Near Beer

Is Non-Alcoholic Beer Considered a Relapse?

“Is non-alcoholic beer considered a relapse?” I asked myself.  Most people working a 12-step recovery program will avoid anything that  contains traceable amounts of alcohol and at .05%, drinking non-alcoholic beer is to be dodged.

Drinking non-alcoholic beer is like walking on a slippery slope according to The Journal’s November issue: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. In the publication a team of California scientists report, “smell may be enough to trigger cravings and a subsequent relapse among certain alcoholics.” Scientists trained rats to self-administer beer and a bitter liquid, flavored banana and orange respectively. Alcohol and the anticipation of alcohol increased the levels of the brain chemical dopamine in the rats. Dopamine levels, which play a role in feelings of euphoria and pleasure, increased in the rats’ brains before and after smelling the “alcohol-related cues.”

[su_frame align=”center”]Relapse with near beer?[/su_frame]Just the word, “beer,” can trigger the anticipation of a drink and cause salivation. The ritual of cracking open the bottle or popping the can, triggers some people. The smell can cause a craving, and the taste, though not exact, reminds many people of drinking the real thing.

Alcoholics and drug addicts are people who have lived in denial and attempted to bend the rules wherever and whenever possible. It is the nature of the beast and if there is a loophole, someone with an addiction problem will find it. Would a recovering heroin addict use a needle injected with non-opioid heroin? You might think it has nothing to do with a Near Beer, but doesn’t it? Grey areas to addicts and alcoholics are danger zones to be avoided at all costs. Non-alcoholic beer exists in that fuzzy, grey area that people trip over all the time.

Anything that could potentially damage sobriety isn’t worth it.  The “duck test” is a good idiom: if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck…chances are…it’s a duck. It’s called “beer,” it’s made to look like “beer,” taste like “beer,” and it’s advertised to refresh like “beer.” The decision to drink a non-alcoholic beer is a personal one and no one can decide this but the individual. Exercising some self-examination is a good way to find out:

[su_box title=”“Why do I want to drink a non-alcoholic beer?”” style=”glass” box_color=”#22687b”]Do I feel out of place and hoping I’ll feel more apart of if I drink non-alcoholic beer?

Does non-alcoholic beer remind me of the real thing?

Am I romancing the drink? (getting pleasure from pretending I am a drinker)

Am I ambivalent about my recovery and romancing the old days?[/su_box]

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that as many as 90% of alcoholics will experience one relapse in the four years after they quit drinking. With this information, doesn’t it seem like a smart idea to stay away from anything that will weaken your resolve and give more power to a disease that is know for being, “cunning, baffling and powerful?”

  • Leslie Kelley
    Posted at 11:22h, 30 July Reply

    Thank you for posting this. It has been on my mind since I saw a young man buying near beer and it made me wonder about people in recovery. It makes total sense that it could be a trigger.

    • Martha
      Posted at 10:59h, 01 August Reply


      Thanks for your comment. It is definitely a trigger for some!

  • craig larue
    Posted at 12:51h, 31 July Reply

    If a recovering person is avoiding near beer because of the alcohol content, they should be reading the labels of all the foods they consume to make themselves aware of the fact that many processed foods contain more alcohol than near beer. However, I suspect that most people who take a stand against people in recovery having a nonalcoholic beer are more concerned with their holier than thou attitude than they are with their powerlessness over alcohol.

  • Robert
    Posted at 14:41h, 31 July Reply

    I just celebrated 20 years of sobriety Tuesday. I drink them occasionally when I’m out in a bar. Only because I don’t want to take a chair/stool at the bar and my bill is only 15-20$. When somebody else could be sitting there running up a much bigger tab

    • Jacob Klinger
      Posted at 16:19h, 31 July Reply

      Congrats on the 20 years of sobriety. I think it’s easy for some to overlook the minimal alcohol content since %.05 isn’t going to alter someones state of mind like a real beer will. Networking for my job constantly puts me in bars and lounges, I don’t order a near beer, I order a club soda or diet ginger ale (exciting right?). My tab is still low and I’m perfectly comfortable with a sparkling beverage while others drink alcohol.

      To me, there are black and white guidelines so as to not play in the grey area. I don’t drink beverages with alcohol in it nor do I suggest my sponsees do either. This isn’t about alcohol being used in cooking, alcoholic thinking is cunning, baffling and powerful, I play it safe by not playing at all.

      • Martha
        Posted at 19:08h, 31 July Reply


        Great comment. It is hard for many of us to live in the grey. Thanks so much.

    • Martha
      Posted at 19:06h, 31 July Reply

      Thank you for your post, Robert. Congratulations on 20 years. I love recovery because there are so many different stories and not one way works for every person.

  • Martha
    Posted at 17:21h, 31 July Reply

    Craig, You’re right, there are many foods with a higher alcohol content than non alcoholic beer…some people in recovery avoid things like Kombucha, eating Tiramisu or dark chocolate, etc., some do not. Some people are triggered and some are not. As the article states, “The decision to drink a non-alcoholic beer is a personal one and no one can decide this but the individual.” I can’t say what motivates people in recovery but I really appreciate your take on this topic!

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    Posted at 00:02h, 25 October Reply

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  • niko
    Posted at 00:35h, 04 April Reply

    I just did this today witb 3 years of sobriety and I talked with 6 close peers. All agreed I didn’t relapse but they really pushed me to look at my program. It really triggered me and I won’t do it again. DEF a slippery slope!

  • 3 Years Sober
    Posted at 22:19h, 27 December Reply

    I stopped drinking three years ago, Being a beer lover and having tried pretty much every brand known to man over my 30 year drinking career, I knew that I was going to miss one of life’s simple pleasures.

    In discovering I was an alcoholic, I realized that alcohol wasn’t my problem: it was my solution. I have since addressed those real problems. Previous to stopping drinking, I was a diagnoses cyclothimiac. Just a couple months ago, the same psychiatrist diagnosed me as perfectly normal. She admired how I had found a solution other than alcohol to deal with problems.

    In my sobriety, I have had a host of problems to deal with: loss of my career, a death in the family, bankruptcy, and dealing with the mental illness of a close family member just to name a few. Not once have I thought that a Real alcoholic drink would help.

    I have drank non alcoholic beers for the entire time I’ve been sober. Of course I don’t drink them in the quantity that I drank real beer, but having one per night is common to me. Not once have I thought of having the real thing after having a non alcoholic drink.

    I was warned early on that drinking non alcoholic beer could lead to the real thing. My alcoholic reply was that If I couldn’t handle non alcoholic beer, the.n I would go back to the real thing.

    To me, non alcoholic beer is not a trigger and it is not a solution to my problems. It is simply a beverage that I enjoy which has no ill effects physically, mentally or spiritually.

    But a word of caution to alcoholics: each person must decide for themselbes whether they can disassociate a non alcoholic beer from the effects a real beer used to have upon them.

    My sponsor is fully aware that I drink non alcoholic drinks. His opinion is, “if it doesn’t cause you to want to drink, the it’s not a problem”. But would I recommend this to newly sober people? I would say, try it.

    The big book says if you’re not sure you’re an alcoholic, try some controlled drinking and the try stopping. The same applies to non alcoholic drinks. If you find that it leads you to drinking the real thing, then you cannot touch the stuff. If you become restless, irritable or discontent after drinking a non alcoholic drink, the.n it’s probably not a good idea. But if it has no effect at all except to satisfy your taste buds, even if it’s a placebo, then why not drink it?

    Just don’t show up to AA meetings with a six pack of the stuff !!!

  • Douglas Cox
    Posted at 21:30h, 31 December Reply

    This definitely is a matter of opinion, and personal choice. I celebrated 30 years of sobriety Nov. 26th. I have drank n/A beer for a long time with no compulsion to return to drinking. HOWEVER, this is just my story,and this is no to be considered as permission for anyone else to try the “slippery slope” of non alcoholic beverages

  • Victor Novinka
    Posted at 05:13h, 09 June Reply

    I keep seeing people say NA beer is .05% alcohol. This is incorrect. NA beer (where I live in the USA) is 0.5% alcohol (or less). 0.5% is a lot more than .05% (10 times to be exact).
    However it is still such a low alcohol content that you would have to work very hard to get a buzz from drinking it. One NA beer at 0.5% is roughly 1/8th of a Bud Light. An average man would have to drink 16 of them in under an hour to feel any sort of buzz. I doubt anyone could do that without using a bong, and even then you’d need a bathroom continuously after the first few.
    I quit drinking for many reasons, yet I do still enjoy the refreshing taste of beer at times, so I drink NA beers pretty regularly. For me, they have not triggered me to drink real beers at all. I was actually surprised that they didn’t. I thought I would crave real beer after having NA beers, but I didn’t. Maybe that’s just me, but since I literally can’t get drunk on NA beer, and they don’t trigger me, I don’t count it against my sobriety. But I guess that’s my own call after experimenting with them to find out.

  • Robert Brogan
    Posted at 12:40h, 30 July Reply

    I am 40 days sober, succumbing, finally to alcoholism after early retirement at age 56 years. I have a family full of alcoholics and I knew I was at risk. It crept up on me. I have done the first 3 steps, have joined an A/A group and am feeling healthy. I was warned against alcohol free beers and read the discussions, for and against them. I enjoy them when out and they help my sobrietry. They do not lead to me craving alcohol, nor am I romancing the past. The past was horrible, when drinking heavily and becoming addicted. I prefer them to soft drinks and I go for the ones with negligible amounts of alcohol, i.e. labelled 0.0% or less. I accept that this is an individual choice and effect on ones psyche. It is early days for me, and if they lead to cravings for real beer or alcoholic beverages I would cease. I would agree, not for everyone, but worth a try if it helps to stay on the path of sobriety..

  • chris
    Posted at 22:19h, 02 October Reply

    Today i drinked an alcohol free beer with 0.3% vol. i searched to the internet to find if is it a sober . if its not i am 16 months clean. please tell me your opinion.

    • New Life House
      Posted at 21:13h, 05 October Reply

      Chris –

      Sobriety is a personal choice, and in being so this entitles you to make personal decisions about what you believe to be sober behavior and what is not. While we believe that drinking “alcohol-free” beer that has minute traces of alcohol to be somewhat towing the line, if it works for you then you may not need to beat yourself up over it. Remember, relapsing is much more about a behavior than a definition of what is such. If you believe that you drank the beverage in order to evoke some kind of escapist feeling, you may wish to do some work behind your motives in doing so.

  • Clint m
    Posted at 04:42h, 27 December Reply

    Not sure if I’m late to the party. I’m 59 days sober and drank an odules tonight. Thought it might help the post-Christmas blues (usually after the holidays I fly back and get absolutely ripped). It definitely set me back and it’s the last time I’ll try it. At the least, it’s made me doubt my sobriety which is terrible when you’re counting days. But it’s also left me very agitated. I’ve tried NA beers on a few occasions and it wasn’t so bad but this time was way different. Totally not worth it. Just hoping I can wake up tomorrow with the peace of mind that I’ll never do it again

    • New Life House
      Posted at 18:38h, 31 December Reply

      Clint – Thank you for your comment and sharing your experience, which falls in line exactly with our philosophy as well. Although we’re sorry to hear you had that experience, it sounds like you are going to be able to use that to help yourself in the future. Trying to mitigate or control drinking with near-beer can be just another exercise in futility for many alcoholics who believe they still have some kind of power. Thank you for being honest with us, and we wish you the best on your continuing journey in recovery.

  • Rob
    Posted at 14:13h, 17 May Reply

    My wife is 10 years sober – and she enjoys an O’Douls with pizza or something from time to time. Never an issue. She’s active in her program though and knows that if she ever feels a strange vibe about anything (beverage or otherwise), to steer clear of it and discuss the encounter with her sponsor and/or in a group meeting…to acknowledge it and then share the experience with others. This helps take away its power while helping others who may benefit from the experience.

  • Matthew Wood
    Posted at 23:04h, 03 August Reply

    I have 20 years sobriety and have stayed away from all non-alcoholic beers like O’Douls and Buckler because they have a tasteable amount of Alcohol in them ().5% or 1 proof). This year Heineken came out with a 0.0% malt beverage that has 0.05% alcohol or less which is less alcohol than occurs naturally in many foods and beverages like fruit juices & energy drinks (and honey buns? go figure) so I felt safe to try one which I did. There’s definitely no alcohol taste at all – the best I can liken it too is drinking bloody Mary mix – it sorta tastes like a Bloody Mary but without vodka it’s really just spicy tomato juice. Same with Heineken 0.0 – if you haven’t had a real beer in 20 years, like I have, then I guess it tastes like beer. But I can’t see someone who drinks real beer choosing the 0.0%.

    At any rate, a person’s sobriety ultimately is determined by them – only you know if you’ve slipped or not – for me, I’ll have that little can of Bloody Mary mix on a plane, use Dijon mustard (made with white wine) use hot sauce, and eat beer batter onion rings. Some things I won’t eat or drink is that 1-proof “non-alcoholic beer, rum cake (which is soaked in rum), or those chocolates filled with liqueur that are everywhere around Christmas. I guess for me , my sobriety red line is “if there’s a chance I can taste alcohol in it, then I stay away from it”. So that’s my two cents

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