Can Alcoholics Drink Non-Alcoholic Beer?

by | Last updated Sep 10, 2021 | Published on Nov 14, 2016 | Alcohol Addiction | 5 comments

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Home » Alcohol Addiction » 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)

Non-alcoholic beer smells and tastes like the real thing, just without the alcohol content. Seems like the perfect solution for someone trying to recover from alcohol addiction…right? This topic is actually one of high contention within the recovery community. One major concern is whether alcoholics can drink non-alcoholic beer without giving up their 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, but it’s not quite that simple. Non-alcoholic beers raise questions concerning the principle of sobriety. Other disagreements stem from its potential to be trigger since addiction is strongly rooted to memory, and non-alcoholic beer is real beer.

To Taste Or Not To Taste?

Regardless of whether one should or shouldn’t, some may wonder why a person would bother drinking non-alcoholic beer in the first place. 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.

Why “Near Beer” Can Be Dangerous

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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 – just 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 low alcohol content.” How right you are. Unfortunately, that won’t stop them from trying.

The Experiment

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. Armed with a breathalyzer, Janus sought to find out whether he could get his blood alcohol content to reach at least 0.08% by drinking non-alcoholic beer. After chugging about 28 bottles of O’Doul’s (and taking a quick break to vomit), Janus blew a 0.00% on his breathalyzer. Although Janus had consumed trace amounts of alcoholic, he technically was not drunk. So what made his experiment so dangerous? The answer is rather unexpected.

In 2007, a woman named Jennifer Strange attempted to win a radio contest by drinking two gallons of water over the course of three hours. Although water is a necessary component to sustaining our bodies, consuming excess amounts can be dangerous and in Strange’s case, it was fatal. Her death was caused by a condition called hyponatremia where the body’s sodium content drops to abnormally low levels. Consuming so much liquid so rapidly diluted the concentration of vitamins and minerals in her body to harmful levels. A real possibility of what can occur in someone who attempts to get drunk off non-alcoholic beer. While they may not become intoxicated, the sheer volume of liquid poses a serious danger.

Let’s compare the two circumstances: Janus consumed about half a gallon more than Strange and in two hours less. Viewers of Janus’s online video probably laughed when he took a break from his experiment to vomit, but it very likely saved his life. Another danger is that the symptoms of hyponatremia appear 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 thinking it was drunken revelry?

The Danger of a Trigger

Aside from the dangers exhibited in those experiments, 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?

Counter Argument: Why Non-Alcoholic Beer Is Okay

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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 acknowledge the faults in the experiments 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 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 could 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. 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. 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.

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.

Making Your Own Decisions

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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 recognize.

Go to a few AA meetings and you’ll hear a common saying: “Sit in a barbershop 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.

Choosing Non-Alcoholic Alternatives

While the familiarity of non-alcoholic beer might seem like a comfort, for others, it might come too close for comfort. If you’re concerned about being triggered by non-alcoholic beer, it might be best to look for alcohol-free options that don’t smell or taste like the subject of your addiction. For instance, a virgin piña colada is just coconut milk and pineapple juice and might seem like a perfectly suitable alternative. However, if this used to be your drink of choice, going with the virgin option might be doing you more harm than good. The same also goes for sodas that were used as mixers in drinks you used to regularly consume. Just be careful that you aren’t courting temptation by choosing something too similar to the beverages you used to favor when drinking.

Ultimately, choosing to drink non-alcoholic beer or not is a highly personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer and whether you feel you can safely consume it without jeopardizing your progress is entirely up to the individual. If you’re only recently recovered or still battling with cravings, non-alcoholic beer might do more harm than good. If you’ve sober for decades, you might feel more secure in your ability to stop yourself if things get out of hand. Be honest with yourself and if in doubt, stick to good old-fashioned water.

Written by: Justin Kunst

Written by: Justin Kunst

As a member of the Amethyst Recovery Center marketing team, Justin Kunst dedicated his time to curating powerful content that would reach and impact individuals and families who are struggling with substance abuse.

5 Comments

  1. Paddy Ryan

    Thanks for the information. Many in the fellowship tell me non-alcoholic beer is for non-alcoholics. I have been drinking it for 2 years at functions. I can just as easily order a real one but I do not. AAs who work in bars tell ME to be careful! What?

    Reply
  2. Richard

    Thanks for the insight. I went to a Gala just shy of my 3 month chip. I went to the bar for a soda and lime, I was thirsty and wanted something a little more exciting than water. I got to the bar and there was a can of O’dooles 0.5. Perfect I’ll have one. It was the only one I drank that night and did drink soda and lime the rest of the night. I saw another member there, and quickly told him it was “non-acholic” he reminded me it was my recovery. I thought nothing of it, and enjoyed the evening. Now am I going to go back out? Not a chance! I’m going to take my 3 month chip and carry on. Life keeps getting better.

    Reply
  3. Ellen

    People may gravitate to “near beer” because they don’t like feeling left out during parties and other social occasions where people are drinking. However, it’s better to stick with water or soda at these gatherings. There are plenty of other ways to enjoy yourself during these festivities that don’t center on drinking. We can simply categorize alcoholism as an addiction. The mechanism here is fairly simple – we have a product/substance/habit that we enjoy/use a lot for some reason and overdo; because it is so enjoyable or gives us some sort of feeling of contentment, we do not stop and repeat the cycle all over again, regardless of the consequences. Therefore, if you want to break this addiction, you neeed to change your habits. Drinkink non-alcoholic beers or wines is not a good idea, because you’re still in your bad habits. If you want more info about how to start to deal with this problem, check this book – net-boss.org/how-to-help-an-alcoholic-you-love

    Reply
  4. Jeffrey

    I try to respect all points of view. I’m sober the better part of 40 years. I drink a couple NAs most days; high end NA with zero alcohol. PRetty sure I’m never going to consume alcohol again. But it IS a day at a time. I have no desire to drink again. I do find good, craft NA with 0% alcohol to be refreshing and enjoyable. Unlike what you said in the article about not liking the taste of alcohol, I always did like the taste of alcohol…but with NA I don’t taste alcohol…I get the things i really like such as density, bitterness, thirst quenching. After two, I’m full and don’t want anymore. The thing about AA, that AA has a hard time admitting, is that there are other ways to maintain sobriety. You can do so without believing in a higher power as well. But I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone they should. Our lives are all different. And yes, we are all unique in our own ways. Hopefully that is in a positive way. This works for me. I never feel tempted to drink alcohol. I look at the non-alcohol hard liquors out there differently. That’s scary to me. As a result, I wouldn’t go there. I’m 61 years old now, and I know if I start drinking alcohol the way I drink alcohol I’ll be lucky to hit 65, let alone 70. I just truly don’t want to drink – ever. And that desire not to drink alcohol is very strong. I hope it stays that way. Good luck to you all in your decision making.

    Reply
  5. Matt Pyke

    Well written

    Reply

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