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Healthy Alcohol Substitutes: How to ‘Wind Down’ Without The Risks of Alcohol
You might want to find a non-alcoholic alternative if you’re accustomed to drinking heavily or using alcohol as a relaxation tool. Moderate alcohol consumption is assumed safe for most people, but too much or too frequent drinking poses a variety of health problems.
But if cocktails after work are a habit or your social circle often enjoys beers together, what can you do to fill the gap?
Alcohol alternatives are an option. Non-alcoholic beverages allow you to enjoy the social aspects of drinking without any of the physical effects of alcohol. And finding other ways to manage stress and wind down without a drink allows you to give up or cut back on drinking and barely notice a chance.
Risks of Long-Term Alcohol Use
If you only drink alcohol occasionally, the risks of drinking might never cross your mind. But if you’re a long-term drinker, you’re someone with a health reason for giving up alcohol, or you’re a heavy drinker and you want to change, it’s important to know the risks of long-term alcohol use.
Long-term heavy use of alcohol damages your body’s organs, including your:
How much damage heavy drinking causes varies from person to person. Some people can drink heavily all their lives and never develop any serious health problems. Some develop an addiction to alcohol. Others never develop an addiction but their health is damaged.
Too much alcohol, especially over many years, negatively impacts just about anyone who engages in the behavior. There are both negative physical and mental health effects.
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Alcohol Substitutes in Social Settings
One of the most popular options for giving up alcohol without sacrificing your social life is to switch to non-alcoholic substitutes. These drinks look like regular alcoholic cocktails, so nobody even questions whether you are drinking or not. For example:
Non-Alcoholic Sparkling Drinks
Mixing sparkling water with juices, fruit concentrates, or bitters is a great way to mimic the experience of drinking alcohol without any of the effects.
Club soda is an ingredient in many alcoholic cocktails. Order it with a twist of lime and nobody but you will know you are drinking something non-alcoholic.
Mocktails are copycat recipes of regular alcoholic cocktails without the alcohol. Sometimes mocktails are called “virgin” drinks. You can order many drinks this way, including virgin daiquiris and margaritas. Some establishments also offer their own mocktail recipes that utilize all of the same ingredients in cocktails without alcohol.
Alcohol Substitutes at Home
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from black or green tea that provides many health benefits. Most people drink it because it offers benefits for gut health, but it also makes a great cocktail substitute.
It’s lightly effervescent, can be put over ice, mixes well with a variety of fruits, and in some cases, provides the slightest buzz. Some kombuchas include an alcohol disclaimer on their label.
Zero Alcohol Spirits
Shrubs are made from vinegar and are a great zero-alcohol spirit. Some bars and restaurants offer a menu of shrub non-alcoholic drinks just as they would alcohol cocktails. You can also buy zero-alcohol spirits for drinking at home. Some brands include:
- Kin Euphorics
Alcohol-Free Wine & Beer
In addition to giving you an alcohol-free alternative, non-alcoholic wine and beer offer a variety of other benefits, including:
- Reduces the risk of heart disease
- Boosts dopamine and serotonin (similarly to alcohol)
- Hydrates you
- Improves sleep
- Promotes bone growth
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces the risk of upper respiratory tract infections
Non-alcohol drinks offer many of the same benefits you get from an occasional glass of wine or beer without the alcohol content.
Some of the best brands of non-alcohol or low-alcohol beers include:
- Kehrwieder “U.nn” India Pale Ale
- Infinite Session Pale American Pale Ale
- Big Drop Galactic Milk Stout
- Tempest Brewing Co Drop Kick Sour Pale Ale
- Brewdog Hazy AF NEIPA
- Hambleton Ales Point Five Pale Ale
Some of the best brands of non-alcoholic or low-alcohol wines include:
- Carl Jung
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Healthy Lifestyle Changes to Drink Less
Lifestyle changes help you change your drinking habits for several reasons. In addition to providing an alternative activity to drinking, these activities also help you better manage stress and improve your overall health.
If you are ready to make lifestyle changes to help you drink less, you might want to:
Establish an Exercise Routine
Going to the gym instead of happy hour after work is a great way to reduce drinking. Not only does this occupy the time you would otherwise spend drinking, but it also helps improve your overall health. It also helps you change your frame of mind about fitness and drinking.
Many people find that once they commit to an exercise program that helps them lose weight, they no longer want to ingest the empty calories of alcohol.
Eat a Healthier Diet
Similar to establishing a fitness routine, making dietary changes alters your perspective on drinking. When your focus is putting healthier foods in your body, you’re less likely to want to drink high-sugar beverages like alcohol.
Participate in Alcohol-Free Activities
There are endless things you can do that have nothing to do with drinking. Sometimes, the best way to reduce alcohol consumption is to just do something else. Some of the most popular alcohol-free activities include:
If you like some of the social aspects of drinking, but you don’t want to drink alcohol, consider substituting a different beverage that also has the “ritual” behavior that many enjoy while drinking. For example, meeting a friend for high tea gives you the feeling of a special occasion without alcohol.
Meditation & Deep Breathing
If you use alcohol to help you relax, you have plenty of other options. Learning to meditate is a great way to get the same relaxation naturally as you do from alcohol. If you aren’t ready for full-blown meditation, start with deep breathing exercises.
Get Enough Sleep
Many people feel less-than-their-best because they are sleep-deprived and don’t even realize it. This is especially true if heading to the bar is a habit several times a week.
If you want to reduce alcohol consumption and increase sleep (and get better sleep), commit to getting to bed by a certain time most nights a week.
Therapy (Learn How to Reduce Self-Critical Behaviors)
If you drink to deal with self-esteem issues or to feel better in awkward social situations, therapy can help you reduce negative thinking and improve how you feel without alcohol.
Tips: How to Avoid Drinking Too Much Alcohol
If you believe you are drinking too much, you can cut back without eliminating alcohol forever.
If you want to limit drinking, consider:
- Not keeping alcohol in your home
- Avoid social situations where it’s expected you’ll drink or everyone else will drink
- Set a limit before you begin drinking
- Have a response in mind when you are offered a drink or pressured to drink
- Speak to a loved one with whom you spend a lot of time and discuss ways they can support you in your endeavor to reduce how much you’re drinking
Treatment for Alcohol Misuse & Addiction
If you try to limit alcohol consumption (or stop entirely) and are unsuccessful, treatment is an option. Many people recognize they need treatment when their attempts to stop drinking on their own do not work. For some, the decision to seek treatment comes after loved ones speak to them about a problem. Loved ones are also a large part of helping an alcoholic through each stage of recovery and can help them answer the question, "Am I an Alcoholic?"
There’s no single factor that applies to everyone when it comes to needing addiction treatment, but if you’re considering treatment, it’s likely worth pursuing.
If alcohol use has interfered with your everyday life, if you find yourself prioritizing alcohol over other things in your life that were once important, or if you failed at changing your drinking habits, treatment can help.
Alcohol misuse and addiction treatment is available in a variety of forms, including:
- 12-step groups
- Inpatient/residential treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Individual and family counseling
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)