Let me tell you something right now: near beer isn’t the answer you’re looking for. I mean, maybe you’re looking for a lot of other answers too, but when it comes to drinking—especially when it comes to beer—do yourself a favor and walk on by the near beer.
Drinking is a huge part of my life. I try to always say it like that: “is” and not “was.” I’m sober now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to work at it still. And hey, that might just be me, you might feel differently. I know other people who have it like I do, though. Drinking is a part of my life, even when I’m not doing it.
That’s because I take every single day I have and work at staying sober. It has gotten easier for me in some ways, but in others, it’s still hard. Beer is one of those ways. I thought I had the code cracked when I decided to get some non-alcoholic beer (“near beer” is catchier, obviously). Turned out I was in for some trouble, some new struggles, and a wake-up call I wasn’t expecting.
It sounds stupid, I know because I laughed too, but non-alcoholic beer is no good for someone struggling with alcohol, and especially not for someone who drank a lot of beer. I had to talk to my therapist, talk to other people I know in recovery, and I had to read a lot before I understood why non-alcoholic beer was making things harder for me. Here’s what I learned.
Why Non-Alcoholic Beer Is Dangerous
It can’t get you drunk, but that’s not the problem here. Non-alcoholic beer might be the thing someone reaches for when they don’t want to leave behind the process of drinking, all the little pieces that come along. That routine can be powerful.
And if you’re in recovery, then it’s key to be managing whatever might make your recovery harder. Some forms of treatment, like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), put some tools into your mental toolbox to prepare for tough situations, but it also helps to know what hurdles you might be running up against.
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Smell You Later: Are Scents Safe?
People in recovery from alcohol have to work through quite a bit, that’s not a revelation or anything, you most likely knew it already. One of those things is the urge to drink. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words, but you know what I mean. That feeling, that kind of pulsing energy you get all through your body like it’s pushing you at the same time something else is pulling you, both in the same direction.
There are a couple of reasons the urge to drink happens. The first reason is what they call “external triggers,” which means something that’s happening out there around you. They’re things that can bring up the urge to drink.
That’s why smelling beer—literally just smelling it—can be dangerous for a person in recovery from alcohol use. It can kick off that urge to drink, it can put the sensations right into your body and brain that make you think, “Oh gosh I want to have a drink.” And that is a big, big deal.
Near beer still has ingredients in it that produce the same smell regular beer does, so that makes it a little more obvious why it’s a bad idea for someone struggling with alcohol to have non-alcoholic beer around. It smells like beer! It’s basically a bottle or glass filled up with temptation and reminders that you don’t need.
And if that’s not enough for you, how about this: the U.S. National Library of Medicine did a huge study of all the things that can trigger cravings in people struggling with alcohol. Guess what? The scent of beer was one of those triggers.
Who, What, Where, And Why
There are quite a few other external triggers to consider and when it comes to non-alcoholic beer, some of the biggest ones are kind of hard to recognize as a problem at first. That’s because they’re related to when someone used to drink, where they would drink, and who they would drink with.
Studies have shown that memory is affected by smell, absolutely, but there are other ways our memories can jump out and surprise us too. And it can take a lot less than you might realize to push your brain into thinking or feeling something.
For instance, did you know the urge to drink has been shown to go up or down based on nothing else than what room a person is sitting in? It’s true. Participants in the same study that showcased the impact smell can have on cravings also indicated they felt less of an urge to drink when sitting in their living room.
That was pretty surprising, to say the least. So, keeping that in mind, where all did the study show the triggers for cravings were higher, and where were they lower? Also, what about the presence of friends? There were quite a few participants who indicated whether they were alone or in a group, or even with just one other person, played a role in their cravings.
Cravings were higher when:
- Drinking alone is when the cravings for alcohol were highest
- Being with two or more friends
Cravings were lower/triggered fewer cravings when:
- Drinking with one or more relatives
- Drinking with a spouse
- Drinking with co-workers
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Back to the living room thing, though. Where else did people experience lower levels of cravings for alcohol, and where did they experience higher levels of cravings?
Lower cravings were felt when:
- Eating a meal
- Being in the living room or kitchen
- Being at a place of employment
- Sitting or lying down in a bedroom
- Walking around a supermarket/grocery store
- Enjoying a public park
Higher levels of cravings were felt:
- Hanging out at a party
- Being inside a restaurant
- Hanging out at a bar
- Being at home alone
- Being in a dance club
These are all places that can serve as external triggers, and that’s without having a glass of liquid that looks exactly like beer, smells like beer, and tastes pretty much just like beer. But also, another surprising thing about non-alcoholic beer is that its name isn’t exactly right.
More Specifically, A Beer With Less Alcohol
Even though it’s referred to as “non-alcoholic,” most beers with that label do, in fact, contain some alcohol. Now, it’s not as much as a regular beer, and in fact, it’s not even half. The average beer usually has around 5% of alcohol by volume (ABV).
Non-alcoholic beers are legally allowed to have .5% alcohol in them. That might seem insignificant, but it’s not when you are someone who is struggling with—or has struggled with— alcohol. Alcohol can end up conditioning your brain to feel certain things and to react in certain ways, so any alcohol consumed can produce that effect.
Why Increase Your Risks For Relapse?
Putting something like non-alcoholic beer into a situation already filled with potential craving triggers is one of the reasons it’s so dangerous. It is just adding temptation into a situation that can already be incredibly difficult.
The National Institutes of Health suggest one of the best ways to decrease these risks of relapse and urges is to “avoid high-risk situations.” Those situations are definitely going to include bars, clubs, parties, and the presence of non-alcoholic beer.
Drinking a non-alcoholic beer can make you feel similar feelings to those you had in the past when you had a beer containing alcohol in your glass. And that is a situation where the urge to drink can pop up fast.
Choosing Treatment Over Non-Alcoholic Beer
Struggling with drinking is a tough situation. It can take over your whole life, it can mess a lot of things up, and sometimes it feels like all you’re capable of doing is making things worse for yourself. Or maybe you feel too much shame, maybe because you’re worried about having “alcoholic nose,” and you think you’re not worthy of recovery. Trust us, that isn’t true, and you are worthy.
The truth is, you’re strong enough to start treatment and to get into recovery, both short- and long-term. Vertava Health of Ohio knows it because our whole treatment model is based on using the strength inside you to help overcome those struggles. Your dedication and resilience are like rocket fuel for our treatment programs.
We use dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you manage thoughts and emotions, but also to control how those two things relate to your actions. They’re both forms of therapy that have shown reliable results time after time which is why they are two of our core treatments. We also offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) which can help when detoxing from alcohol, ensuring it is safe and comfortable.
If you’re looking for alcoholism treatment that includes medically-supervised detox, comprehensive and evidence-based therapies, and a solid and safe path to long-term recovery, then give us a call at 888-481-7821. We’re ready to talk to you whenever, and we’re ready to show you how strong you are.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Healthiest Non-Alcoholic Beer?
For someone struggling with alcohol use, the healthiest non-alcoholic beer is the one that stays in the can. First, non-alcoholic beer is not exactly an accurate name, because a “non-alcoholic” beer can actually contain up to .5% of alcohol. Seems like a tiny amount, and is, generally, but for someone struggling with alcohol use that .5% can be a massive problem. Other content is largely determined by the manufacturer and most beers are high in calories.
Is Non-Alcoholic Beer Bad For Your Liver?
It can be, since non-alcoholic beer is legally allowed within the U.S. to contain up to .5% alcohol content. That means you are still consuming alcohol when drinking some “non-alcoholic” beers, and thus your liver can be affected. If someone already has cirrhosis or has a significantly damaged liver from past drinking, then non-alcoholic beer can be very bad for their liver.
Is It Safe To Drink Non-Alcoholic Beer?
For some people, it can be. For people who are struggling with alcohol use and/or are in active recovery from it, drinking non-alcoholic beer is an unneeded temptation and potential trigger for relapsing into their old habits and potentially into addiction again. Potentially, drinking non-alcoholic beer is dangerous because it could begin a cycle that may eventually lead to drinking alcoholic beer.
How Much Alcohol Is In Non-Alcoholic Beer?
Non-alcoholic beer is legally allowed to contain .5% alcohol in the United States. Some brands do in fact contain zero percent, but it depends on where it is produced and by whom.