovery from alcoholism, alcohol-free beverages are a risky choice. The taste and habit of “having a drink” could very well trigger nostalgia and cravings for real alcohol, even years or decades into a person’s sobriety. This phenomenon can also be described as “euphoric recall”— a psychological term for the tendency of people to remember past experiences in a positive light while overlooking negative experiences.

It is also incredibly important to note that most “non-alcoholic beers” do, in fact, contain alcohol. Studies show that non-alcoholic beer contains roughly 0.5% alcohol, which is low enough for the FDA to permit it to be classified as alcohol-free, even when it technically is not. Even a slight trace of alcohol can be a dangerous and slippery slope that leads to relapse for a person in recovery. 

Although it can’t get a person drunk the same way alcohol can, alcohol-free beverages can pose plenty of emotional and psychological struggles of their own for a person in recovery, especially if they start using them as something to reach for as a crutch. Ideally, sustainable recovery from addiction includes learning healthy coping skills and developing a community and an extensive support network. 

If someone just tries to replace alcohol with non-alcoholic beverages, basically just reaching for something else, they will not create a solid foundation of recovery. It can create emotional dependence on another “thing” and lure someone back into a pattern of habitually drinking. In recovery, habits—not just the physical addiction to substances—are half the battle to break and change. In the moment that an individual hits a painful or uncomfortable feeling that the alcohol-free beverage can’t numb, it may be much easier to then go for an alcoholic drink instead.

The bottom line when it comes to consuming alcohol-free beverages is: why risk getting closer to a relapse? 

Struggling With Alcohol? We Can Help 

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to alcohol or drugs, we are here at Oasis Recovery to help you. At Oasis Recovery, we provide individuals with the support, resources, tools, and community they need to identify the cause of addiction and establish new, healthy habits and behaviors. We believe that anyone can become free from their addictions— with help! To learn more about our addiction treatment programs and how we can help you get and stay sober, call Oasis Recovery to speak with one of our addiction specialists. We are eager to answer any questions you may have. Don’t wait to seek help— reach out today! 

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