Recovering from alcoholism is difficult for a variety of reasons: It can feel like a lonely road, it takes away a coping mechanism that the individual relies on, and it requires changing habits. To cope with the stress that accompanies the early stages of addiction treatment, many recovering from alcoholism wonder if switching to a zero-alcohol beer can make it easier to stay on track.
While a non-alcoholic beer may seem like an obvious answer to be able to continue enjoying the experience of drinking without the harmful aftermath, it’s generally best to avoid the scene entirely.
Addiction is complex. Alcoholism goes beyond the simple act of drinking alcohol, and its treatment requires more than a simple swap.
What Is Non-Alcoholic Beer or Near-Beer?
As its name suggests, non-alcoholic beer, or “near-beer,” is beer that has little or no alcoholic content. It’s certainly nothing new, having been introduced in the United States in the early 1900s in response to the Prohibition. Its origins may go back even further to as early as the ancient Greeks and Romans when water fit for drinking wasn’t always easy to come by.
Non-alcoholic beer starts off its life as a regular alcoholic brew. After the fermentation process, it’s cooked at a low temperature. Because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, it evaporates relatively quickly, leaving behind the non-alcoholic beer.
While the cooking process doesn’t necessarily change the appearance or consistency of beer, it does change its flavor profile. The more delicate flavors, which mainly come from the hops, are lost during processing. As a result, non-alcoholic beer tends to be maltier and has less flavor overall.
Can You Drink O’Douls in Recovery?
If recovering from alcoholism were easy, there would be far fewer individuals with alcohol addiction. The truth is that a myriad of factors come into play, from genetics and the home environment to an individual’s personal history with alcohol and even society’s cavalier attitude regarding excessive drinking.
Recovery is a lifelong process that at times can feel isolating and a little boring. If an individual is accustomed to being in a social environment where drinks flow freely, their friends may not share their personal commitment to sobriety.
At first glance, non-alcoholic beverages such as O’Douls, which has a very similar taste, smell, and texture to regular beer, may seem like a good swap for the real deal. For someone who has given up alcohol but doesn’t want to give up their social life, it can feel like a way to stay connected and continue to enjoy shared experiences with friends without compromising the recovery process.
Unsurprisingly, though, mental health experts have mixed opinions on whether non-alcoholic beer is an effective option. Some believe that non-alcoholic beer can be a tool for recovery, while others maintain that it can trigger a relapse.
Why Drinking O’Douls May Be a Good Solution
For the casual drinker who wants to cut the habit, swapping out fully alcoholic beer with O’Douls may be a good option. They can then enjoy the taste of beer and the social aspects of drinking with friends without the harmful side effects of alcohol.
Proponents of non-alcoholic beer even believe that it has some benefits, including post-exercise rehydration, improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of osteoporosis, and reduced stress and anxiety. It’s a popular choice among designated drivers, those who are pregnant or nursing, and those who simply want to cut down on their alcohol consumption without completely giving up beer.
Some even make the argument that switching to zero-alcohol beer is a simple way to gently wean off regular beer in a way that’s more gradual and perhaps easier than going cold turkey.
Why Skipping the Non-Alcoholic Beer Is the Better Choice
While it’s true that non-alcoholic beer allows the individual to give up alcohol without giving up a favorite habit, at least in theory, changing habits is a crucial aspect of recovering from addiction. For most people, giving up beer entirely is key to avoiding relapse.
Near-Beer Still Has Alcohol
While it’s generally expected that a beverage marketed as “zero alcohol beer” wouldn’t have any alcohol in it, the truth is that not all of the alcohol evaporates during processing. Legally, beer can have an ABV of up to 0.5% and be labeled as non-alcoholic. The alcohol content in O’Douls, for example, is around 0.4%. While this isn’t enough to get the drinker intoxicated, it’s an important consideration for those whose goal is to completely abstain from alcohol.
It’s Too Similar to Regular Beer
Ironically, zero-alcohol beer’s biggest selling point may also be its biggest drawback. Near-beer doesn’t have the alcohol content of regular beer, but it’s very similar in virtually every other way. Popular beverages such as O’Douls look, smell, and taste much like their alcoholic counterparts, and even their bottles and labels are nearly indistinguishable. For someone in the early phases of treatment for alcohol addiction, this similarity can be a trigger.
That’s not the only reason that drinking non-alcoholic beer can cause a problem, though. A common cause of relapse among those recovering from alcoholism is a condition called “euphoric recall.” With this condition, the individual only remembers positive feelings that they associated with drinking. The negative experiences and consequences that prompted them to seek treatment—the broken relationships, job instability, financial hardship and depression—are forgotten, and they only remember the feelings of comfort, relaxation, or happiness that they had while drinking. Drinking non-alcoholic beer can intensify euphoric recall and related cravings.
Near-Beer Can Be a Slippery Slope
Recovering from alcoholism is a day-by-day process. For those in an inpatient treatment program, compliance is relatively simple. It takes more effort, creativity, and planning to fall off the wagon than it does to simply stick to the program.
Outside of a residential program, things are different, and the individual has to make a deliberate effort to avoid the people, places and objects that remind them of their drinking habit. Establishing new hobbies, behaviors and friendships that don’t revolve around drinking is critical to success. For someone who is recovering from alcoholism, near-beer can be a behavioral crutch that prevents them from making the changes to their lifestyle necessary to prevent relapse.
For most people living with alcoholism, the addiction isn’t to the drink itself but to the endorphin release that alcohol triggers. Near-beers don’t prompt that same endorphin release, which can be frustrating for the individual and cause them to seek stronger options.
AA and Non-Alcoholic Beer: What Do People in Recovery Say?
Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous stress the importance of avoiding triggers that may prompt relapse. Rituals, or the specific routines that go along with addictive behaviors, are the first stage of addiction and a common trigger for those recovering from alcoholism. For some, their ritual may involve a certain glass, a specific place at home where they’d sit, or a bar they preferred. Once an individual is triggered, the temptation to relapse is strong. By continuing to drink non-alcoholic beer and carrying out the same rituals, the person may sabotage their own success.
In a handful of cases, those recovering from alcohol addiction report that switching to a zero-alcohol beer is instrumental in staying on track. The vast majority of people, however, find the most success when they address not only their addiction but the people, places, and objects associated with it. In this case, near-beer isn’t a tool for success but should be avoided, just like regular alcohol.
At FHE Health, we specialize in helping those with alcoholism achieve sobriety and come up with a plan that supports our clients’ goals and promotes lasting lifestyle changes. To learn about how our program can help you or a loved one move beyond addiction, speak to one of our admission counselors today by calling (877) 766-0424.