The Dangers of Drinking Non-Alcoholic Beer

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They call it "near beer" and it may be nearer than you think. Those trying to abstain from alcohol are warned against the use of non-alcoholic beer; now there may be scientific evidence to support the admonition.

There are many different reasons why people decide not to try the so-called non-alcoholic beer if they wanted to remain sober. Avoiding temptation is the reason most often offered.

Other than the fact that all "NA" beer does contain a small amount of alcohol, there is now a new study out that seems to support the theory that it can cause a relapse for recovering alcoholics.

The Power of the Smell of Beer

In one research study, a team of California scientists reports that smell may be enough to trigger cravings and a subsequent relapse among certain alcoholics.

In their laboratory experiments, rats were trained to self-administer alcohol or a bitter, white substance called quinine when they smelled either orange or banana. The smell of banana was used when the rats consumed alcohol, while the smell of orange was presented to them when the rats tasted quinine.

Both alcohol and the anticipation of alcohol may raise levels of a brain chemical called dopamine, which plays a role in feelings of elation and pleasure, according to the investigators. The researchers found increases in dopamine in the rats' brains before and after smelling these "alcohol-related cues."

Same Attitude and Behavior

One danger is developing the same attitudes and behavior while drinking NA beer as you used to do when drinking the real stuff. This finding could help explain that phenomenon.

The California study has been cited by scientists as an important step in the possible development of medications that may prevent relapse. As many as 90% of alcoholics will experience one relapse in the four years after they quit drinking, according to statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Skip Non-Alcoholic Beer

Dr. Friedbert Weiss from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, said, "This is our study's significance: it provides a reliable tool that allows us to investigate brain mechanisms and neurochemical systems so that we can embark on a more educated approach to finding effective medications."

In the meantime, the best advice for those trying to remain sober would be to stay away from anything that even smells like alcohol.

Develop a Drug-Free Lifestyle

One of the ways that recovery experts recommend to avoid relapse and maintain sobriety is to develop a drug-free lifestyle in which the person trying to stay sober substitutes healthy activities for behaviors from the past.

Many people in recovery find that they need to make new nondrinking friends and not hang out with their old drinking buddies if they want to stay sober.

Sitting around drinking near beer with the same people in the same places you used to drink, is maintaining your old lifestyle, not developing a new one.

"I tell people to avoid the so-called non-alcoholic beer like the plague," one long-time support-group member told Verywell. "First, it is not truly non-alcoholic, it does contain a small amount of alcohol which alone could trigger a relapse for some."

"Secondly, it's like playing with fire," he said. "Sooner or later you are going to get burned. There is a saying, 'if you hang around the barbershop long enough, sooner or later you are going to get a haircut.' The same is true for near beer. I've seen it happen too many times."

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ron D, Barak S. Molecular mechanisms underlying alcohol-drinking behaviours. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2016;17(9):576-91. PMID: 27444358

  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, No. 6 PH 277, October 1989

Additional Reading
  • Katner, SN, et al. Ethanol-Associated Olfactory Stimuli Reinstate Ethanol-Seeking Behavior After Extinction and Modify Extracellular Dopamine Levels in the Nucleus Accumbens. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 23(11), 1751.

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.