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Can Alcoholics Drink “Non-alcoholic” Beer?

The question of whether alcoholics can drink non-alcoholic, or NA, beer is contentious, and probably varies from person to person. While most beer is around five percent alcohol by volume, NA beer is about 0.5 percent alcohol. Some people claim that because the percentage isn’t high enough to get you drunk, you shouldn’t worry about it. After all, you wouldn’t worry about eating a cookie that was made with vanilla extract even though a tiny bit of alcohol might remain.

It’s true that a NA beer won’t get you drunk, but that’s not where the danger lies. The real problem is that NA beer smells a lot like real beer. Smell is perhaps the most powerful memory trigger and combined with a taste and fizziness vaguely similar to beer, it might start to remind you how great you felt sitting around drinking beer with your friends. The smell of beer alone can trigger a dopamine reaction in your brain that can lead to anticipation and craving.

On the other hand, some people claim NA beer is an effective replacement behavior. If the habitual aspect of your drinking was mainly about having something to hold while talking to people at parties, it’s better to be holding an NA beer than a scotch. If the smell is not trigger for you, this might be an effective substitution. After all, it is almost impossible to avoid alcohol entirely in our culture, so if there is already a NA beer in your hand it might keep you out of trouble.

This strategy is rather like playing with fire. For one thing, if you really need a drink in your hand, water or a soft drink works just as well. Don’t worry about raised eyebrows. Most people won’t notice or won’t care you aren’t drinking. And if anyone does care, it doesn’t matter because your recovery is more important than his opinion. The important thing is to substitute a healthy habit for an unhealthy one, and drinking NA beer seems a dangerous way to accomplish this.

Generally speaking, an alcoholic brain will seize any opening. If you drink an NA beer and don’t relapse, your tricky alcoholic brain may say to you, “See, we had an NA beer and it was fine. But really, grocery store beer is hardly stronger–only 3.5 percent. Or is it five percent now? No, I think it’s still 3.5. That’s hardly more than NA beer. I think it would be fine if I had a grocery store beer every once in a while.” Then you’re off to the races.

The question of whether alcoholics can drink non-alcoholic beer really comes down to knowing your triggers. For some alcoholics, the smell of beer does nothing at all and the real danger might be from work stress or arguing with a spouse. Some people may have not bothered much with beer when they were drinking. Still, it would be a shame to find out too late that the smell of beer was a trigger after all.

If you are still struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help. We offer medically assisted detox in a comfortable facility and we can help you decide the best way to move forward with your treatment. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.