Friday, 1 May 2015

Is Alcohol Free Beer Evil?

Day 61! Yee Hah!

About 2 weeks into the sobercoaster I discovered Becks Blue 'Alcohol Free' Beer.

Now I've never been a beer drinker. All weak, gassy and full of calories (that's a description of me and the beer, incidentally). I only ever drank beer if I was on one of my many (doomed) attempts to 'moderate'. Wine was my thing.

But when the wine witch strikes, and you need something to stop you killing someone, you have to have coping strategies.

My list includes: (1) Hot bath with bubbles and candles (works well until #1, #2 and #3 pile into bathroom asking for help with homework/whereabouts of favourite toy/refereeing sibling disagreement. (2) Sharing with likeminded friends in the blogosphere (also easily interrupted) (3) Drinking hot chocolate, 'mocktails' or alcohol free beer.

Of the above, the beer option is often the quickest, simplest and most effective antidote. Becks Blue is so like the real thing - it looks the same, tastes the same and smells the same - that I swear the first time I drank one I felt tipsy. It just goes to show how deeply programmed our brains are to equate certain cues with drunkenness.

Then I discovered that 'alcohol free' beers are NOT actually alcohol free. Plus, many experts strongly advise against them on the basis that they can lead to relapse. I freaked out. So I did some investigation.

Becks Blue is, it is true, NOT entirely alcohol free. However, it has only 'trace' elements of alcohol in it. Less than 0.05% ABV. This means that it is impossible to get intoxicated by drinking it. You would have to drink at least one hundred beers in a short space of time to get any effect at all from them.

However, remember that whole dopamine thing I've been obsessed by? Well, tests have shown that, in addicts, even the smell of alcohol, even the thought of alcohol, produces the dopamine reaction in our brains. The danger is, therefore, that drinking AF beer intensifies our cravings and can lead quickly to us reaching for the real thing. We need, the experts say, to get used to living life without any alcohol 'substitutes'.

It's true that drinking AF beer does trigger the old addict responses in me. I start thinking "I'd love a Becks Blue, but I'd better wait until after 6pm. Should I have another one? Hell yes, I deserve it, I've had a hard day...." etc etc, just the way I used to think about wine. But, oddly enough, that's part of the reason it works for me. I've kidded my brain into thinking that it is a proper treat - it is naughty. Much more so than fruity mocktails.

I do realise that I'm keeping the addict voice alive, and that I could be treading a dangerous path, but I've been drinking an average of 8 AF beers a week for the last six weeks and so far it has never triggered the desire to have a 'proper drink'. Quite the reverse - it makes me feel that I have had a proper drink and, therefore, keeps the wine witch off my back for a bit.

Not only that, but Becks Blue has helped me out in social situations too. An old friend of mine, a big drinker, dropped by last week. She and my husband tucked into a bottle of Chablis. Now when I last had a serious go at quitting this friend took it as a personal insult and gave me rather a hard time about it.

Given how rarely I see her (she lives out of town now) I didn't want to ruin both of our evenings with a tense exchange about booze. (I realise that her reaction is indicative of her own issues with alcohol, incidentally). So I quietly poured a Becks Blue into a glass and avoided any interrogation. Simples.

I posted the question "Is AF beer evil?" on the fabulous Soberistas website. I got a really mixed response. Some people said hell yes, do not touch with a bargepole, whereas there were several big fans.

I think that the truth is you have to know your own triggers. I was never a beer drinker, so beer isn't one of mine. I would never consider touching AF wine.

I also feel that, at least in the early stages, you have to love yourself a little, and if that means eating a bit too much chocolate, spending a bit of cash on shoes or drinking a few Becks Blues then so be it. Now that I am a yoda level 'quitter' I can give up all those habits further down the line....

I'd love your views on this one.

SM x


  1. Sorry I'll try that again!! I've just come across your blog. Yet again last night I drank way too much and made a complete idiot of myself in front of my husband. I will actually end up single if I carry on so I have decided to give up drinking. Hopefully I can do it........

    1. Hi wink! Yes you can!!! We've all been there. Do not despair. I suggest that you read Jason Vale's book 'kick the drink, easily' first, as it'll really help get your head in the right place. I know that life without alcohol seems like a frightening prospect, but I'm already beginning to love it - and my husband is SO much happier! Stay in touch, please SM x

  2. Hi sm like you I was a total wine drinker and would not have drank beer however I have tried AF free beer in the past couple of weeks and it has hit "the spot" in fact I too have felt a little tipsy after a bottle !! I don't think there is anything wrong in a little treat for ourselves it doesn't contain any alcohol for gods sake !! I'm sure that there will be some who frown but there is only so many fruity sparkling drinks one can consume and besides which even given my sweet tooth cravings I find the fruitiness just too much sometimes !! We still aren't drinking and surely raising a bottle of 0 per cent beer to that can't be too bad can it ?!?!?! Have a lovely weekend enjoy the extra day !! Love k

  3. Nothing wrong with AF beer!!! I am jealous. I never acquired a taste for beer, so AF beer not an option for me. On previous attempts I have tried AF wine, and It was such a poor imitation, it did not help me in the least. I have been drinking soda water w cranberry juice and lime but would love other options. I thought I'd try ginger beer. I read on another blog it is a good replacement. I am still feeling tired and grumpy, but I will stick with it as the other option doesn't play out well in my head :) :). I put my faith in SM and know that i will start to feel better soon. I do think I am better equipped this time around and it is wonderful to have this blog for support!! Day 7!! hugs and kisses! neinwine

    1. You're doing great neinwine! Try Kag's favourite drink: Fresh limes, mint, brown sugar and soda. I also love virgin mary's. Tomato juice with tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Serve both with loads of crushed ice and an umbrella and you can imagine you're in a cocktail bar! Good luck with the weekend! Give yourself a treat - you deserve it x

    2. wonderful! I will give those a try....

  4. Hi SM. I am really doing my best to steer clear of AF beers to drink just for the sake of drinking them. They remind me too much of the real thing. I am trying to avoid the stereotypical thing, but usually and not exclusively, a male's weapon of choice is Cider or beer and not so much the wine, so the imitation of AF beers are too much of a reminder and possibly too much of a temptation right now.
    Personally, I am going to reserve the Becks Blue or the Bavaria Zero for those unavoidable social occasions where NOT being seen with a bottle or a glass of frothy beer will illicit a barrage of questions from the curious and the nosey.
    Until then, I will stick to my decaffinated breakfast tea and my recent tomato juice and Worcester sauce fascination. I hope you have a lovely weekend. x

  5. Dear SM,
    I drink AF beer once in awhile, and it doesn't make me want to drink the real thing.
    I do get very gassy after drinking it!
    Not fun for my hubby! LOL
    I am not a mocktail fan because I don't like sweet drinks.

  6. I enjoy an AF beer most weekends. I have AF wine sometimes too but it's not a good replica. This is the first time I've been ok drinking the AF versions whilst sober. I couldn't entertain the idea in previous dry periods. So I get where you are coming from Tallaxo. This time for me just feels different somehow. Keep blogging. You are really helping me to work out who I am and why I am like this. For the first time ever I truly understand the concept of 'one day at a time' and now know what 'acceptance' means. It's so liberating! x

  7. Love it myself. I don't subscribe to the notion that alcohol tastes awful, it doesn't. Being a drunk is awful though. Very low alcohol beer, white or rose wine (haven't found a nice red) and cider means I can have the cold bitter refreshment without the fuzzy head. I don't think the dopamine your body creates from nice thoughts is a problem, that's the same as you'd get from a massage, dancing, sex and any number of other lovely things. It's the overproduction of dopamine caused by a large intake of alcohol that stimulates your body to produce masses of neurotransmitters to counter it: that's what makes your brain race at 3 am, disrupts your sleep and fills you with misery and self loathing. There is a difference.

  8. I think it's great. Really hits the spot on a warm day. Sparkling water gets boring in the long run, and soda gets to be cloying. I actually, against the normal advice, feel fine drinking tonic, even though I love gin and tonic. Do what works.

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  10. On the question about alcohol-free beer, I look at it this way. if you are going to stop drinking, why would you want to torture yourself drinking something that looks, smells, and tastes like real beer? If you are ready to let go, you have to be willing to let go all the way. That near-beer is only going to make you want real beer more.

  11. One attempt at quittimg drinking last year, I made myself some shandy... my sobriety ended the same evening! It was just too tempting for me once I got the taste.

  12. One attempt at quitting drinking last year, I made myself some shandy... my sobriety ended the same evening! It was just too tempting for me once I got the taste.