In recent years, the accessibility of non-alcoholic beverages has increased, and perhaps for good reason. The COVID-19 pandemic alone has brought in a new wave of sober and curious people, amid an increase in alcohol consumption during lockdown lockdowns.
To keep up with this shift, drinks like CBD-infused seltzers, non-alcoholic liqueurs, non-alcoholic wines and more have been filling the shelves for those looking for party options without the buzz.
CBD drinks, for example, promise to relax after consumption thanks to the properties of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive part of a cannabis plant that can promote feelings of relaxation. Soft drinks, or “NA,” give sober people a substitute for the drinks many previously relied on in social settings.
But for those who have a difficult relationship with alcohol, are these alternatives really a solution? Or is their need a sign of something bigger? Speaking to HuffPost, addiction experts and sober people shared some questions to consider if you turn to these drinks when you quit drinking:
1. What is my reason for drinking beers, wines or mocktails?
A recurring topic that occurs in 12-step addiction recovery meetings is motive. What is your motivation for doing X vs Y? Responses range from going to a wedding to visiting a bar with non-sober friends.
Some may feel uncomfortable with their peers who still drink. It’s hard to socialize without alcohol when you’ve gotten so used to having a drink in your hand to feel normal. Some may find comfort in soft drinks to show that they are still drinking, perhaps because they haven’t fully disclosed the change to their friends. Others may insist that they are just taking a break from alcohol for health reasons.
Whatever the case, it is important to recognize the motive for wanting to indulge in soft drinks in the first place and address it. Those in recovery should consider whether the motive behind the consumption of the soft drink is potentially detrimental to their sobriety.
“I feel like you should be totally sober for the first two years of sobriety,” said Ashley Loeb Blassingame, co-founder of an online addiction counseling program named Lionrock Recovery, noting that these types of issues “are not substance specific.”
“Then check your motives to see if the desire for an NA drink is still there,” she continued.
If the urge is still there and you decide to try an NA drink, consider Why you do 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 similar to alcohol?” Blassingame said.
While consuming a drink that tastes similar to alcohol can be a trigger, it’s important to have a plan in place. In recovery, the idea of a real soft drink is appealing, and with so many new options available, it’s only natural to wonder about them. Just make sure you value your sobriety more than anything and don’t fall victim to surreptitious marketing.
If you are sober-curious but not dealing with an addiction, total abstinence may not be totally necessary at this time. Under these circumstances, practicing moderation tactics—such as drinking NA beverages—is a good gateway into the world of recovery.
For people in recovery and those who are sober and curious, it’s important to have a network in place — people you can rely on in times of need or ask questions without fear of judgment, according to Blassingame.
2. Do the drinks I choose contain traces of alcohol?
The reality is that many soft drinks contain small amounts of alcohol. This is called low alcohol by volume, or ABV.
A sober-curious individual taking part in these alternative beverages is different from someone recovering does it. The former may view these options as healthier choices. The latter has more at stake, as drinking low-alcohol drinks can trigger the craving for something stronger.
If you’re recovering, pay attention to the ingredient list of anything you eat, experts tell HuffPost. That doesn’t mean diligently checking every household item, but it’s good to be aware of what’s in your food and drink, and how certain ingredients can affect you. Drinks like kombucha have an ABV of 0.5%, and while that may not be enough to affect some even remotely, others may experience a buzz due to overconsumption.
Check the volume of alcohol in the drinks you choose. Then ask yourself why you want them – and be radically honest about it.
3. Does this fit my definition of sobriety?
Sobriety isn’t unique, and that applies to the beverages people choose to consume, according to Trey Laird, CEO and founder of a sober living center in Connecticut known as The Lighthouse.
“I have worked with clients who have tried both soft drinks and CBD. For some of them it has a purpose, and I don’t judge them,” Laird said, adding that recovering people who drink it should tell someone they trust first.
He cautioned, however, that these drinks can become a slippery slope in some cases. Some of his clients have reported drinking a bottle of O’Doul’s, which in turn leads to drinking a six-pack to experience a mild buzz. In Laird’s personal recovery, he found no 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, the host of the dating and relationship podcast “We Met at Acme,” feels similar to Laird in terms of her own recovery. She’s not interested in trying soft drinks, and she argued that consuming CBD products in recovery isn’t necessary and doesn’t equate to sobriety.
The distinction should be clear to you, Blassingame said. In his opinion, the term “sober” implies recovery in the traditional sense, which can include meetings, therapy and more.
“It’s the difference between someone who runs a marathon [on occasion] …compared to an endurance athlete,” she said, noting that for her, sobriety and recovery involves complete abstinence from all mind-altering substances, even beverages like CBD-infused drinks or alternatives to low ABV beer.
The sober-curious, however, may think that the change is simply abstaining from drinking, with the option of maintaining this or consuming alcohol whenever they wish.
Decide what fits your needs for your relationship with alcohol, then make an informed decision about whether drinking alternative beverages will fit into those plans, experts said. And no matter what, make sure you have a support system to guide you.
Need help with a substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the United States, call 800-662-HELP (4357) for SAMHSA National Helpline.