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Non-Alcoholic Beer Was a Game-Changer for Me. Why Is It Still So Controversial in Recovery Communities?



Alcohol substitutes aren’t a free-for-all, though. Depending on the brewing process, NA beer may contain small amounts of alcohol, which is incompatible with complete abstinence. Alcohol substitutes can also still trigger unwanted drinking behavior for some people, so staying away from places where alcohol is served or consumed is important for them. Some survey respondents had strong negative feelings toward alcohol substitutes. “I wasn’t drinking beer for the taste, and I don’t want to taste whiskey that isn’t real.” Others described mocktails as a “tease,” or explained staying away as a critical sobriety strategy.

Still, there seems to be a place in recovery for alcohol substitutes. “NA beer was crucial to me stopping alcohol,” wrote Emma, an Indigenous artist from Ontario. Justin, a business owner from Illinois, compared bars that offer non-alcoholic options to restaurants that accommodate dietary restrictions. “To feel like there is an option for you is amazing,” he said. “It feels good to know establishments are thinking of you.”

And Dr. Large explains that individualized treatment plans have become the norm in the recovery community. “The most important thing is knowing oneself and being honest about what is and isn’t risky for one’s recovery or sobriety,” she says.

Periodic abstinence and alcohol substitutes have created space for many to address the underlying issues of addiction.

Emma and Justin recently started sharing their recovery experiences on social media, and both expressed feeling like outsiders in the recovery community for using alcohol substitutes. Emma’s recovery isn’t always taken seriously when she talks to others about drinking NA beer: “​​I’ve had folks tell me I’m not really sober.” Justin has noticed that talking about recovery draws unwanted attention. “I hate the term ‘alcoholic,’’ he adds. “Why do the ones who continue to drink go on without the flashing neon sign following them?”

The story we often hear about sobriety and substance abuse recovery is one of exclusion: saying no, staying away, not going, stopping, abstaining, removing, quitting. But it was these beliefs, which come from telling sobriety stories in the same narrow way, that kept me from getting help sooner than I needed it. I crave sensory experiences, not alcohol itself, so what triggers me is the sense of isolation and deprivation when I feel like sobriety disqualifies me from having fun. But equally isolating is the message that total abstinence is the only way to heal. Instead of a sober binary that separates people who have a “real” drinking problem from those that don’t, recovery culture can bring people together by normalizing the choice not to drink alcohol or to drink less of it—whatever that looks like for each individual.

I hope that as alcohol substitutes move into the mainstream and abstinence becomes a legitimate wellness tool even for those who may not consider themselves “real alcoholics,” more people will be able to see recovery as a way to stay connected rather than a social death. I believe that this future is possible when the choice to not drink is treated with the same judgment-free generosity already extended to other dietary restrictions in restaurants, at home, and among friends.


Today, I’m an alcoholic in recovery. NA beer, zero-proof margaritas, and sparkling pear juice are an important part of my sobriety plan right now. At my birthday party this year, I raised my glass of fancy lemonade toward everyone else’s beer, water, tea, and champagne. I toasted with gratitude for the gift of my recovery, for getting an extra shot at a life well-lived.


Source: Self

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