The Dangerous Side of Alcohol Alternatives

Updated: Jun 29

Picture this...

You've given up alcohol and you've been sober for a while. You feel confident enough in your sobriety to start socializing with your friends again. Your friend invites you out to dinner, and you accept, fully aware that alcohol can and will be present.

Fast forward to dinner. Your friend orders a beer... you've prepared yourself for this moment. You decide to try something new, and instead of sticking with water, you ask about their non-alcoholic options. The waiter then provides you with a list of their non-alcohol beers.

Why not try a non-alcohol beer? you think to yourself. It's still considered alcohol free, and by having the can in front of you, it will look like you're drinking, too! So you order the O'Douls, feeling proud that you resisted ordering a real beer, and are even a little giddy you had the option to do so.

When the waiter brings you the O'Douls, you put it to your mouth, feeling the foam reach your lips, and allow it to slide onto your tastebuds. It tastes so similar to actual beer you have to double check if it really is alcohol free.

You clarify that it is in fact alcohol free, but it tastes so close to the real thing, you panic. You realize that you feel triggered by the taste because it reminds you of the life you had when you were drinking.

Now what?

After you decide to give up alcohol, it's extremely tempting to try all the alcohol alternatives that companies are trying to sell us. For some, alcohol alternatives can act as a healthy substitute and a form of indulgence, while for others, they can act as a slippery slope.

Previously, I never gave much thought about alcohol alternatives. I knew that for some they worked and for others they didn't. However, just yesterday I had a deeply impactful and somewhat scary experience with kombucha that made me aware of how important it is to talk about these alternatives.

The scary truth was that for me, kombucha turned out to be a trigger that could have pushed me to relapse.

In this article, I'm going to offer advice on how to navigate the world of alcohol alternatives, and encourage you to listen to what works best for you.

I'm almost nine months sober. I'm fairly confident in my sobriety, and I've learned how to navigate life without a glass of wine in my hand during dinner outings. The temptations of drinking has almost vanished, and I've adjusted to a much happier and healthier life.

However, many people in sobriety will tell you one thing, and it's this: When you think you've gotten sobriety figured out, that's exactly when life throws you curveballs.

That is exactly what happened to me.

First, I want to start with some background on my relationship with kombucha. I started to like kombucha about a year ago after learning about it's health benefits, being a drink that's full of probiotics that promotes gut health. I started to try different flavors and brands and found ones that I particularly enjoyed.

When I was in the beginning stages of being sober, kombucha was a crutch for me. I would drink my favorite kombucha (the Health-ade Passionfruit flavor) because it reminded me of one of favorite happy hour drinks. When I wanted to drink, I bought Kombucha instead.

My indulgence in kombucha tapered off a bit, and now I only enjoy it on occasion. Luckily, I didn't develop an unhealthy relationship with the beverage.

Nonetheless, let's fast forward to yesterday: I ordered a kombucha at a coffee shop near my house to enjoy a tasty drink while I worked on homework. However, about halfway through the kombucha, I started to feel buzzed.

I know what you're thinking... it's impossible to feel buzzed off of kombucha because it has less than .5% of alcohol. I would have agreed with you, up until yesterday. That was the first time in my life I have ever felt that way from drinking kombucha. Believe it or not, I was feeling the alcohol.

When I identified that it was the kombucha that was creating the light feeling of being buzzed, I started to gulp it down. I recognized quickly that I was attempting to chase the feeling. The fact that I was trying to extend the feeling was a huge realization for me.

Luckily, I'm far enough along in my sobriety where I reached out to social support for help. Had I been early on in my journey, I might've chugged the drink and kept quiet about it. However, I knew that if I continued to drink it, it would have been for the wrong reasons. I would've been drinking it for the feeling, not for the taste.

This stirred a LOT of different emotions in me. For one, I grieved the feeling of being buzzed. The feeling was so familiar, and I genuinely missed it. It was the first time that I had missed the feeling of alcohol in a really long time.

Secondly, it had me questioning my sobriety. I had to double check that I didn't accidentally order a hard kombucha, because like many people, I didn't think that I'd be able to feel the tiny amount of alcohol that was in the drink.

After double checking, I was reassured it was under the non-alcoholic option on the menu. (Funny enough, the drink was called "Everything will be ok." Ironic, right?) Nonetheless, I questioned if I would have to start over on day one since I felt buzzed.

I ultimately had to reassure myself that yes, I'm still sober, because I didn't actively go out of my way to alter my state of mind or to feel buzzed. It was just something that had happened, but it wasn't something that I chose.

Most importantly, it reminded me exactly why I quit drinking. It made me realize that I cannot moderate. The second I started to feel buzzed, I wanted to prolong the feeling. And if that isn't a perfect reminder for why I needed to quit, I don't know what is.

Even though the experience yesterday was a trigger for me, it reminded me of why I chose an alcohol-free life. It's common for people who are far along in their sobriety to forget the reasons they stopped drinking. I found this to be an important reminder.

My advice to anyone on their sobriety journey is this: Sobriety is about trial and error. That's okay. Your experience is unique to you, and no recovery is the same.

I know people who can drink any alcoholic alternative and have no problem with it. I also know other people (like me) who can feel triggered by them. I know people who can drink NA beer because their alcohol of choice was wine, and it doesn't affect them like a wine alternative would.

The best thing to do is to listen to your body. If you feel like drinking NA beer, wine, or kombucha makes sobriety harder for you, it might be worthwhile to stay away from it. If you find comfort in them, there's no shame in drinking them either.

In the beginning, kombucha wasn't a trigger for me. However, now that consuming it has made me feel buzzed, I now consider it a trigger. Sobriety isn't so linear, like many believe it to be. Things that work for you today might not work for you tomorrow. The important thing is to pay attention to what's working and deciding to ditch what's not.

I can't promise that recovery is going to be easy. Even eight months in, I developed a trigger I didn't have before. It's helpful to have a support system you can reach out to in difficult times in order to avoid isolation. Texting a friend about my situation made it much easier for me to decide to throw the kombucha away.

If you came looking for a clear cut answer about alcohol alternatives, I'm sorry, but you won't find it here. I can't decide if NA options are right for you - only you can. You know what's best for your body, and it's up to you to trust yourself through the process.

After all, choosing sobriety is about choosing to listen and accept yourself as you are. The best thing that you can do for yourself in sobriety is to stay true to what's right for you.

Look inside, and there's a good chance you'll find the answers on what is or isn't supporting your sobriety.

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