Non-alcoholic beer would appear to be the perfect solution for a recovering alcoholic: They can maintain their sobriety while once again partaking in social gatherings, or simply indulge in the signature tangy malt flavor of the most popular beverage in the world. Yet, the concept of alcohol-free beer is one of great controversy that has many wondering: Can alcoholics drink non-alcoholic beer and still be in recovery?
What Is Non-Alcoholic Beer & Is It Real Beer?
Yes, non-alcoholic beer is “real” beer and not just some mocktail being pushed as an alternative for your usual brewsky. Alcohol content, or lack thereof, has no bearing on beer’s classification. Beer is defined as any beverage made by brewing a cereal grain such as barley, wheat, or corn. Normally during the brewing process, the sugars from the starch source ferment creating ethanol. The result is beer’s standard 4-5% ABV (alcohol by volume).
Non-alcoholic beer is sometimes referred to by other names such as alcohol-free beer, zero alcohol beer, or “near-beer”. Depending on who you ask, however, certain names carry different meanings or even different alcohol allowances. That’s why no matter whether a beer is advertised as having no alcohol, it’s crucial to check and read labels.
How Non-Alcoholic Beer Is Made
There are two ways that beer manufacturers typically make beer without the alcohol content. They either remove the ethanol that’s naturally produced during the fermentation process or stop that process from happening altogether. Most non-alcoholic beer manufacturers opt for the former option, brewing beer as normal and then removing the ethanol that’s produced, although both methods can be expensive and time-consuming. The exact method of this extraction can vary with some manufacturers boiling the ethanol away while others use a physical filter to separate it.
What’s In a Name? The Source of Controversy
Whether you’re for or against alcoholics drinking non-alcoholic beer, one thing that we can all agree on is that this product category is pretty misleading. Despite its name, non-alcoholic beer does, in fact, contain trace amounts of alcohol. Legally, as long as it contains less than 0.5% ABV, it can be considered a non-alcoholic beer (which is also sometimes referred to as alcohol-free beer, or de-alcoholized beer).
The Pros of Non-Alcoholic Beer
Not everyone drinks alcohol to get drunk. Many supporters of alcoholics drinking non-alcoholic beer believe it a harmless act if a person is doing so for the taste. Drinking is deeply ingrained in our social customs and for many, the allure of drinking a beer isn’t to get rowdy or inebriated, but for nostalgic purposes. In that sense, non-alcoholic beer presents a rare opportunity for recovering addicts to indulge and reconnect with the malty beverage that accompanied many a pastime while maintaining their sobriety.
Sure, there may be tiny traces of alcohol and the name is somewhat of a misnomer. But as long as they drink it without the intention of getting drunk, what’s the harm? It’s similar logic to that of decaffeinated beverages. The label may say that your coffee or tea may say “caffeine-free” and it’s accepted that trace amounts may still exist.
The Cons of Non-Alcoholic Beer
Opponents of so-called non-alcoholic beer feel that the presence of alcohol, no matter how tiny, can put recovering alcoholics in danger of relapse. While an alcohol level of less than half a percent cannot cause someone to become intoxicated, simply re-introducing the substance back into the body could undo weeks, months, or even years of progress.
Plus, having a low ABV doesn’t make non-alcoholic beer a risk-free substitute. Drinking several and in rapid succession could put enough alcohol in the system to make a person mildly inebriated (although they would likely feel very sick in the process). This could provide a dangerous temptation to misuse this seeming work-around, and end up being just as problematic as the real thing.
Another case against this beer-alternative is that memory is a well-known and powerful player in addiction. Simply tasting the malt could cause cravings within the brain and send the individual on a path straight towards relapse. For this reason, even genuinely alcohol-free beers are considered a no-go.
Final Thoughts: Can Alcoholics Drink Non-Alcoholic Beer?
Whether an alcoholic can safely drink a non-alcoholic beer without relapsing is a matter of personal preference. Some recovering addicts are wary of any amount of alcohol, no matter how small, and will even abstain from using wine in their cooking. For others who feel in control of their past addiction, it’s a chance to be reunited with a taste that accompanies their happiest moments. Ultimately, choosing to drink non-alcoholic beer is a highly personal decision by the individual recovering alcohol – there is no right answer.
The key to doing so safely and without jeopardizing your sobriety is to be honest and know your limits. For those who feel comfortable with the idea and want to try a non-alcoholic beer, we recommend setting up precautions to minimize detrimental outcomes. Things like only drinking in the presence of a trusted friend that would step in if consumption gets out of hand.
If you are struggling with your addiction and are worried about relapsing, our experienced staff can help talk you through it.