Anybody in or on the path to recovery has experienced it—While everyone else is laughing and drinking, you’re twiddling your thumbs. Eventually, someone asks you where your drink is. These frustrating events can wear down even the most disciplined person.

Luckily, there’s a way around this. There are a number of beverages that let you “drink” without the alcohol. Using these alcohol alternatives correctly can not only help you stop drinking, but they can be a fun and tasty way to do it, too.

How Alcohol Alternatives Can Help You Stop Drinking

We would all like to think we have the willpower to simply say no to alcohol. Unfortunately, it’s rarely that easy. Our brains are wired to react to cues and follow habits, often beyond the control of our conscious mind.

For example, flopping onto the couch after a hard day at work might bring on the craving for a beer. Going to a wedding and hearing the clinking of glasses might bring on the craving for wine.

Gritting your teeth and resisting might work once or twice, but in the long run, this is a losing strategy. So what works better?

Alcoholic drinks are the reward for your brain. That flop onto the couch reminds us that a beer after work means relaxation. Try replacing that reward with something else and that association will disappear. 

Non-alcoholic drink alternatives are a great way to do this. The action and often the taste are similar enough that the cues and habits all stay basically the same. You just don’t get the intoxicating effects of alcohol and the damage to your health from long-term drinking.

Additionally, one of the biggest cues for drinking—or any habit—is social pressure. Your willpower is going to be even less effective when you’re at a party or bar and everyone around you has a drink in their hand. You might feel out of place, awkward or even embarrassed to be standing their empty handed. In this sense, alcohol alternatives let you fit in while staying healthy. 

Match the Drink to the Occasion

Since triggers and rewards are such a big part of habits like drinking, the drink alternative you use has to match the alcohol you’d normally drink.

For instance, a virgin cocktail makes perfect sense at a work party. Sitting at home on the couch, though? If it seems strange enough, your subconscious mind might focus on the fact that it isn’t really alcohol. You may end up craving that beer anyway.

Alcohol Alternatives for All Situations

These drinks don’t have alcohol, but they can replace alcoholic drinks to reduce cravings. There are many options to fit any event or situation, so you can stay sober no matter what.

Alcohol-Free Beer and Wine

Store shelves and bars feature many options for beer and wine with 0% alcohol. These are great go-tos for those who want an alcohol-free drink. They taste just like the real thing, so they satisfy your craving. You can go through the same routine you’re used to. Come home, sink into the couch, turn on the TV and crack open a cold beer. It just won’t have any alcohol in it.

Alcohol-free beer and wine are also great for social occasions. Drink one at a party, wedding, even at the bar. You don’t have to feel self-conscious or worry about anyone asking why you aren’t drinking. Most people won’t even be able to tell the difference.

Alcohol-Free Gin and Spirits

Believe it or not, there’s such a thing as alcohol-free spirits. Because these drinks rely heavily on outside flavoring to mimic the liquor, gin is one of the easiest to make and most common to find.

Alcohol-free gin uses the traditional juniper-berry flavoring to recreate the bitter taste gin is famous for.

You might want to have some alcohol-free gin on hand for toasts and traditional cocktails. For example, if your family always goes for gin and tonics after a dinner, now you can participate.

Mocktails

Mocktails, also known as virgin cocktails, are often better than their alcoholic counterparts. In the end, most cocktails are just creative mixtures of juices, soft drinks and other flavorings. The alcohol is just a small part of the mix and can easily be done without.

If you go out to a bar, just ask the bartender for your favorite cocktail “virgin.” At home, you can still get creative and have fun making your own mocktails. Just avoid the alcohol.

Sparkling Juices and Ciders

Sparkling juices are specifically designed to replace alcohol. Many people who don’t drink turn to these for celebrations and toasts. They look and taste much like champagne, usually even coming in bottles with foiled, corked tops. This gives you all the excitement of popping the cork and pouring a fizzy glass to celebrate with your friends and family.

The fizzy carbonation has another effect too. It stimulates your senses which can help prevent alcohol cravings. Basically, your brain is distracted by the bubbles and forgets about alcohol.

Kombucha

Like alcoholic drinks, kombucha is actually fermented with yeast. It’s fermented tea to be exact. Many times people try to replace alcohol with the usual soft drinks like soda and juice. These are often too sweet and lack the deep, rich flavors of fermented drinks. For this reason, kombucha works a lot better.

As a side note, for the home brewer who wants to stop drinking, here’s your answer. Kombucha is made through a complicated fermentation process that many hobbyists take up at home. Just make sure you read up on the right process and do it safely and correctly.

Maybe You Don’t Need Anything to Drink at All

We’ve talked about cues, rewards and habits. It makes sense that you can replace alcohol in your routines with other drinks. But what if you could replace it with something else entirely?

The rewards your brain receives from alcohol include relaxation and stress relief. You can get these rewards from much healthier habits.

For example, exercise releases chemicals in the brain that also relieve stress, make you feel good and help you sleep. Feeling a craving for alcohol? Do some push-ups. Replace your evening slump on the couch with a jog.

Since alcohol has such a strong social trigger, build social habits that don’t require it. This could mean having game nights instead of going out to the club or taking a cooler of kombucha when you go out fishing with your buddies.

Soon you won’t feel the need to drink to have a good time with your friends. It’s the social interaction alone that will stimulate you.

This is just a small list of suggestions. Really, you can find many aspects of your life where you can create good habits to replace alcohol. Alcohol is an unnecessary part of your life, and the more you look, the more you’ll see the healthy lifestyle you can lead without it.

Sources:

  1. Dry January: How to take a break from alcohol so you’ll actually stick with it
  2. Habit formation
  3. Habits: How They Form And How To Break Them

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