Does Drinking Nonalcoholic Beer Break Sobriety?

People partying on a beach

Jenna got her 6-month sobriety chip at yesterday’s AA meeting. Now it’s Friday night, and she is out to dinner with friends. One of them just ordered a nonalcoholic beer. Jenna wonders if she could order one too. Would that break her commitment to sobriety? It’s not alcohol, so it would be ok, right?

Jenna is faced with a tough decision. It’s one that everyone who has decided to abstain from alcohol must make. With the popularity of nonalcoholic drinks today, it’s unavoidable. 

Jenna chooses to order tea with her dinner and decides to research the issue more when she gets home.

Nonalcoholic Beer vs. Regular Beer

Jenna starts her research by digging into the difference between the two types of beer. Would one type be ok for her to drink, if the other isn’t? Jenna learns that the brewing process, taste, and content of nonalcoholic beer are all different than regular beer.

Brewing Process

To make beer, brewers ferment grain (usually barley). Yeast breaks down the grain into alcohol.1 Jenna learns that an entire world of microbial science lies behind the creation of beer, but she’s not interested in learning the craft. She gleans a couple of important facts, though. 

Nonalcoholic beer can be made by preventing fermentation (alcohol-free beer) or by removing the alcohol from the beer (de-alcoholized beer). Modern nonalcoholic beer manufacturers are getting away from the first option, because this process tends to create a less flavorful drink. 

For the alcohol-removal option, multiple methods are available. Older brands may heat the beer to burn off the alcohol, but this also affects the flavor. Another method involves filtering out the alcohol.2 Today’s beer manufacturers use high-tech processes (that they keep secret) to make nonalcoholic beers that taste more like regular beer. 

Jenna also learns some interesting facts about the content of nonalcoholic beer.

Does Nonalcoholic Beer Contain Alcohol?

Jenna is surprised to discover that nonalcoholic beers contain alcohol. According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, a beverage can be labeled nonalcoholic if it has 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) or less.3 (Regular beer usually has between 3.5% and 10% ABV.4) So, she would be drinking some alcohol if she chose a nonalcoholic beer.

Although, some nonalcoholic beer labels claim an ABV of 0.0%. However, Jenna learns that the 0.0-0.5% ABV on the label is not a guarantee. Researchers found that as many as 30% of nonalcoholic beers they tested had higher ABV than what was on the label. Some even tested as high as 1.8% ABV.5

Jenna remembers a time when she drank mouthwash just to get a bit of alcohol in her system. She wonders if it’s worth the risk to try nonalcoholic beer. Would she be re-introducing the substance into her body, even if the label claims she isn’t?

This makes her wonder about the possible side-effects of drinking nonalcoholic beer. How will it affect her mindset and commitment to sobriety?

Psychological Effects of Drinking a Nonalcoholic Beer While in Recovery

Jenna’s biggest challenge in recovery – especially those first few weeks of sobriety – has been to overcome cravings. She had to identify her personal triggers that would cause cravings, and then learn how to navigate those triggers. 

She wondered if drinking a nonalcoholic beer would be a trigger for her. The smell. The flavor. Holding the bottle in her hand. It would take her back to days she did not want relive. It’s possible the experience could intensify her cravings and lead to relapse. 

In her research, she discovered that’s exactly why a lot of people in recovery don’t drink nonalcoholic beverages. It’s just too tempting. It can be a slippery slope back into old habits. For others, she learned, the drink can have a placebo effect. Even if the alcohol content is zero, the person experiences emotions or sensations similar to those they associate with alcohol consumption.6

This was beginning to sound like a road Jenna didn’t want to go down. 

Social and Situational Considerations

Jenna realized there were other factors she should also consider. Maybe there are some situations when a person could safely drink nonalcoholic beer in recovery. 

It may help them feel more at ease when they are around others who are drinking alcohol. It may provide another option in addition to regular beer, soda, and water, which are often the main offerings at a bar or get-together. Or possibly a person truly enjoys the taste of beer, and drinking a nonalcoholic one isn’t a trigger for them. They might not crave the alcohol, and can enjoy the drink without risk of relapse.

Jenna realized that she would have to decide whether drinking nonalcoholic beer would break sobriety for her. It’s the same for every person in recovery. They must consider their goals, triggers, and other unique situations to make an honest evaluation of the risk. It can be helpful to consult with a healthcare professional, a counselor or mentor, and others in recovery, to provide input. 

Next Steps

Jenna spoke with her doctor and her AA sponsor. Admitting her tendencies and weighing the pros and cons involved, Jenna decided the best choice for her is not to drink nonalcoholic beer. She decided it’s not worth putting her sobriety at risk, and this is the best route, at least for now, to support her long-term recovery.

Are you struggling with alcohol use? Like Jenna, do you have questions about next steps for your journey? If you or someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, help is available. Call 800-781-0748 (Who Answers?) today to learn about your treatment options.



  1. Bokulich, N. A., & Bamforth, C. W. (2013). The microbiology of malting and brewing. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews : MMBR, 77(2), 157–172.
  2. Shoemaker, S. (2019, November 5). Everything you need to know about nonalcoholic beer. Healthline Media.
  3. Office of Regulatory Affairs. (n.d.). CPG Sec 510.400 Dealcoholized wine and malt beverages – Labeling. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved February 7, 2024, from
  4. Sancén, M., Léniz, A., Macarulla, M. T., González, M., Milton-Laskibar, I., & Portillo, M. P. (2022). Features of nonalcoholic beer on cardiovascular biomarkers. Can it be a substitute for conventional beer? Nutrients, 15(1), 173.
  5. Manning, J. (2021, September 23). Everything you need to know about nonalcoholic beer. EverydayHealth.Com.
  6. Staff, C. (2023, September 27). Does drinking nonalcoholic beer break sobriety? Compassion Behavioral Health.


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