What’s the Deal with Non-Alcoholic Beer?

Is non-alcoholic beer for non-alcoholics only? The Fix’s advice columnist weighs in.

non-alcoholWhat’s the deal with non-alcoholic beer? Some of my friends drink it and say they are still sober. Others say if you drink it you’re basically going to end up shooting heroin the next day. Beer was never my problem and it would be nice to have a cold one at the occasional party or football game.

When people I was in treatment with raised the issue of non-alcoholic beer, I was baffled. Why would anyone want to drink non-alcoholic beer? By the end of my drinking, I wasn’t bothering with regular beer because the alcohol content was so low. In those early sobriety days, having a non-alcoholic beer sounded about as appealing as drinking mud.

In August, I was in Hawaii with my boyfriend’s family. They’re all drinkers (the normal kind) but they’re extremely supportive of my sobriety and I never feel strange for abstaining when I’m around them. As the days on the beach flew by, though, I started imagining what it would be like to be one of the people relaxing on the sand, beer in hand, soaking up the sun. Early in my sobriety, someone mentioned that all non-alcoholic beer has some alcohol content. Feeling so hungry for a beer-replica, I took to my smartphone to find out if any non-alcoholic beers are completely non-alcoholic. (If you’re curious about alcohol content of different non-alcoholic beers, you can find that info here.)

In the U.S., non-alcoholic beer is defined as a beer with less than .5% alcohol by volume (ABV). In the UK, it’s less than 1.2% ABV. You might be thinking, “Um, it would take me five million of those beers to get drunk, so I still don’t see the problem.” I get that. There might not be a problem. Among my sober friends, I can think of one person who drinks non-alcoholic beer occasionally and he seems fine.

I, however, don’t want to drink anything with the slightest bit of alcohol in it. For the last six months or so of my drinking, I experienced withdrawal symptoms—among other things, my hands would shake in the morning. If I had consumed all the available alcohol the night before (as was often the case) I would drink something with a minimal amount of alcohol in it (Listerine, cough syrup, other super gross things I prefer not to think about) to quell my trembling hands.

So for me, drinking something with the slightest bit of alcohol in it seems dangerous because I remember how dependent my body was on that substance and how painfully difficult it was to stop consuming it. Non-alcoholic beer falls into smoking at a gas station territory for me: it’s possible I could make it out okay, but it’s a pretty big risk to take. Read more “the fix”…


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