Can Alcoholics Drink Non-Alcoholic Beer?

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One of these beers is non-alcoholic. Can you tell which one? (Natalya Okorokova/Shutterstock)

Alcoholics in recovery may agree on the necessity of spiritual principles, but no shortage of topics continues to divide us. After all, we are but humans. We each form our own views and opinions on various topics, whether related to alcoholism or not.

But there is at least one topic related directly to alcoholism that continues to prove divisive. It may not be the biggest issue out there, but to some, it is still a very important one. The issue in question? Whether or not we can get away with drinking non-alcoholic beer without giving up our sobriety.

Those who don’t know much about non-alcoholic beer might wonder why this even poses an issue. To such individuals, the word “non-alcoholic” should be the end of the debate. Aside from this, some alcoholics may wonder why a person would bother drinking non-alcoholic beer in the first place.

To Taste Or Not To Taste

For the taste? Who drinks alcohol for the taste? Sure, many of us gave that excuse when caught drinking. But to those of us who couldn’t stand the taste of alcohol, this excuse sounded like just that—an excuse. Even so, many alcoholics enjoyed their fair share of brews during their drinking days.

Much like the coffee lover trying to cut down on caffeine, they might wonder if they can find some sort of “decaf” option that allows them to continue knocking back their favorite drink without consequence.

Ultimately, you must decide for yourself whether “near beer” presents an acceptable substitute for alcohol. But if you’re struggling to make this decision, perhaps we can still help. Below, we’ll discuss the primary arguments both for and against drinking non-alcoholic beer in recovery.

Then, we’ll talk about how you can tune out the background noise and make up your own mind without getting overwhelmed by all of the advice pouring in from the peanut gallery. We hope that the following discussion will prove useful to you.

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Why “Near Beer” Is Dangerous


Be careful. Non-alcoholic beer isn’t necessarily what it says on the tin. (ronstik/Shutterstock)

Technically, the term “non-alcoholic” is somewhat misleading in this case. When the Volstead Act established prohibition in the United States, it did so under very specific guidelines. Any beverage containing more than 0.5% alcohol by volume was considered alcoholic.

This meant that one could market a non-alcoholic beverage that contained alcohol, albeit in minuscule amounts. During the Prohibition Era, one could not actually label such drinks as beer. Today, however, a quick Google search for O’Doul’s shows that things have most definitely changed. With no more Volstead Act to uphold previous regulations, companies can market non-alcoholic beer despite the presence of alcohol in their product.

“But wait,” you say, “no one can get drunk from a beverage with such a minute alcohol content.” How right you are. Unfortunately, that won’t stop them from trying. In 2013, competitive eater Tim Janus did the math and determined that drinking thirty cans of non-alcoholic beer in the span of one hour should do the trick.

The Experiment

Armed with a breathalyzer, he decided that he could deem his experiment a success as long as his blood alcohol content reached a rate of at least 0.08%—beyond the legal limit in most states. After chugging about 28 bottles of O’Doul’s (and taking a quick break to vomit), Janus blew a 0.00% on his breathalyzer. Despite his research, the experiment failed to yield the expected results.

So if Janus didn’t get drunk, what made his experiment so dangerous? The answer might throw you, but it all comes down to a woman named Jennifer Strange. In 2007, Strange attempted to win a Wii in a radio contest by drinking two gallons of water over the course of three hours.

She died of a condition called hyponatremia, which causes the body’s sodium content to drop to abnormally low levels. Meanwhile, Janus consumed about half a gallon more than Strange, and in two hours less. Viewers of his online video probably laughed when he took a break from his experiment to vomit. But in all actuality, that vomit break quite likely saved his life.

Now, consider the fact that the symptoms of hyponatremia appear to the layperson quite similar to those of intoxication. If some college kid tried to mimic Janus’ experiment, would their friends put a stop to it? Or would they simply sit back and laugh at the pseudo-drunken revelry?

The Literal Dangers

Aside from the literal dangers discussed above, non-alcoholic beer poses other risks as well. Primarily, those who drink non-alcoholic beer run the risk of triggering their alcoholic tendencies the moment a drop hits their tongue.

An alcoholic might have to drink extreme amounts in order to die from the stuff, but a single sip might be all it takes to ignite a relapse. Even holding the bottle and taking in the scent might do the trick.

When we drink non-alcoholic beer, we surround ourselves with reminders of our drinking history. Lesser triggers have pulled good men and women off the wagon in the past. Why take a risk on this one?

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Why Non-Alcoholic Beer Is Okay

As far as some alcoholics are concerned, you can go ahead and drink up without consequence. (Kzenon/Shutterstock)

Before naysayers run to the comment section, allow us to do them a favor by acknowledging the faults in the arguments above. First, one or two cans of non-alcoholic beer obviously won’t be enough to kill you. Anyone who tries an experiment like that described above clearly isn’t trying to stay sober, nor do they put too much value on their health. In other words, they aren’t the type of person who would read this article. And concerning the threat of relapse, some readers might know recovering alcoholics who drink non-alcoholic beer with no issue. Do such individuals prove that non-alcoholic beer poses little to no risk? Or are they simply rare exceptions?

According to some, alcoholics have good reason to drink the occasional non-alcoholic beer. For instance, drinking non-alcoholic beer in a social setting might minimize the risk of peer pressure.

The Risks Of Peer Pressure

Imagine yourself at a work-related convention or similar networking event. At these types of industry shindigs, a lot of attendees conduct the bulk of their networking at the bar. This means that avoiding the bar might mean missing out on a potential opportunity.

Similarly, you might one day need to attend some other important social event such as a wedding or high school reunion. Such events certainly don’t require you to drink, but you can expect that the liquor will be flowing freely.

In such cases, one might argue that non-alcoholic beer provides two distinct benefits. First, those who don’t recognize the brand name might assume the beverage to be an actual beer. This means that they won’t ask the alcoholic in question why they’ve chosen not to drink for the night.

And if you pour the beverage into a cup or a glass, nobody at all will be able to tell the difference. One might not expect to encounter peer pressure in the adult world, but it both can and does happen. Non-alcoholic beer provides the alcoholic with a preventative solution.

The Pressure We Put On Ourselves

Secondly, those who drink non-alcoholic beer at social gatherings might feel less out of place. For many of us, peer pressure pales in comparison to the pressure we put upon ourselves.

We heap social pressures upon ourselves that don’t really exist, essentially creating excuses to drink. It’s far better to do away with this sort of thinking, but a non-alcoholic beer is a far less dangerous way of caving in than resorting to the real thing.

Many alcoholics might also defend non-alcoholic beer on the basis that numerous other foods and beverages contain trace amounts of alcohol without threatening our sobriety.

For instance, people drink kombucha due to its many alleged health benefits. What some people might not know is that the fermented cultures in kombucha can result in trace amounts of alcohol. If improperly stored, the drink might even contain more than 0.5% alcohol, although rates this high are uncommon.

On top of that, other fermented foods and fruit juices (and even ripe fruit, in some cases) may contain similar traces of ethanol—a natural by-product of fermentation. Add this to the number of entrees and desserts commonly cooked and prepared using alcohol, and a person might easily ingest alcohol on-a daily basis without even knowing it. In this context, non-alcoholic beer doesn’t seem so threatening.

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Making Your Own Decisions

We can’t tell you whether to open that bottle or not. You have to decide for yourself. (Room 76/Shutterstock)

By now, you should know enough about the pros and cons of non-alcoholic beer to begin forming an opinion. Perhaps this opinion falls in line with the views you held prior to reading this article. Or perhaps you’ve surprised yourself a bit by changing your tune. But don’t finalize your decision just yet. Before you do, we’d like you to consider a few things.

First, we’d like you to consider your motivation for reading this article in the first place. Was it simple curiosity? Or did you come here looking for an excuse to drink fake beer? There’s no shame in admitting the latter, but it’s still important to recognizing.

Goto a few AA meetings and you’ll hear a common saying: “Sit in a barber shop long enough, and eventually you’re going to get a haircut.” In other words, spending too much time around alcohol will eventually lead to drinking. It’s one thing to drink non-alcoholic beer at-the occasional convention.

But if you came here looking for an excuse to sitting at-the bar every night without relapsing, you might be playing with fire. The fact that something can be-done does not always mean that it should be.

Consider Some Alternatives

Next, we’d like you to consider some alternatives. Perhaps you feel that non-alcoholic beer sounds like a decent solution to preventing peer pressure, yet you still reasonably fear the potential triggers. In this case, you might think about some other options that don’t smell or taste like alcohol.

For instance, a virgin piña colada is basically just coconut milk and pineapple juice. Just be careful that you aren’t courting temptation by choosing something too similar to the beverages you used to favor when drinking.

Remember, even a simple glass of cola or tonic water can be enough to fend off peer pressure in most cases. And frankly, it isn’t required that you keep a glass in your hand at all. Unless your favorite part of social gatherings is getting to use the restroom at a fancy event hall, it’s perfectly acceptable to just drink nothing.

It’s up to you whether you choose to drink non-alcoholic beer or not. In our opinion, it seems safer to avoid an unnecessary risk. But if you choose to court temptation, at least you’ll know some of the dangers you face. Because when it comes to tough questions like these, it’s always best to be informed.

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