Is non-alcoholic beer really alcohol-free?

Although low-alcohol beer goes back to medieval times, and more recently to Prohibition, “near-beer” in the modern sense is a fairly new phenomenon. Is this new “non-alcoholic” beer alcohol-free? Not exactly.

So-called alcohol-free beer often still has alcohol in it, just a much smaller proportion than regular beer.  

Normally, 12 ounces of regular has an alcohol by volume (ABV) content of 5%, though some stronger beers have 8% ABV and a few 12%.

Near beer, on the other hand, has less than 1% of alcohol (often 0.5%). That’s probably not enough to get you intoxicated, which is why some people in recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD) drink it. 

Some resist drinking even non-alcoholic beer, fearing it is just lubrication on an already slippery slope. 

Why Non-Alcoholic Beer Has Alcohol In It

Is non-alcoholic beer really alcohol-free?

Even with such a low alcohol content, “near beer” still has alcohol in it. 

To reduce the ABV requires an extra step or two.

One method requires the distilleries to heat the beer for extended periods. Since alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, it just boils away. The result is typically a beer with less alcohol, but that also tastes downright weird and “off.” 

Another method is to strain the water and alcohol out of the mixture. This occurs with a filter so fine that only water and alcohol can pass through. Then, water is added to the remaining mixture to create the nonalcoholic beer. 

At this stage, the beer is flat, or has no carbonation and tastes off. So, some distilleries re-introduced carbon dioxide along with more sugar.

Different Types of Alcohol-Free Beer

There are two primary categories of alcohol-free beer:

  1. Alcohol-free beer. This must contain no detectable amount of alcohol in the beverage or an ABV of 0%. 
  2. Nonalcoholic beer. Despite the name, this confusingly may contain up to 0.05% alcohol content per drink (12 fluid ounces).

The problem with drinking even 0% ABV near-beer for anyone who has been through an alcohol addiction treatment center is that it might trigger a relapse.

Substance use disorders, alcoholism as well as drug abuse, are never cured. You can be sober for decades when something puts the idea in your head that a drink or a pill is a fine idea. These things are called triggers and may include people, places, and senses such as taste and even smell. 

The smell is a Trigger

Near beer is a real beer with some or all of the alcohol removed. By design, it still smells and tastes almost identically to regular beer. The smell alone may be enough to cause someone in recovery to consume alcohol once again. The smell of hand sanitizer—almost ubiquitous with COVID-19—could trigger a relapse.

Even the anticipation of alcohol alone can be a trigger. It increases the presence of a chemical called dopamine—a “field-good” chemical strongly linked with addiction—in the brain. 

Substance use hijacks the pleasure center of the brain, ramping up the production of dopamine and suppressing the brain’s ability to produce the chemical on its own. Dopamine creates a feeling of fulfillment and pleasure. 

The more you use substances that cause your brain to produce dopamine, the more you develop a tolerance for the substance. Soon you’ll need more of the substance to produce the same amount of dopamine. This leads to a vicious circle in which you need more and more of that substance to feel “normal.” 

Same Characters Different Taste

Is non-alcoholic beer really alcohol-free?

Another issue with nonalcoholic beer is the environment in which you are consuming it. Often, you’ll likely seek a nonalcoholic beer in settings similar to where you’d seek out regular beer. This means going to parties or bars with easy access to both types of beer. 

Even worse, unless you have great friends, no one will say no to selling you a regular beer or harder alcohol. So, once your cravings begin, you’ll quickly slip into the vicious cycle of drinking once again. 

Relapse is not uncommon among alcoholics or other substance abusers. At least 90% will relapse within four years. That’s right; you are statistically likely to relapse more than you are to recover fully. 

While that may sound all gloom and doom, it isn’t that bad. Many of that 90% will recover again. Sometimes it takes more than one try to quit, just like with smoking. 

That‘s why, however, that it is wise to stay away from bars, and situations that trigger cravings, including nonalcoholic beer.

Stay Away From Non-alcoholic Beer To Stay Sober

Dr. Friedbert Weiss of the Scripps Research Institute suggests that nonalcoholic beer and beverages that mimic alcoholic beverages are stepping stones to relapse. It’s best to avoid them as well as places and people where or with whom you drank. 

Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. 

Featured Image Credits- TheCozyCoffee

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