In recent years, the accessibility of non-alcoholic beverages has increased, and perhaps for good reason. The COVID-19 pandemic alone sparked a new wave of sober and curious people, amid an increase in alcohol consumption during lockdown isolation.
To meet this shift, drinks like CBD-infused seltzers, zero-proof spirits, alcohol-free wines and more have filled the shelves for those looking for party options without the buzz.
CBD drinks, for example, promise to take the edge off after consumption thanks to the properties of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant that can promote a sense of relaxation. Non-alcoholic, or “NA,” beverages give sober people a substitute for drinks that many may have previously relied on in social settings.
But for those who have a difficult relationship with alcohol, are these alternatives really a solution? Or is the need for them a sign of something bigger? Speaking with HuffPost, substance abuse experts and sober people shared some questions to consider if you’re turning to these drinks when you quit drinking:
1. What is my reason for drinking non-alcoholic beers, wines or cocktails?
A recurring theme that occurs in 12-step substance abuse recovery meetings is why. What is your reason for doing X vs. Y? The spectrum of answers can range from attending a wedding to visiting a bar with non-sober friends.
Some may feel uncomfortable with their peers who are still drinking. It’s hard to socialize without drinking when you’ve gotten used to having a drink in your hand to feel normal. Some may find solace in soft drinks to put on the facade that they are still drinking, perhaps because they have not fully disclosed the change to friends. Others may insist that they are only taking a break from alcohol for health reasons.
Whatever the case, it’s important to recognize what your reason for wanting to enjoy soft drinks in the first place is and address it. Those in recovery you need to examine whether the reason behind drinking the soft drink is potentially detrimental to your sobriety.
“I feel like you should be totally abstinent for the first two years of sobriety,” said Ashley Loeb Blassingame, co-founder of an online substance abuse counseling program called Lionrock Recovery, noting that these types of problems are “not substance specific.”
“Then check your motives to see if the desire for an NA drink is still there,” he continued.
If the craving is still there and you decide to try an NA drink, think about it Because you are doing it Is there something missing from your sobriety? Is your recovery checklist in order?
“How much do you like the taste of an NA drink? Or do you like it because it tastes like alcohol?” Blassingame said.
If drinking a drink that tastes like alcohol could trigger it, it’s important to have a plan in order. In recovery, the idea of a true non-alcoholic beverage is appealing, and with so many new options available, it’s okay to wonder. Just make sure you value your sobriety above all else and don’t become a victim of sneaky marketing.
If you’re curious, but not facing an addiction, total abstinence may not be entirely necessary right now. Under these circumstances, practicing moderation tactics, such as drinking NA beverages, is a good entry into the world of recovery.
According to Blassingame, for both those in recovery and those who are curious, it’s important to have an established network — people you can rely on in a time of need or ask questions without fear of judgment.
2. Do the drinks I choose contain traces of alcohol?
The reality is that many soft drinks contain small amounts of alcohol. This is known as low alcohol by volume or ABV.
A sober and curious individual who drinks these alternative drinks is different someone in recovery does. The former may consider these options as healthier options. The latter has more at stake, as drinking low ABV drinks can ignite a desire for something stronger.
If you’re in recovery, be aware of the ingredient list for anything you’re consuming, experts told HuffPost. This doesn’t mean diligently checking every item in your household, but it’s good to be aware of what’s in your food and drink, as well as how certain ingredients can affect you. Drinks like kombucha have an ABV of 0.5%, and while that may not be enough to even remotely affect some, others may experience a buzz from excessive drinking.
Check the alcohol content of the drinks you choose. Then ask yourself why you want them, and be radically honest about it.
3. Does this align with my definition of sobriety?
Sobriety isn’t one-size-fits-all, and that applies to the drinks people choose to consume, according to Trey Laird, CEO and founder of a sober living facility in Connecticut known as The Lighthouse.
“I’ve worked with clients who have tried both soft drinks and CBD. For some of them, it serves a purpose, and I don’t judge them,” Laird said, adding that people in recovery who drink them should disclose – first to someone they trust.
He warned, however, that these drinks can become a slippery slope in some cases. Some of their customers have reported drinking a bottle of O’Doul’s, which in turn leads to drinking a six-pack to feel a slight buzz. In Laird’s personal recovery, he has not found the need to indulge in soft drinks.
“For me, I’ve been sober since 2011 and I’ve gone that long without trying a non-alcoholic beer or wine,” he said.
Lindsey Metselaar, host of the dating and relationship podcast “We Met at Acme,” feels similar to Laird about her own recovery. She is not interested in trying non-alcoholic beverages, and argued that consumption of CBD products in recovery is unnecessary and does not equate to sobriety.
The distinction should be clearly defined for you, Blassingame said. In his view, the term “sober” implies recovery in the traditional sense, which can include meetings, therapy and more.
“It’s the difference between someone running a marathon [on occasion] … versus an endurance athlete,” she said, noting that for her, sobriety and recovery involves complete abstinence from all mood- and mind-altering substances, even booze like CBD-infused drinks or low-ABV beer alternatives.
The curious, however, can think of the change as abstinence from drinking, with the option of keeping it or consuming alcohol whenever they want.
Decide what aligns with your needs for your relationship with alcohol, and then make an informed decision about whether drinking alternative beverages will fit into those plans, experts said. And whatever happens, make sure you rely on a support system to guide you through it.
Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the US, call 800-662-HELP (4357) for a SAMHSA National Helpline.