The Dangers Of Non-Alcoholic Beer [For People In Recover]

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Non-alcoholic beer, sometimes called near beer, has become increasingly popular over the last few years as a replacement for regular beer.

Marketed as a delicious drink that allows people to enjoy the taste of beer without alcohol, NA beer may seem like an ideal drink for people trying to reduce their alcohol intake.

However, for those recovering from alcohol addiction, non-alcoholic beer may pose hidden psychological and physiological risks that can undermine sobriety. These risks should be considered before making NA beer your go-to drink while in recovery.

Non-Alcoholic Beer: A Bird’s Eye View

A beer product qualifies as non-alcoholic if it contains very little alcohol—0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) or less—or no alcohol at all. It should mimic the flavor profile of regular beer without the alcohol content.

The most common method of producing non-alcoholic beer is dealcoholization. This is when the alcohol is removed from regular beer through methods such as vacuum distillation, which heats the beer in a low-pressure environment to encourage ethanol evaporation.

This process removes most of the alcohol, but small amounts may still linger if companies choose not to invest in perfecting their removal methods.

Another method is restricted or arrested fermentation. This is when the yeast’s conversion of sugars into alcohol is arrested prematurely. Alternatively, it can be done using yeast strains that aren’t capable of completing fermentation.

The terms “non-alcoholic” and “alcohol-free” aren’t synonymous as far as FDA guidelines go. Alcohol-free beer is required to contain 0.0% ABV, as in no detectable levels of alcohol at all, while non-alcoholic beer may contain up to 0.5% ABV.

The Appeal of Non-Alcoholic Beer

For those committed to sobriety, non-alcoholic beer may seem like an appealing way to take part in drinking-related social situations without compromising their recovery.

Some of the perceived benefits include:

  • Perception as a safe, flavorful replacement for regular beer
  • Enables connection with family/friends who are still drinking
  • Lets you stick to a tradition or ritual you associate with beer
  • Provides a sense of normalcy and control over addiction
  • Easier to participate in social drinking without standing out

That being said, people recovering from alcohol use disorder often underestimate the psychological influence and physiological effects that NA beer may promote.

Without being aware of the potential downsides, it becomes much easier to let your guard down and make choices that may lead you to relapse.

The Dangers of Non-Alcoholic Beer

From the traces of alcohol it may contain to how it can cause unfavorable interactions with the addiction pathways in the brain, here are the reasons why you should think twice before drinking NA beer:

Health Effects of Lingering Alcohol Traces

A 2010 study on the alcohol content in declared non-to-low-alcohol beverages found that 29% of the samples tested contained more alcohol than disclosed. The biggest deviation was that, of the many non-alcoholic beers claiming to be 0.0% ABV, six contained over 1.0% alcohol.

Why does this matter if the alcohol level isn’t high enough to cause intoxication?

Because even the slightest traces of alcohol can severely affect those with liver disease, causing atypically high blood alcohol content. This can be dangerous to patients living with stabilized alcoholic hepatitis or early signs of cirrhosis, especially if they’re on a list to receive a liver transplant.

Risk of Relapse From Alcohol-Associated Cues

Besides health risks, there’s a psychological side to the dangers of NA beer. The smell, taste, and carbonation of non-alcoholic beers, which are very similar to regular beers, may kickstart intense desires and dopamine flows.

Nature Reviews Neuroscience reports that smell alone may be enough to trigger cravings, which increases the chances of relapsing. And given that most people in recovery are likely to relapse at least once, anything that closely resembles customary alcoholic drinks poses threats best avoided by vulnerable groups.

Sustaining Desires by Romancing the Drink

Termed “romancing the drink,” selective memory causes previous drinking experiences to be remembered as fun and harmless. What the person in recovery may not remember, however, is the negative aftermath of drinking excessively.

Consuming non-alcoholic beer may lead to you deriving pleasure from pretending like you’re drinking alcohol, which can be a quick route towards relapse.

Potential Dangers for Pregnant Women

Alcohol use during pregnancy is one of the leading causes of birth defects. It raises the chances of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) like abnormal facial features, low body weight, and poor coordination.

This is why health organizations like the CDC advise pregnant women to abstain from alcohol, even non-alcoholic beer, due to uncertainties around safe levels.

Erodes Clarity and Accentuates Deprivation

Drinking non-alcoholic beer every so often may erode the clarity of sobriety and make it more challenging to abstain from regular beer. Over time, the psychological discipline to avoid all beers and alcoholic beverages weakens, which increases the likelihood of relapsing.

Also, many people in recovery struggle with feeling deprived by the necessity of abstaining from drinking. Drinking NA beer promises a way to take part in activities that involve drinking without giving anything up, which seems ideal for those fleeing alcohol addiction.

The problem is that drinking non-alcoholic beer can trigger cravings to drink alcohol while maintaining sobriety. This ends up accentuating the feelings of deprivation rather than satisfying them. The result is brewing resentment towards sobriety and an undermined commitment to abstinence.

Seeking Support and Setting Boundaries

If you’re considering trying non-alcoholic beer, it’s important to seek support by speaking openly with your family, friends in recovery, counselors, and health providers. The experiences and perspectives they’ll offer can help you weigh the risks and benefits and decide for yourself.

You should discuss boundaries and contingency plans, like what would happen if NA beer reawakened intense cravings in you. Do you just stop drinking it or seek additional counseling/treatment? Sharing your thought process helps avoid secrecy, which can be detrimental to recovery.

If you decide to allow yourself to drink NA beer, make sure to set rules to structure and limit your consumption. This will help you avoid overindulgence or an “anything goes” rationalization, which can lead to relapse.

We also recommend restricting the situations in which you allow yourself to drink non-alcoholic beer to lower-risk settings.

Recovery-Friendly Alternatives to Non-Alcoholic Beer

Beyond widespread options like soda, fruit juices, or plain cold water, there are plenty of specialty alcohol-free drinks out there that can help fill that drink-of-choice void you may have, including:

Hop Waters

Hop water infuses sparkling water with hop extracts derived from female hop flowers. The herbal, citrusy, and pine notes mimic the taste of dry-hopped beer without the booze.

Some products include a small amount of yeast to help biotransform any added dry hops. However, no grains are used whatsoever, so the alcohol content stays at 0%.

Switchel

This is a historic farmhouse drink that’s made of water, vinegar, ginger, and a sweetener like honey or maple syrup. You can buy it ready-made or DIY a batch with apple cider vinegar for a kicky, beer-esque thirst quencher.

Craft Sodas

Craft sodas are carbonated soft drinks made with natural ingredients like cane sugar, fruit juices, herbs, and spices instead of artificial sweeteners or preservatives. They have unique flavor profiles that, in some cases, may replicate the tasting notes you’d expect in alcoholic drinks.

Non-Alcoholic Beer: Do We Recommend It?

Though non-alcoholic beer mimics the experience of drinking without alcohol, it can set the stage for relapse and stall your recovery progress by making you believe that drinking can coexist with sobriety.

Always remember, true recovery is about building new rituals, habits, and social behaviors, as opposed to extending a problematic relationship with alcohol under the guise of harmlessness.

Haven’t started your recovery journey yet? Take the first step today by booking an appointment with Curednation.

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