In the United States, more than 14 million people are struggling with alcohol use disorders. Those who consume alcohol on a regular basis face an increased risk of developing over 200 different health conditions—including cancer, dementia, and cirrhosis—as well as the danger of drunk driving crashes, accidental injuries, and suicide or self-harm.
A growing awareness of the negative consequence of alcohol consumption has led to the formation of multiple startups creating “fake alcohol” that promises to make you feel relaxed and slightly tipsy via the magic of plant extracts. For example:
- Ritual Zero Proof sells botanical-based alcohol-free alternatives to tequila, whisky, rum, and gin that seek to deliver the flavor and experience of the original without the alcohol.
- Optimist Botanicals crafts non-alcoholic botanical spirits inspired by the landscapes of Southern California to create alternatives to vodka, gin, and tequila.
- AMASS makes a non-alcoholic beverage called Riverine that’s made with botanicals found in gin—coriander, orris root, and juniper.
- Wilderton Botanical Distillates makes two spirits: the more herb-driven Earthen and the citrus-focused Lustre.
Botanical-based alcohol alternatives are marketed primarily to people who want to cut back on social drinking due to general concerns about health risks and empty calories in their favorite cocktails. Does this mean they could also be considered good alternatives for people in recovery from alcohol use disorders? Unfortunately, most addiction treatment professionals believe these products are not the safe and risk-free booze alternative they may first appear to be.
Reasons Why People in Recovery Should Think Twice About Relying on Botanical Alcohol Alternatives
While botanical beverages advertising themselves as “fake alcohol” are new, non-alcoholic beer is not. Many of the reasons why consuming non-alcoholic beer is not recommended for people in recovery also apply to these new botanical alcohol alternatives. For example:
- Just as many brands of non-alcoholic beer still contain traces of alcohol, botanically-based alcohol alternatives may not be 100% alcohol-free.
- Even though the effect is intended to be milder, these types of beverages can still be potentially habit-forming. (As a recent Time article pointed out, any product that promises some type of neurological reward has the potential for a rebound effect that can influence mood and behavior.)
- Pretending you’re drinking the real thing can lead to romancing the drink—a known factor for relapse back into active addiction. It encourages you to continue holding on to the belief that you can’t have a good time unless you’re drunk.
- Consuming these beverages in an environment that you associate with drinking can trigger cravings for the real thing. If you’re consuming alcohol alternatives surrounded by people who aren’t 100% supportive of your recovery, this adds an additional layer of risk.
- Over time, the feeling you get from drinking alcohol alternatives can lead you to think you can handle going back to the stuff that led to your need for residential treatment for an alcohol use disorder. When this happens, there’s a real risk that “just one” drink will lead to a full-blown relapse.
- Looking for this type of “shortcut” to recovery can be a sign that you still feel ambivalent about your sobriety. Mentally, you need to close the book on the old part of your life so you can move forward with confidence.
Additionally, there is minimal research into how the various types of plant-based alcohol alternatives interact with prescription medications. If you’re on a medication-assisted treatment plan or taking medication for a co-occurring mental health disorder, this is a risk you must carefully consider.
Harm Reduction Is Just a Temporary Fix
If a person has a diagnosed alcohol use disorder, relying on botanically-based alcohol alternatives could be thought of as a harm reduction strategy. This makes it similar to the harm reduction approaches used to fight other types of addiction, such as offering fentanyl test strips and naloxone to people with opioid use disorders.
Harm reduction can help prevent fatal overdoses and some of the worst health consequences associated with addiction, but it can’t address the underlying issues that are causing problems in a person’s life. For example, if you started drinking heavily to process past trauma and deal with clinical depression, there’s no botanically-based beverage that’s going to help you move forward. You need access to an evidence-based treatment plan that promotes healthier and more effective ways of handling the concerns that led to your alcohol dependence.
At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we believe that a lasting recovery requires healing the mind, body, and spirit. Instead of focusing on mere abstinence, we urge clients in our Pennsylvania drug and alcohol addiction treatment program to develop a wellness-focused lifestyle that lets them face day-to-day challenges without the need for addictive substances. If you’re struggling to control your alcohol use, contact us today to learn how we can help.