The Controversial Topic of Nonalcoholic Drinks

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Hi friends,

I’ve been sober for over a year, and I’m fortunate that cravings very rarely hit me now. I barely think about drinking anymore, unless some new or triggering situation comes up, in which case I generally know what to do and have tools to navigate the whole thing. But yesterday, a new situation came up, which gave me the opportunity to think a bit more about an aspect of sobriety I hadn’t really encountered yet. The topic is nonalcoholic beers.

Surprisingly, I never really made it a habit, when I first gave up the booze, to replace my beloved IPAs with nonalcoholic beers. I spent a year happily drinking water, Kombucha, and tea, mostly avoiding the bar setting, as I was busy finishing a PhD during covid time and dating someone who was also sober and hated going to bars anyway. 

Now that I’ve moved back to France, where café, restaurant and bar culture is deeply engrained in the collective identity, I’ve been walking around and musing at the late summer crowds, gathering and connecting over drinks and food, filling outdoor terrasses like the pandemic never happened. (France is going back into lockdown tonight, so it’ll be a whole other story this winter).

But yesterday, as I was walking back from my new meditation group in the sunny streets, I felt like I really “needed” and “deserved” some wind-down time, a treat, after the intense last couple months I spent overworking and stressing about my PhD defense. I was on the phone, then suddenly walked past a craft beer store, and hung up and walked in. 

Before you start to worry about Anne throwing in the towel, let me stop you right there. Although during the PhD I did have moments where I toyed with the fantasy of giving moderation or occasional drinking a go, after the defense I realized those were mostly thoughts coming up due to a severe need of getting some rest and decompressing. I walked into that store with a very clear intention, and zero temptation to drink alcohol. I went straight to the vendor and asked him about their nonalcoholic options, saying that it’s quite hard to find a nonalcoholic beer that actually tastes good. I was happy to see they had a wide variety of choices, and walked out with two little bottles of alcohol free Citra IPA and an alcohol free Pale Ale. This is the first time that I had been so close to beer and actually held an object in my hand that looked and felt exactly the same as all those beers I drank in the past. What I held in my hand looked everything like the “forbidden” object, yet was supposedly harmless. My brain was struggling to process that this was even possible.

And oh, friends, I think I gave my poor brain a shock when I got home and opened the bottle and poured its content into a glass with a stem. Hadn’t held one of those in over a year. Took a sip: hadn’t tasted that taste in over a year. The gestures, the colors, the taste: it was all the same as a year ago. The “Aaaaaaah” feeling of instant relief with the first sip. All the mental associations were there. At first I thought: “This is the life, man. Who needs real beer when they make alcohol free options that taste this good?” 

But then something strange happened: the feelings of guilt and shame that used to be associated with drinking alcohol also started to come up a bit. I felt like deep down, I was going something wrong, something prohibited, something dangerous. I think a bit of placebo effect even happened, because my mind began to scan my body for feelings of inebriation, wondering if the very small percentage of alcohol in nonalcoholic beers could trigger feelings of drunkenness, or worse, the horrible emotional mechanisms that came with being addicted to drinking alcoholic beers. 

I had had a couple of alcohol free beers during the last year on random occasions, but they tasted disgusting, so none of this came up. Yesterday however, a part of me began to panic, because the experience was so similar to the ones I repeated again and again in the past, and work so hard to dismantle, that my brain automatically associated the consequences of my past drinking experiences to this present, supposedly harmless, alcohol free experience. 

I came out of the whole thing with a contemplative mind-frame: alcohol free IPAs definitely hit the spot for whenever a beer craving hits. Also, their calorie content is pretty low, so it’s great option compared to a regular coke, say. But I don’t want to end up relying on the ritual itself, even if it’s “harmless”, like I used to. I don’t want to have that triggering mechanism set off, and start the whole cycle of relying on the repetition of specific behaviors or the ingestion of exterior substances to get through life. Maybe this was just the “manager” part of me worrying that the satisfaction I got out of the alcohol-free beer would lead me to lose control, and step back into the dark side. For me, the “dangerous” part of the experience was that I really would not have been able to taste the difference between that alcohol-free beer and a real beer.

So I’m undecided about repeating the experience too often. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I’d rather stay on the cautious side of things. I realize I still have a constellation of associations crystallized around that one, very specific taste, that one specific ritual. I guess a part of me is still worried about going back to the “f***k it” mentality, and cross over that line.

I wish they had more Kombucha options in France. I’m brewing my own, because in stores, it’s generally very expensive and not very good. But it takes weeks to grow a SCOBY 🙂

I’m curious to know what’s your take on AF drinks. I know they were instrumental in some of you guys’ sobriety success, and I know others find them too triggering. All in all it was an instructive experience, but it also helped me realize that there are still some areas of my sobriety foundations that need nurturing and strengthening, to that I can settle down in a mental space where I do, fully trust myself. 

Published by nomorebeer

Learning how sobriety helps you ENJOY life.

22 thoughts on “The Controversial Topic of Nonalcoholic Drinks

  1. For me personally AF drinks saved my life and I still have them fairly frequently. I have found they help fill that psychological need for a ‘treat’ or a wind down and they stop me feeling ‘left out’ in certain social situations. What they aren’t is an addictive that alters my perception so I easily stop after one or two and have no desire to have them again or difficulty when they aren’t available. They don’t trigger me to drink alcohol, quite the opposite. I believe we all need a way to manage those yearnings for comfort and something that helps us get that ‘ahhh and relax’ feeling …. if it isn’t going to kill me, get me into trouble or give me terrible medical/health issues in the long run then for me it’s not an issue. I can only speak from my own point of view. 💕💕💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yes I agree with how AF drinks don’t have that “I want another one” aspect and it’s super easy to stop after one and feel 100% satisfied. Maybe it was because it was the first time that I actually ENJOYED one that I got a bit suspicious. I know I tend to be super hard on myself and excessively self-suspicious so maybe I can relax and allow myself to enjoy them without feeling guilty 🙂 To be continued! xxx ❤

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    1. Yes, it also did for my grandpa, who went from a bottle of whiskey a day to a bottle of alcohol free wine, and it worked wonders for him in his later years 🙂 He was also much easier get along with once he made the switch 🙂 Thanks so much for commenting ! xxxx ❤ Anne

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  2. I haven’t ventured down that AF path. For me, it would be getting to close to my old life. That of course is just me. Like you know I enjoy my Kombucha’s like you and Jim. I really liked your idea of starting a side gig making and selling your micro brand over there. Never say never😁. Now what would we call it?

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    1. yes I completely understand, that was my initial reaction: this feels too familiar and I spent a whole year building new habits, do I really want to go back to the same old same old patterns? Yes, the Kombucha idea is still in the back of my mind 🙂 I’ll have to think of some names and run them by you guys if I ever do it 🙂 xxx Anne

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  3. I’ve tried a variety of non-alcoholic beers and found them neither necessary nor triggering. Mostly just kinda gross. Even the one that was tasty enough (and these are high end “craft” types that cost as much as regular pricey IPAs!), I found myself not even wanting to finish the can, like “what’s even in this stuff”? I’d rather have a la croix with some juice and apple cider vinegar any day.

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    1. hahaha yeeeees I miss La Croix so much! Here in France the “drink in a can” culture + flavored sparkling water options are virtually inexistant. It’s just plain old soda water in a big bottle 🙂 Hence my Kombucha brewing 🙂 xxx big hugs xxx Anne

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  4. I can give or take them. I always associate beer with curry and never really drank it any other time. So for curry night tomorrow I’ll probably have one and enjoy the experience, but I’m not bothered if I dont ♡

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    1. that sounds like a great place to be in 🙂 I think I liked beer so much because my alcoholic mother is a wine drinker and I stayed away fro wine most of my life. it’s so interesting to see how we all have a different take on this ! xxx big hugs xxx Anne

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  5. Hi Anne, well I’m really into my AF beers and Af “spirits” and I love them. I wanted to be able to join in in pubs and wanted grown up drinks at home. Because of rising demand there are some fantastic AF beers out there. Many that I like are 0.5% and at first I thought cheating- not at all. Ive never experienced any alcohol kick or tried drinking twenty bottles to get the 1 pint equivalent. Also one of my favourites is Fre Damm by the Spanish brewers Damm and that’s 0 percent. I also love one completely AF aperatif called Everleaf- Wow- a grown up complex drink, great with tonic but bloody expensive at £18 per 50 ml bottle. I drink these and my Kombucha (a recent brew of which had been left for three months and I swear was more than minimally alcoholic) and they are part of the reason I’ve stayed of the booze. Great taste, grown up, I feel included, I’m not drinking, zero guilt. But it’s going to be different for each person. X

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    1. that’s great to hear Jim 🙂 I think I do have a tendency to feel excessively guilty, and it would be helpful for me to remember AF drinks are NOT alcohol 🙂 thanks for the input 🙂 ❤ xxx Anne

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  6. Interesting post Anne and to see variety of thinking on it in comments. I drink Becks Blue every night for the ritual of finishing work, relaxing etc. Seedlip and Nosecco for special occasions and has really helped me not want alcohol (though the wines were so grim they did make me miss the proper stuff so don’t bother with them anymore 😭- it’s whatever works for you 💞💞

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  7. Hi Anne. I drink craft NA beer sometimes…there are some really good ones out now…and never want more than one, or if I’m out somewhere, two. I think it is the alcohol in adult beverages that make you want more, so without it, it’s like drinking any other drink for me. I will have one after a long day while I’m cooking or will bring my own six pack when I go to a get together where everyone is drinking. It does help me not feel left out. Plus I enjoy the taste and get to watch everyone around me go progressively down hill, lol. I was a wine drinker though, so maybe I don’t have to deal with the associations of drinking too much beer. I see nothing wrong with it though, and if you enjoyed it, that’s a good thing! Do what feels right for you. Hugs 💕

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    1. yes I totally agree with the “not feeling left out” part and watching others go south while enjoying the taste HAHAHA 🙂 Yes, thanks so everyone’s input I’m realizing there is nothing wrong with it. I think my moment of suspicion had more to do with me questioning my own self-trust than with the actual thing happening in the world 🙂 xxxx ❤ Anne

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  8. My ex drank them and loved them.
    I’m celiac, so no gf non alcoholic beer.
    I consider fake wine fruit juice, which I would never choose to drink.
    I love coffee, orange monster and ginger ale. They are my go tos.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have no problems with AF beer or most AF wine, except AF red wine. That one I can’t drink.
    The AF beers are nice once in awhile, but they make me SO GASSY!!!!! LOL
    I can only drink one!
    xo
    Wendy

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