Are alcohol-free drinks the answer to quitting booze?

Non-alcoholic wines, beers, ciders and spirits are undoubtedly better for you than the hard stuff, but there are a few things to be aware of.

While there’s been no shortage of people getting sloshed to quell the stresses of the pandemic, there’s also a flipside: booze-free alternatives are booming.

From Heineken Zero to Heaps Normal, Lyre’s, Seedlip and McGuigan Zero, the range of alcohol free-tipples is growing by the minute.

And both big retailers, and websites such as Sans Drinks – where business grew tenfold in the past 12 months – are blitzing it.

So if you’re considering switching out your usual “poison” for something that won’t leave you with a hangover this Febfast, are there any downsides?

Are non-alcoholic drinks healthier?

Dr Chris Davis works at Clean Slate Clinic, a telehealth home alcohol detox service for people with a mild to moderate dependency to alcohol.

He advises clients according to their individual needs, including their level of dependence, and goals in terms of changing their relationship with drinking.

“For most people, alcohol-free drinks are a fantastic option and it’s a burgeoning industry,” Dr Davis says.

“Certainly I drink alcohol-free beer.

“I find it useful in social situations – in the pub or if I’m at a restaurant.

“I can have a mocktail and it makes me feel like I’m not missing out.”

Can non-alcoholic drinks trigger a relapse?

However, alcohol-free drinks may not suit everyone.

“If someone is heavily dependent upon alcohol and really needs to be completely abstinent, then alcohol-free drinks can be triggering and can lead to a relapse,” Dr Davis says.

There’s also the risk that if people get into a habit of having alcohol-free drinks every Friday night, for example – and there’s no alcohol-free option – they might reach for the booze.

Sobriety coach Lucy Quick says members of her Thrivalist community – which she founded to help women change their relationship with alcohol – have a huge interest in alcohol-free options.

“(Where to find drinks) is one of the biggest topics discussed in our community … because a lot of them don’t taste great,” she says.

While many of those members pick up an alcohol-free drink once they decide to give up the stronger stuff, some do find it triggering, she says.

“We just recommend they’re mindful – if they do start to feel that feeling for the real deal then to be really self-aware of that and obviously not use it any more.”

Generally speaking, Lucy says those wanting to stop or moderate their alcohol intake really need to address the root causes of their drinking.

Am I tipsy?

When Lucy, who’s been sober for three years, started trying alcohol-free options, she experienced the placebo effect of feeling tipsy.

“And I actually really craved cigarettes, because I stopped smoking when I stopped drinking,” she says.

These days, she tends to choose water or sparkling water with lime, lemon, mint and ice.

However she does enjoy an alcohol-free option on special occasions.

“For instance on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve I had alcohol-free champagne … it’s that ritual of popping the bottle and pouring a glass,” she says.

Are non-alcoholic drinks cheaper?

Alcohol-free options can also be surprisingly expensive, although the bonus is you’re likely to drink less of them.

And of course you won’t paying for that Uber ride and kebab on the way home.

“People expect it to be cheaper, but actually it costs the exact same to make,” says Lucy. “You’re not getting ripped off.”

The biggest saving of all

Another massive saving is of course the lack of a hangover – and any regrets – the next day.

Sydney-based sales professional Hannah Rodger told House of Wellness TV drinking culture was heavily ingrained in her profession – a habit that evolved into an addiction for her.

Since choosing to give up drinking in 2017 Hannah now enjoys regular exercise and her social circle she has formed around that, going out for brunch – and best of all, having a clear head each morning and being able to focus on her day.

“A lot of people say isn’t your life really boring now you don’t drink?” Hannah says.

“And maybe to some people it is to some.

“But to me, waking up with a clear head every morning – I have a one-year-old, so I’ve often been woken multiple times in the night – but being able to focus on the day, being able to enjoy the day, to get out in the sunshine and really make the most of the hours that I’ve got, to me, that is priceless.”

So if you are thinking of trying some alcohol-free alternatives, most people can go right ahead without too many worries, Dr Davis says.

“Alcohol-free drinks aren’t (always) good for you, but they’re a darn sight better for you than alcohol,” he says.

Lucy’s quick tips for a successful Febfast

  • ‘Play the tape forward’: Feeling the urge to drink? Visualise the process of drinking, how the night will unfold and how you’ll feel the next day. Then use the same process to imagine what will happen if you don’t.
  • Use it to learn about your relationship with alcohol: Get curious about what it’s doing to your brain.
  • Be kind to yourself: Fall into temptation on Day 10? Don’t worry; just jump back on the wagon.

For more inspirational and motivational health and lifestyle advice, tune into House of Wellness TV, 2pm Fridays and 12pm Sundays on Channel 7. 

Written by Larissa Ham.