Mocktails and other nonalcoholic drinks are surging in popularity in the United States. But can alcohol-free beer, zero-proof wine and faux cocktails really help someone reduce the alcohol they consume?
The answer depends on your drinking habits. Health experts say those trying to curb their drinking or stay sober for Dry January may find it helpful to hold an alcohol-free mimosa or faux mai tai when they socialize.
But, for people who have moderate to severe alcohol use disorder (AUD), defined by the National Institutes of Health as the inability “to stop or control alcohol use” despite the consequences, these nonalcoholic drinks are generally discouraged because they might actually create a craving for alcohol, not cut it.
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When you switch to certain nonalcoholic drinks, you also run the risk of trading alcohol for some sugar.
Beer and wine tend to be low in sugar due to the fermentation process for both. But check the nutrition label on a can of alcohol-free beer and you may find sugar. The nonalcoholic beer from Athletic Brewing, for instance, has 4.3 grams of sugar per can or about a teaspoon. Some alcohol-free beers have much less. Heineken’s standard beer doesn’t have any sugar, and its nonalcoholic version has 1.3 grams of sugar.
Regular cocktails often have a lot of sugar anyway, but your sugar consumption may go up if you end up drinking extra mocktails because they’re alcohol free.
Ashley Gearhardt, an associate professor at the University of Michigan who researches food and addiction science, said our cravings for both sugar and alcohol rely on the same circuitry in the brain. Trading alcohol for sugar, she said, isn’t a “zero-risk” proposition because diets rich in sugary, processed drinks and foods that are low in nutrients lead to other health risks, as well.
“Just because it doesn’t have alcohol doesn’t mean it’s a get out of jail free card,” Gearhardt said. “People should really consider what they’re replacing alcohol with.”