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Is Non-Alcoholic Beer a Safe Option for Alcoholics?

A few weeks after I got sober, I wrote a lengthy post entitled “What Do I Drink If I No Longer Drink?” expressing a state of great bewilderment. How anything could ever replace wine in my hand, in my glass, in my life?

I had two great concerns that seemed like opposite problems: what to drink when alone and what to drink in social situations. My pattern as a daily drinker was to consume the majority of my alcohol intake alone or away from other people. Socially, I seemed quite normal and was careful to avoid appearing drunk in front of others (part of my charming social anxiety and extreme need for control). I would definitely need a glass or two of wine to feel more comfortable at an event, but I couldn’t wait to get home from the party so I could get in those last few drinks that “did the job”. Without alcohol, how would I manage socially? And how would I manage alone?

When alcohol has become an obsession it is unfathomable that anything could take its place, let alone satisfy. The idea of watching tv without a glass of wine was utterly mystifying. I could remember a long-ago time in my life when I’d choose a glass of water or a cup of cocoa and I didn’t recall being unhappy, but still I couldn’t picture enjoying it either. Now I love to sit down for the evening with a cup of herbal tea and am understandably partial to the flavours that offer some promise of comfort: Sleepy Time, Tension Tamer, Calm.

The solution I have settled on for a social situation is most often a non-alcoholic beer. I like that it arrives at the table in its can or bottle and I know for certain what I am getting. I will be very honest – if I ordered plain tonic water and accidently received a gin and tonic, I am not 100% certain that I would send it back. There is a devious part of me that might drink it anyway and act like nothing’s amiss. I am three years and eight months sober, and I don’t want to play games with my recovery success. Even when I order a plain Diet Coke in a restaurant I will often have my husband take a sip to ensure it is safe (“Oh that’s gawd awful – yes it is plain diet coke,” he’ll grimace, taking one for the team).

I have become very specific when ordering and say, “I will have a non-alcoholic beer and also a big wine glass to pour it into please.”    I specify the wine glass for two reasons. First, I still like holding a wine glass. It feels feminine and familiar, and it makes me happy. Second, other people do not generally drink their beer from a wine glass, so it lessens the likelihood of picking up the wrong drink if I am mixing about the room. If I feel happy and safe, then mission completed. Servers do not care what customers order, their focus is to deliver what is asked for and keep the customer happy.

I was sharing my brilliant ordering logic with a recovery friend recently who expressed mild shock that I drink non-alcoholic beer. “Oh, yes!” I said, “It is kind of my go-to. Strangely one is usually more than enough. I also keep a stock of non-alcoholic cider in the fridge as a treat for parties or with dinner.”

“Jean,” she said with serious concern, “non-alcoholic drinks are only safe for non-alcoholics. No one with a drinking problem should be messing around with pretend booze.”

Whoa, this was news to me. I posed the question on Twitter (@unpickledblog) and one response that stood out was, “I don’t tease my disease.”

This is a serious debate. Are non-alcoholic beers, fake coolers, de-alcoholized wine, and mocktails dangerous for sobriety? Was I putting myself in more danger than I realized?

The internet abounds with articles (here is an example) encouraging alcoholics in recovery to refrain from drinking NA (non-alcoholic) beer because it does contain a very small amount of alcohol that could trigger a relapse, as could the mere experience of simulated “drinking” . Many AA discussion board participants are adamant that drinking NA beer is considered a relapse, and many recovery organizations say avoiding it entirely is a best practice.

Here is my opinion, one that comes with no expertise except my experience of 1333 days of continuous sobriety: know your triggers and stay away from them.

I eat some food that is cooked with wine (i.e. pasta, soups and stews) but I don’t eat deserts such as tiramisu or rum cake. I feel safe drinking NA beer and the occasional NA cider, but I don’t drink de-alcoholized wine. To me, the benefits of having a NA beer delivered to my table outweigh the risks of ordering a mocktail and possibly getting the wrong drink. I stay aware and keep myself safe, but what works for me might not work for someone else.

After a recent Bubble Hour episode in which I discussed being married to a “normie” (that is, a normal drinker) and allowing alcohol in our home, a commenter suggested that I should have left my husband if he wouldn’t give up alcohol in support of my recovery. That is pretty extreme and frankly, a little offensive. However, I acknowledge a kernel of truth to that sentiment – if I was struggling to quit and if having alcohol in the home was a threat to my sobriety, then we would have to make some hard decisions. But that wasn’t necessary in my particular situation.

Best practices are important to know and aspire to, but each of us must understand our own needs and tailor our lives accordingly. If beer triggers you, then best stay away from NA beer. If bars trigger you, stay out of bars. If wine was your downfall, drinking fake wine could be playing with fire.

Do whatever it takes to get (and stay) sober. Understand that my way might not be your way, and that the next person might disagree with us both. There is no definitive “right” way, but when in doubt err on the side of caution.

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About UnPickled

I am learning to walk without the crutch of alcohol. As I begin I am 1 day sober. Gulp. I drank in private and hope to quit just as privately. The purpose of this blog is to help make me accountable - just by following you will give me enormous support and encouragement.

Posted on November 12, 2014, in Getting Sober and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 65 Comments.

  1. Yeesh. Okay the strong reactions people have on this topic really baffle me. If you find de-alcoholized stuff triggering by all means avoid it, but judging others’ choices seems to me inappropriate and unsupportive. Count me among the folks who can enjoy an NA beer with no triggering effects whatsoever. In fact, I think that having this option on my beverage menu is helping me along with my sobriety. Also I love that I can enjoy one NA beer and not crave another! This certainly never has been the case with the real thing!

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  2. I really like what I just read the non-alcoholic beer is the way ago and it seems to work for me I appreciate your honesty and your article thanks

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  3. Interesting article! I must say that alcohol free beers are a life saver in social situations when you don’t want to stand out BUT I feel uneasy drinking them at home.

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  4. 13,568 one days at a time here (37 yrs, 2 months plus) after all these years of coffee, water, soda and numerous water flavors I finally tried some N/A beer. It was a pleasant taste lol. I can’t remember what regular beer tasted like!! Guess what? The sky didn’t fall, I didn’t head to the nearest tavern to indulge myself lol. I have lived my life never forgetting that last drink ( pint of black velvet case of Genesee beer) on May 8th 1979 at 12:00 noon on my front porch. Went to my first AA meeting still half in the bag. I never looked back. Did 90 meetings in 90 days to start with. The N/A beer hasn’t triggered anything other than satisfying my thirst on a hot day. Remember….. ” If you can’t remember your last drink there’s a 100% chance you haven’t had it yet”

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  5. Thank you for the excellent post. I been thinking about getting sober, but still drinking NA beer. I guess that I look at it this way, it’s just like drinking caffeine free coffee, while having a cigarette, I do it just for the coffee taste in my mouth, not for the caffeine.

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  6. I genuinely enjoy the taste of a cold beer after a long, hot, muggy run, and the buzz has nothing to do with it. I will allow myself the occasional NA beer so that I can still enjoy that beery flavor while I cool down. The good news is, even when I was drinking (wine was my poison of choice), it still took me the better part of a month to consume a 6pack of beer. So I feel pretty confident that NA beer is not going to lead me back down the primrose path to hell.

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  7. I’m early in my sobriety and right now I’m avoiding NA drinks. In past sober attempts I’ve indulged but …most of these NA drinks are a disappointment anyway. They’re not the real thing and I don’t want to confuse my brain which is already hardwired to drink…to think it’s drinking.

    By the way, loving your blog and finding this sober online community is a Godsend.

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  8. Sorry I meant becks Blues.

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  9. Be is blues are good but I think you need to be strong and feel you are in charge of the addiction before introducing this into the equasion..lthey taste so much like dank they can trigger cravings, but it’s learning to recognise and control, the cravings also xx

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  10. I actually have had this discussion with many people in the program concerning ‘near beer’ beverages or similar . I personally feel it’s like ‘cheating’ but that’s just my opinion. I had a close friend in the program with over 25 years confide in me that she and her husband would occasionally have near beer type drinks at a bar. To each his own, but her hiding this made me feel like I had to keep this a secret too, as she mentioned don’t tell the ladies in the program. I called anonymously, AA central office and ask if this was permissible for sobriety and most of the PC information led to ‘NO’. Idk, depends on your conscience or beliefs, maybe this should be brought up in a higher level of AA rules, but I don’t see this as a way of sober life. After all there are traces of alcohol in these drinks.

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  11. I like the comment “Don’t tease the disease”. I have been sober for 11 years but it took me 27 years to really get it. I got sober by going to AA and am still an active member. I had many relapses in that 27 years and One of the mistakes I made was drinking “Non alcoholic beer”. I think you will find that in actual fact there is no such thing as beer with absolutely no alcohol in it. I think you will find that it does have a small amount of alcohol in it. My solution is soda and lime (without the bitters by the way). Today I do not do anything to risk my sobriety, it was too hard to get. There are plenty of nice choices out there. I avoid anything that is an alcohol in it. But it will always depend on how serious we are about sobriety. Me I’m real serious.

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  12. It’s funny because about a month ago I decided to “get sober” and my husband and I decided not to drink for two weeks (and then reevaluate – I know, lame!). However, the weekend of the first week, I decided to have an NA beer as we were having burgers and it tasted DIVINE! I don’t even like beer that much, and I loved it. The problem is, I found myself relying on it to get me through the two weeks so I could drink again, so I knew it probably wasn’t the best idea. I think you are perfectly right about just knowing your triggers and avoiding them as they different for each person. Thank you for your wonderful insight!

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  13. I have been sober for almost eight years and decided to try an na beer on vacation. I will say that it tasted so good, and felt so nice to be in an English pub, not drinking diet coke. But I will say I started my sobriety in AA and remembered all the warnings so I dropped in on this discussion. through my early days of sobriety I lived with a two martini a day drinker, mixed drinks, and had ready access to alcohol. the time has blurred for me, but I do know that I was determined not to not drink alcohol. I drink tonic water and lime at cocktail party crowd, and have never though to drink. I now live alone and often serve wine or beer to guests.

    The pleasure and freedom of being able to enjoy the satisfying taste of a beer was wonderful. during my two week vacation I had a total of 7.5 beers. For caution sake, when I returned home I sent all my wine and beer (which has been in my fridge for almost two years ago) home with a friend. Then started surfing to make sure my sobriety is safe.

    I love terimisu and put vanilla in my coffee creamer from time to time, but I’ve lost two brothers to the disease and don’t plan to join them God willing.

    Thank you all for sharing. Out of respect for my many years of success, I think i will tread lightly and reserve the NA for the rare moment when a cold beer or wine would be perfect like for a vacation.

    All the best to all in keeping sober.

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  14. Interesting reading. I’ve been happily active in AA for 25 years. I am convinced that it saved my life. For 24.9 of those years I’ve enjoyed one or two NA brews every day. During the holidays I will usually enjoy some NA wine. I don’t talk about this a lot at meetings or with AA people generally, but I will if someone brings it up. My goal is not to be argumentative or controversial, and I’m not pining away my days wishing ‘Oh, if only my near-beer were real!’ I drink NA drinks simply because I like the taste! I don’t like soft drinks or juice — most juices have an equivalent amount of alcohol anyway (!), so I don’t see what I’d be gaining. My only real ‘dog in this fight’ is with those AA fundamentalists who would use the fact that I enjoy NA beer as some sort of barometer of the quality of my sobriety. That’s just silly. But then, I guess AA fundamentalism is sort of a by-product of the effectiveness of the 12 step approach to living — the more wide spread it becomes, the more some folks will feel the need to codify every aspect of it. One would hope that bitter experience would provide a bit more wisdom in this respect, but sometimes it simply does not.

    All that said, if someone develops an 86 proof NA whisky, I’d probably be wise to keep my distance!

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  15. I agree completely that erring on the side of caution is best, but triggers for one person could be a total nonissue for someone else. The one-size-fits-all-or-else dogma is an unfortunate element in the recovery world. I like to have my sparkling water with lemon in a wine glass at home. I have been told that I am playing with fire by drinking out of a wine glass. That’s just not true for me. As for alcohol in the house, we have a couple bottles of wine so we have it handy for when people come over. It’s put away in the garage. I’m not worried about it because knowing it’s there is not a personal trigger for me. However, having it sitting on the counter where it used to be, in my face all the time, would be difficult. So we don’t do that. I’m pretty sure I could drink an alcoholic beer without a problem, although I probably wouldn’t because it’s a substitute for the kind of beer I never really liked anyway (plain ol’ lagers). I can see myself having sparkling cider in a champagne glass on a special occasion. We all have to find our way.

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  16. So many great responses here. I suppose I’ll add mine. Thank you for your blog. I just came upon it. Anyway. I have been sober 4 years and am a NA drinker. I had to quit drinking because I had overindulged my liver through alcoholic behavior. In fact when I attended my first few AA meetings I answered by “Hi my name is Brad I don’t know what I am.” Through the process of the meetings I learned I was. I needed the meeting because if anyone knew how to quit they would. I learned my drinking was like a chef and food. I added alcohol to everything. So those 2 or 3 beers I had admitted to actually was about 12 a day when all tallied up. I have also been a home brewer for about 10 years so that was part of it. I loved every different beer, wine, bourbon, vodka and gin that came out. I loved mixing drinks. I used to be a bartender back when “Cocktails” came out and flipping bottles was all the rage. I loved making new drinks for my friends. My day would end with the Drink du Jour. There used to be a website where you could list your liquor cabinet ingredients and it would spit out a recipe. So every day was a new different drink. So you can see how my liver was taking it.

    So I’ve attended the meetings sporadically and they definitely help especially when I’m feeling low. But given the reaction by some over faking out the disease I’ve kept it hush hush, mostly because I don’t want to say it works for me but it might be a stumbling block for someone else. So, I’ve never sponsored anyone because I don’t want to say NA is okay when it might not be. It worked for me. How do I know? When I drink an NA there is NO way I could keep drinking them like I did with beer. This is what I learned from the program. Alcoholism has been liked to an allergy, an allergic reaction that decreases your ability to say no to the next one. So you drink the next and the next. Some people aren’t allergic and you can see that in their ability to switch to water. I could never understand that. With so little alcohol in the NA’s it doesn’t trigger the desire to drink another or switch to the real thing. But it does sate the taste desire for the beverage. Tonic does the same thing. I can’t drink virgin gin and tonics one after the other whereas if it was real I would keep going.

    What’s a non-alcoholic world look like for me? For one as a home brewer I learned how to make non-alcoholic beer. That was huge! And yes it’s non-alcoholic. You boil the alcohol out. I’ve done pretty much every kind but Guinness, but I will. I’ve even wondered about going commercial with it. Even with that though, I would feel horrible if my product made someone fall off the wagon so I haven’t. I haven’t figured out non-alcoholic wine so I’ll have a Fre` which isn’t bad. Sparkling apple juice is great in the fall when I crave hard cider or mead. I even boiled the alcohol out of some bourbon for Derby Day for a bourbon and coke. It’s kind of a waste. I can go to a bar or a restaurant without feeling like an odd man out and for me that was a huge part of it. Best of all I’m alive whereas my doctor had given me 4 years to live and my liver is 100%.

    I don’t know if this will help anyone, I hope it doesn’t hurt. All I can say about it is know your problem and remember how cunning alcohol is.

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    • Thank you! You described exactly how I feel with NA! It satisfies my craving, but I never want more than one or two, whereas with regular drinks of any kind I just couldn’t stop once I started. I tell my friends that my “off-switch” is busted. And I love that I can order an adult beverage that doesn’t make me or anyone around me feel awkward. A huge part of quitting was feeling like I couldn’t go out for a “drink” with my friends any more. I felt isolated and afraid of even trying to go out and order a soda. Having an NA beer still gives me the feel of going out for something special with my girlfriends, without giving anything up except the hangover. I totally agree that each one in recovery needs to know their triggers and their supports. It was more of a trigger to feel like I was missing out than it is to have NA drinks. I have never had a taste of an NA drink and craved the real deal, which to me is really wonderful! I wish everyone the very best in their own journey, and to remember that love and acceptance is always a good way to support someone in recovery! Thank you 🙂

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  17. This post was great. Thank you. I have been sober now for 4 months and drink NA beer and NA wine in social settings. It makes me feel like I still fit in with all of my friends that are enjoying a drink. I have added dashes of bitters to club soda as well and request it in a cocktail glass. Does anyone have any feedback on bitters? I know it does contain alcohol, but in the small amounts added for flavoring purposes doesn’t have any effect.

    I am also blogging about my journey being sober. http://www.thesoberexperience.com

    Thanks! Ashley

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    • Ive never used bitters but I definitly like tjings to have that sour “bite”!

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    • I bought some bitters and use it occasionally as I like sour drinks too. I know it is alcohol but the tiny amount just didn’t bother me and I certainly haven’t got addicted to soda and bitters. It’s just another drink that I may have very occasionally. We have alcohol in the house as my family drink occasionally around me and it’s just not a trigger for me. I have actually noticed with desserts like tiramisu that I no longer actually like the taste and much prefer something very sweet.

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    • Lol I’m not sure what bitters are but my favorite cocktail was an extra dirty vodka martini and now I make one on the rocks with club soda and I get the same calm down rush of the original. I find that a special drink or a hundred special na drinks are worth it to show you that you are worthy and fantastic and being sober doesn’t mean being boring.

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    • Great blog! If you decide to make non-alcoholic home brewed beer, I would love to try it’s!

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  18. I take a good whiff of my drink to make sure ive got my non alcoholic drink. It is great to have someone you trust test it for you, but my nose has never failed me so far 🙂

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  19. I was the guy that had more than one “Beer, it’s not just for breakfast anymore.” T-shirts. When I got sober I lasted a week before I decided that without at least trying N.A. (I’d never had one) I would not succeed in remaining sober.

    I actually did the math and figure out that the number of N.A.s one would have to imbibe in the amount of time it would take your body to process the alcohol would be almost impossible to get drunk. (Just recently I found a video of someone who proved exactly that. http://deadspin.com/will-drinking-28-non-alcoholic-beers-in-an-hour-make-me-1210108551)

    They definitely got me through the early days and came in handy as a bar/party prop, if nothing else, during the early years. I now drink one when I feel like it but rarely have them on hand. Usually it’s with dinner if I’m at a nice restaurant.

    I can say with absolute certainty that in my 17 sober years of drinking N.A. beer I have never once felt the compulsion to “trade up” to an alcoholic drink.

    The A to your Q is: Yes.

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  20. I drank NA beverages for many years for all the reasons mentioned in this post, and I have to say it never caused a relapse – or anything near one. But – and this is interesting to me – at about 15 years sober I asked myself why I still did that when there are so many alternative beverages that have no connection at all to alcohol? Actually, I was challenged to come up with a valid answer by another sober person. I didn’t have a “valid” reason at all, just excuses as it turned out. So I decided to quit drinking fake alcohol. Well, easier said than done! What I discovered was that for 15 years I had been fooling myself when I thought (and frequently said) that there was no connection in my mind between the two drinks. Hah! Of course there was, otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen to drink NA beverages in the first place – I would have just quit drinking and chosen something else!! Seems so obvious now, but then I’ve always had excellent 20/20 hindsight vision!
    It has been 11 years since I stopped drinking NA wine or beer, and I have been sober for 26 continuous years. I do not consider that the first 15 years when I drank NA stuff impacts by length of sobriety at all, but I know for certain now that I am free physically from the insidious hold of the disease of alcoholism and I am no longer pandering to a deep inner desire to not “let go” of the act of drinking, to hold on to some last remnant of the drinker’s lifestyle.

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  21. It took years before I could handle NA beer, because the taste was a trigger, but I was a beer drinker. Now I find it helpful, when I need a beverage that isn’t too sweet. But the taste still makes me nostalgic. I have to remind myself to focus on the present and not get into euphoric recall. I think most alcoholics can probably handle NA beer, especially if they were never big beer drinkers. It’s healthier than soda, which could be a trigger for people who drank mixed drinks. And fruit juice contains more alcohol than O’Doul’s and many other NA beer brands.

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  22. I am on Day 15 of giving up alcohol (http://me2point0.blog.com/) and found that cans of sparkling water help. I’ve got cases in the office. This will be my drink of choice out on the lake this summer and other times when I’m accustomed to drinking a beer. I have our upcoming Christmas “lunch” which has a 40 year tradition of all day drinking…My plan in NA beer in a wine glass all day….

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  23. My experience… I occasionally cook with alcohol – normally in Chinese Stir fry and use the Rice Wine – I have it very hot and it burns off quickly. In the end I’m ok with that but I avoid sauces in restaurants that have alcohol cos I don’t know how much or whether it’ll have been hot enough to burn off the alcohol.

    I used non-alcoholic beer in my mad year of trying to stop/control/stop/control/ etc. before I finally gave up. So I found then that it led me back to alcohol on more than one occasion. So now – I don’t touch it I don’t think for me it would be sensible. And why am I wanting to drink it if I have that thought? Is it half way back to alcohol? Honestly I’m not sure and that is reason so stay away. Whatever the situation it is lemonade or soda water … or often now a tea of coffee lol

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  24. I occasionally cook with wine and once or twice in the last eight sober years I have had non-alcoholic beers at a friend’s house when there was no soda or fruit juice. It didn’t bother me at all, but I wasn’t fond of the taste. I also use mouthwashes with a slight alcohol content and have never been tempted to swallow or self-medicate with them.

    This is one of those generic issues that should really be left up to the individual to decide. I do though want to say that it is important to understand that for some people in recovery, physiological triggers are very strong.

    In my case they’re not. I didn’t especially enjoy the taste of wine, I drank to get drunk as emotional self-medicating. So I watch my emotional stability and that is part of my self-care routine in sobriety. I have known sober friends though who get fierce and sudden cravings if they see trickles of condensation on a bottle of beer, on a TV ad, or across a restaurant.

    My friend R says that if he sees beer being poured, he begins salivating and can literally taste the first gulp of beer, he has found himself trembling and swallowing as a reflex action, wanting just one taste and having to fight the urge to just have a sip. It is visceral and irrational, a deep physiological urge. R is 23 years sober and he won’t touch NA beers or have alcohol-based mouthwash or any alcohol at all in his home or go near food cooked with alcohol. He says he knows in his mind that the cooked alcohol has long burned off, but even a faint whiff of red wine or sherry will set off his physical longing to drink. He is far more vigilant than most people around reminders or associations with drink, never glamorises the drink, and has always said that he didn’t drink for emotional reasons, he drank because he became addicted very quickly and his body craved alcohol with great intensity. The first time he drank, he drank everything in the house and was admitted to hospital unconscious with alcohol poisoning and that never changed. He was never a social or ‘heavy’ drinker, he drank to black-out as fast as he could. R says he is extreme but knows a few others like him who also take very careful precautions and always have done.

    If you are susceptible to physiological triggers around even the imagined taste or the sight, sound, smell, taste associations with alcohol, take care when trying liquids similar to alcohol.

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  25. I gave up eating meat when I was 12. It was really hard in England in 1973 to be a vegetarian. The meat substitute products were disgusting. I realised that the only way I could possibly stick to my resolve (especially with parents, teachers and friends trying to undermine it) was to start eating things which bore no resemblance to and didn’t pretend to be meat. That worked for me. When I quit drinking in 2008 I think I subconsciously adopted the same strategy. NA drinks wouldn’t work for me, nor would wine glasses. Mine is a lime & soda which feels grown up and bitter enough (just). Before I realised I had a drink problem and quit, I was in a relationship with an alcoholic. My doctor told me that it was important I didn’t stop drinking to support him as I wasn’t the one with the drink problem (thinking of the issue of whether partners should quit). But it’s whatever works for you – it is SO individual… Thanks for the great post and comments!

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  26. Hi Jeane, I have only 10 months of continuous abstinence, and do, occasionally have a non-alcoholic beer. I don’t drink it at home because I don’t like it very much, but I really don’t like soda or juice – the sugar affects me in a wonky way when I consume it in that liquid form – and sometimes I just want more than a sparkling water. Beer wasn’t really my thing, though, as you’ve shared before, so this is not a slippery slope for me. I could care less that it has a tiny bit of alochol. It doesn’t affect me like alcohol used to, it doesn’t make me sleepy, it doesn’t make me want another, and sometimes another. It is what it is, a refreshing and sometimes more satisfying than water thing to have in a restaurant sometimes. I don’t keep wine in the house, but I have no problem being around it – we have a stash in the office for odd gatherings and I’m not remotely tempted. I do drink kombucha but one’s enough and I find it energizes me whereas wine put me to sleep. I do buy vanilla extract and stevia extract and the odd herbal tincture but use them in recipes only as called for and would never occur to me to drink … then again, I’m the kind of person who wouldn’t drink at all sorts of public gatherings if the wine was Dancing Deer or Two Buck Chuck, etc. I sometimes think my addiction to wine was more a process addiction than a physical addiction. I did experience physical consquences – it was a drug that worked for me – it lessened my anxiety, took the edge off as it were, made me feel at ease, etc. – but I would not have taken a pill that produced the same effects. There was something about the ritual – uncorking the bottle, pouring the wine, holding my Bordeaux glass (if you were to watch a video of my life over the last 20 years, if I wasn’t working or working out, there I’d be with my Bordeaux glass …). The one that no one wants to let me get away with, and it’s what keeps me from getting a sponsor even though I have started going to AA after 10 months — not because I think I need the meetings to stay sober, I’m quite sure I’ve had my last drink, rather for the camaraderie, and the community — is that I receive communion on Sundays. I promise if that sip of communion wine ever ever ever makes me want to drink again, I’ll stop, I am not the kind of person who could do this if I were fighting a physical addiction, I don’t have that kind of discipline, but really and truly, communion has always for me been the blood of Christ and never ever ever more than that. It’s not a gateway drug for me. But try telling that to some of these militant people who want to define my sobriety for me. Anyway, I am still liking AA, ironically enough. I swore I’d never go because I’ve never had trouble stopping on my own for 30 days or 60 days or til my birthday, whatever. But after listening to all of Anna David’s podcasts (I know you’re a fan too), I just felt I need to check out 12-step recovery for myself. I do hope to find a sponsor who like me is using the program to grow and who hasn’t swapped one prison for another.

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    • Thank you for your comment about communion wine. I don’t think it triggers anything for me but other people frown on it.

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  27. Thank you for your posts. I have to say I am in agreement with you. Sobriety, even monitored drinking is different for everyone. And rules given to you by someone else don’t necessarily hang true for your self. I can read all the posts, I can read all the books, choose the path I want and choose my guidance! I have chosen a path less travelled and it works for me. For me… I am not struggling with alcohol dependency so much as dealing with depression and anxiety. When I treat those issues I have no problems with alcohol dependency. We are talking years, I don’t count the days, or even remember the day I decided to change, the change is a daily endeavor in which I explore ways to improve the life around me and my life. If I slip, I define the slip, am I doomed forever? No. I have another day and I don’t want to live with endless guilt over my past or fear about the future. Good luck with your path

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  28. NA beer isn’t anything I ever had the balls to try. I drool at the thought of tasting a beer sometimes and I just don’t want to tempt that at all. I’m coming up on 7 years and I enter very few social situations where there are drinkers. I practically never go to bars and most people that I hang out with don’t drink much so there’s just not much of a need for a social drink. In all honesty I wish society wasnt so stuck on social drinks. The people i gravitate toward are social coffee drinkers if anything! Lol A warm mug is what feels most comfortable in my hand. Only you know what feels right. 🙂

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  29. I definitely think people should drink whatever they want.
    I have found a love for coffee with cream. It’s my go to.
    I also like a mock tail some days.
    I have no qualms with fake drinks. I’m drinking them for the flavour.
    Apparently Orange juice often has a low percentage alcohol. As does kombucha. I drink both occasionally.

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  30. To Each his own, the only right way is what works for you. I have an occasional NA wine or beer with no thoughts of ever having the real thing again. Approaching 500 days, whatever works for me. You know what’s best for you.
    Sharon

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  31. I was a beer drunk, but now with 7 weeks sober, I realize that I never really liked the taste of beer. I think I convinced myself that I did and became quite a beer snob. Alternately, I drank total shit bum beer because it had a very high alcohol content. I haven’t tried near beer and have no desire to – I drank beer to get drunk. Why drink something that looks like, smells like and apparently tastes like beer, but doesn’t get me drunk? It would be like giving up smoking weed but switching to smoking oregano. Looks the same, no buzz. No thanks. I see it as akin to smacking your head against a brick wall. Yeah, you can do it, but why? To each their own, however – just not me.

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  32. I too enjoy a NA beer on occasion. For me it is not a trigger at all. Goes great with Pizza or BBQ, or just great for keeping people from questioning you about not-drinking in social situations.
    I’ll often ask for one when we are out for dinner. If the restaurant doesn’t have any, no biggie, I just have water or another non-alcoholic beverage.

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  33. I recently tried NA beer and I found I still felt a little guilty and anxious about it (I decided to go sober because I hit “rock bottom” and it was pretty traumatizing, which was a blessing in disguise because it literally scared me away from alcohol.) But for me the appeal of drinking was not getting drunk or even a buzz, but just the act of drinking, and the taste of it. Eventually I definitely want to be in the state of not even desiring a beer, but I haven’t been sober very long and for me this is an alternative to quitting cold turkey (which I tried and failed at numerous times.) It does not remotely trigger me to want the real thing, and I see it as a gradual path to being completely alcohol free, much like a smoker who uses nicotine patches. I can understand that for some severe alcoholics, that tiny amount of alcohol could be problematic, but we are all different cases. I definitely agree with your opinion on this; there is no one path for everyone. Alcoholism can be analyzed and explained, but alcoholism recovery is definitely not a hard science; there are far too many individual factors at play.

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  34. Some hear these rules and follow and repeat them without question. I did drink NA beer in early sobriety and it didn’t wake the beast. It did taste terrible to me, and I had been a beer lover, so I cut it out. I’ll occasionally cook with alcohol but generally avoid boozy desserts like you do. I like that you’re inviting frank and open discussion. I think it was Burger King that wisely said “no rules, just right”.

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  35. I’m sorry to comment again, but I also wanted to make the point that my husband and I are vegetarians and we consume ridiculous amounts of fake meat. My husband has been a vegetarian for 14 years and I am not far behind him. Having these options available has quite literally kept us from breaking our vegetarianism. Neither of us misses eating meat at all, though backyard BBQs can be triggers, so we always bring our own veggie burgers, etc to those type of events. Even though I know that eating meat isn’t as dangerous as consuming alcohol, I do have very high cholesterol and eating animal products can be playing with fire to a person with as much heart disease as in my family. I guess what I am saying is that this is a very interesting parallel in my life to drinking NA beer and wine and I view it as such. I am in SMART Recovery, so I need not worry about whether or not consuming NA beverages fits into the steps.

    Like

    • Perfect analogy, I too, am a vegetarian and have fallen off the wagon (meat wise) a few times. Especially when I smell a roasting chicken. But I don’t want to eat animals so I am grateful for the options out there make me feel like I am eating them as far as texture and some taste. I am new to not drinking, 11 days and have been struggling with what to drink when we go out to dinner as I LOVE the taste of a good wine or dark ale. So having the option of a NA beer for the flavor sounds great to me as I don’t like juice or soda. I just wished restaurants carried NA wines. Thanks for the analogy.

      Like

  36. Ask people who quit smoking, and they’ll tell you that it wasn’t just quitting the drug that was hard, it was also quitting the habit of bringing hand-to-mouth, and the entire ritual around smoking. That’s why so many former smokers end up chewing on gum, or pens, or overeating, because they feel they’re supposed to do *something* with hand-to-mouth, but they’re not sure what.

    I’ve found that ginger beer does the trick for me right now, because it allows me to go through the ritual of opening a beer, but without all the problems of beer. I can open the glass bottle with a bottle opener and hear the carbonated hiss. It meets the need for holding a bottle and bringing it to my mouth, and the cold, fizzy, sour/bitter liquid has many of the same sensations in my mouth as a real beer. But when I’m done with a ginger beer, I have no desire for a real one, or even for another ginger beer.

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  37. When I was first sober, mineral water was my drink of choice. I will never forget one day walking around my apartment, drinking one liter size bottle, then in some frustration, grabbing another, and drinking it. It dawned on me what the frustration was. I was holding onto this bottle about the size of beer bottles (quarts) I usually drank from, drinking this carbonated drink that gave me that slightly bloated and gaseous feeling – everything like beer, but no buzz. That was quite an awakening on what triggers can be. It’s kind of like driving past a bar I used to hangout in when the temperature outside is just so, and the time of day is right, and . . . . bang . . . walking in and having a couple of beers seems like the most enticing thing in the world.

    Triggers are triggers and they come in all varieties.

    I don’t drink near beer primarily because I think it tastes absolutely horrible. Or maybe it is the frustration of drinking something that is kind of like beer, but not getting the buzz. After about 20 years of sobriety, I stopped doing communion wine too, just because I always was so conscious to get only the smallest drop in my mouth and it seemed like more trouble than it was worth.

    I really like virgin mary’s and will occasionally have one when I am out, but always have my wife check it first, because I am not even certain what alcohol they put in a regular one, but I am a bit paranoid about the possible confusion.

    So, I have been sober for some 30 years, am not concerned getting drunk today, but also have built up a pretty good understanding of what my triggers are and to stay away from them. I can go into a bar and sit all night long, and all I will be is bored. But we still do not keep beer in the refrig, and after a party or whatever, bottles of wine that are opened don’t stay around for more than a couple either before they are consumed by my wife or go down the drain.

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  38. This discussion reminds me of ‘the mommy wars’ that my stay-at-home, bottle-feeding daughter is experiencing on the internet. Apples and oranges, but – if it works for you, keep it up! Call yourself sober or call yourself alcohol free – who cares? Drink N/A beer or not – who cares? Drink out of a special glass or straight from the bottle – WHO CARES? If it quells your anxiety and keeps you from drinking the real deal, do what works for you. Personally, I love cherry pomegranate seltzer with exactly three squirts of cherry pomegranate Dasani drops, straight from the liter bottle. That and gallons of good coffee have contributed to by 87 alcohol free days (and counting). My husband is a normie – there is beer, Jack, and red wine in the house, none of which compromise/tempt/trigger me. He asks me often if his drinking bothers me and will stop drinking at home if I ever decide it does. It does NOT bother me in the least. Use the tools that work for you and tread lightly if others use different ones. There are many paths to a happy, alcohol free life!

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    • Totally agree with Jean and lifewithout…. I’m only 61 days AF but it’s all going well and have recently tried non alcoholic beers and wine and quite like both as long as they are very chilled and usually with lime added because I really like ‘dry’ drinks and these concoctions suit me. I don’t want to drink alcohol and I don’t pretend they’re alcohol and they are certainly not the first step on a slippery slope in my opinion because they do not trigger anything for me – they just happen to be drinks that seem palatable when I’ve already drank 2 litre of sparkling water and a diet coke during the day. I do not eat any food with real alcohol as I really want to avoid the taste of alcohol but eventually I may eat savoury food that has been cooked using a small amount of wine such as coq au vin etc. I don’t think I’m fooling myself and agree with the tread lightly suggestion ….

      Like

  39. So if every type of alcohol, place where alcohol is available, or social situation was a trigger, and a lot of daily activities from driving my car to having a shower were all triggers… Well, I guess I’m just screwed then right? :p

    I’ve found that NA beer, and gingerbeer in brown glass bottles are my salvation at parties and bars… something about both the vessel and effervescence, as well as the fact that usual people don’t notice it’s not a ‘real’ beer, well, it helps me a lot. I’m a strong supporter of the no alcohol beer but only at parties. I got into a habit drinking a six-pack a day and I think that contributed to my relapse because I was used to drinking ‘beer’ so when I had one drink, the next hundred beers went down a lot easier.

    I guess I have to agree with you, but hope people can find their triggers without relapsing.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Jean, your last sentence sums it up perfectly: “There is no definitive “right” way, but when in doubt err on the side of caution.” I am fine with and enjoy the NA substitutes, and I have been sober 16 months. Being able to have NA drinks makes me feel less like a freak. I, too, live with a normie, but he can take or leave alcohol and we don’t keep it in our home. Who knows, maybe someday they’ll have gene therapy to turn alcoholics into normies, but that’s probably wishful thinking. Until then, NO booze.

    PS: I am really enjoying your daily posts! I’m delighted that you took the November challenge to heart.

    Like

  41. Even though beer wasn’t my main issue, I did try to give up my guzzling wine ways and only drink beer from time to time, I even tried light beer thinking I was doing really well … but all it did was lead me right back to the wine.
    I had a wine glass attached most evenings and every weekend for a very long time and the few occasions I completed ‘Dry July’ or had any short period of sobriety I would drink juice or some type of fizz from a wine glass. I would also knock back lemon, lime and bitters and while you can’t get drunk from these, you can get a slight buzz because bitters contains 44.7% alcohol.
    Seeing as I was a full blown ‘dry drunk’ during these failed attempts I now refuse to test my recovery in the same ways. I am serious about getting well and looking (painfully and scarily) deep within myself to find out why I drank the way I did, why I relied on it so heavily to get me through life and why I abused it so much.
    I have had 2 incidents in the last 204 days where I have drunk redbull or sparkling water from a wine glass and both times I have felt very uncomfortable and that I was doing the wrong thing. It didn’t sit well with me and I felt I was being very fake. Pretending is something I no longer wish to do and drinking anything other than wine out of a wine glass and trying to be happy about this, I’m kidding myself. I know a lot of people can do this and not give it a thought which is totally fine, but for me, a wine glass is a trigger and a big fat reminder of how my life used to be. I have now bought myself some beautiful rounded coloured glasses with flat bottoms and this makes me feel a whole lot more at ease!
    I considered the NA wine and beer for a very short period a few months ago until someone informed me they still contained a small % of alcohol in which case I was immediately put off. I don’t want any alcohol in my system, no matter how small the volume. I had also decided that it was once again too much pretending. I don’t want to live my life attempting to feel comfortable in social situations with a fake beer or wine, I don’t want to pretend I’m fitting in when I wished it was the real thing and I don’t need a specific drink in my hand to feel worthy of who I am. I will learn how to be social, confident and secure within my already bubbly and comedic nature and this will have absolutely nothing to do with what I hold in my hand.
    I have my last day of a 13 week intensive outpatient program at a treatment centre today and this has been an enormous learning. Recovery is about self-discovery, looking into those dark places within ourselves and letting the light shine in. They strongly advise against NA beer and wine, bitters, deserts with alcohol (which I hate anyway) or even codeine or strong painkillers. While I think there has to be a limit and you can’t spend your life terrified of what you can and can’t put into your body, I think a healthy amount of fear is a positive and learning not to ‘rely’ on anything for comfort and security is true inner growth. For myself I have decided that for the first 2 years of my sobriety I want to be vigilant with making better choices and not testing myself in areas where it’s very possible I may fail. I have to do what is right for me and this goes for everyone else, simply do what is right for you and your recovery. Happy Thursday xx

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  42. First of all, I didn’t get the idea that you had “encouraged” anyone to drink NA anything. You simply and quite honestly let us know what was working for you and I personally applaud that. I’ve never been a beer drinker, preferring to fill my days with red wine. Now, 56 days sober, my preference is coffee, herbal tea, and flavored water. It’s working for me. It’s still early enough in my sobriety, and I’m still scared enough, that I don’t want to take any chances. By the way, I just counted about 14 bottles of liquor in our cupboard. I would not think of ever telling my husband he had to abstain from his weekend drinks for my benefit, much less leave him if he didn’t. But that’s just me.

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  43. Another one here Jean who drinks NA beers and alcohol-free wine. Only need one bottle or glass and works for me. Don’t have a problem with it but understand that others might, although calling it a relapse sounds a little extreme! 🙂

    Like

  44. I personally don’t drink NA drinks and I have been sober for the last 4 years through AA. We don’t believe in tempting fate, so I have never had the craving for it at any stage. I know what my trigger is – alcohol – so I stay away from it in any form. I don’t believe persons just stopping drinking should be encouraged to drink NA drinks for it could be highly dangerous at their stage in recovery. But I do agree with you, each to their own – whatever keeps you sober, go with that. Sobriety is the Priority:)

    Liked by 1 person

  45. I drink non-alcoholic beer (with a splash of lime cordial). It’s a treat for me that I save for weekends. I usually don’t have more than one, and it’s something that I can enjoy while my husband sips a real beer. I also agree that what is good for one, isn’t necessarily good for another. If it triggers you, don’t do it:)

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  46. An absolute no-no. It’s like having sex and not getting off…at some point you go for the real thing. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I feel like playing with fire means you really haven’t accepted that you’re powerless over your addiction.

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  47. I so agree. Each to their own. My husband is a normal drinker. I can even buy him his beers which he occasionally drinks the rare weekend. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’d be insulted if anyone suggested me getting rid of him too! And I’m 7 years 6 months sober!

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

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  48. I drink NA beers and de-alcoholized wine (and sparkling wine). I find that it’s better to drink these than the alcoholic alternative, which is what I would be drinking otherwise. Annie x

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  49. One of the things that I am learning in recovery is to gravitate to the things that speak my truth. People dispense recovery advice with the very best of intentions. And it’s very true that either drinking a non-alcoholic beer or having a spouse who keeps alcohol in the house may threaten someone’s recovery. But recovery is not a “one size fits all” business. Jean, I can drink non-alcoholic beer and non-alcoholic wine with no desire whatsoever to have the real thing. I don’t recommend other people do this, but I also don’t feel comfortable when someone makes the assumption that I can’t handle it. I don’t have as much sobriety as you, but on Thursday, I will be celebrating 6 months and in all of this time, I have NEVER had the desire to as my waiter for a real beer after having a NA one. There is also a very dangerous notion out there that if you have NA beer, you aren’t sober or that you aren’t actively engaged in recovery. Rubbish. If you can enjoy it with no harm to your sobriety, than all the power to you. Not everyone can, I appreciate that. But I think that we could all loosen up a little on this point. No one has the right to judge your sobriety.

    Liked by 2 people

  50. thegrownupboyscout

    I’m doing the same. Twelve weeks sober here and drinking near beer has not been a trigger to drink alcoholic beer again. If anything it has helped my anxiety when I was fighting cravings.

    Liked by 1 person

  51. Discovering NA beer has been great for me. It’s just one more little tool in my (hopefully forever) sober lifestyle. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, 18 months sober and NA beer really comes in handy for social situations or just when I cannot stomach another glass of water. I was never a beer drinker though so it is not a trigger. I guess if I am going to be honest it is a “pretend” drink. I do not see any harm in that at all. It also puts my guests or companions more at ease in having their “real” drink while in my company. Now if you handed me a glass of NA wine that might be a different story as it would set off a whole lot of memories with my “special” friend of 40 years.

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