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Zero Proof: Why More People Are Choosing Low or No-Alcohol Drinks

Young women drinking non-alcoholic beverages

In previous generations, alcohol was widely accepted as the go-to beverage for adults looking to relieve stress, unwind and relax. In the past twenty years, however, there has been a noticeable decline in alcohol consumption, particularly among young adults, many of whom are opting for no- or low-alcoholic drinks instead of traditional wine, beer or liquor.

A Shifting Mindset about Alcohol

The top five reasons given by young people who have chosen to eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of alcohol they consume include:

  1. Health & Wellness. Young adults today tend to be more focused on physical fitness than previous generations. They choose healthier foods, exercise more and strive for moderation in how they live their life, including their drinking habits.
  2. Fear of Negative Effects. Avoiding the negative physical effects of drinking, whether a hangover or fear of alcoholism, is a powerful motivator for many. The fear of losing control in social situations and the potential for unflattering images to be posted on social media is also a factor.
  3. Drinking is Expensive. Financial concerns are another common reason for cutting back. Whether drinking at a bar or at home, alcoholic beverages are pricey and can take a big bite out of one’s disposable income.
  4. Weight Management. Alcohol contains a lot of empty calories and over-indulging can lead to weight gain, poor food choices or both.
  5. Reduce Risk of Disease. Science has proven that alcoholic beverages are toxic to the body and can contribute to a wide range of serious health problems, including liver disease, heart disease and cancer.

Another less widely known health benefit of shifting to a low- or no-alcohol lifestyle, is better sleep. Although many people believe that they fall asleep more easily after a few drinks, alcohol actually disrupts the REM stage of sleep which is crucial for restful, restorative slumber.

Fewer Barriers to a No- or Low-Alcohol Lifestyle

Most brands have noticed this cultural shift, so there is now an abundance of non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits available that are both flavorful and satisfying. In addition, sober bars are gaining popularity and opting for no- or low-alcohol beverages is becoming more socially acceptable.

Examples of non-alcoholic options include:

  • Non-Alcoholic and Low Alcohol Beer. A regular beer contains 5-6 percent alcohol, light beers have slightly less and some craft beers can contain up to 10 percent alcohol. Low- and non-alcoholic beers may contain 0.05 - 0.5 percent alcohol, even those labeled alcohol-free or 0.0% alcohol.
  • Alcohol-Free Spirits. Non-alcoholic spirits like gin, vodka, whisky and tequila are now widely available. Although the majority of the alcohol is removed through distillation, these spirits may still contain up to 0.5 percent alcohol.
  • Non-Alcoholic Wine. There are plenty of red, white and pink non-alcoholic wines available. However, like the beer and spirit options, they can contain up to 0.5 percent alcohol.

Choosing low or no-alcohol beverages is a great way to significantly lower your alcohol intake. However, if you are trying to avoid alcohol completely, low and non-alcoholic beverages may not be suitable. Because they typically contain trace amounts of alcohol, they may be triggering for people in recovery for alcohol addiction.

Adaptogenic Drinks: A Healthy Alternative to Alcohol?

Another option that is rapidly gaining popularity are premade beverages that contain adaptogens. These herbal and plant-based ingredients have been used for centuries in Eastern medicine to help manage anxiety, stress, fatigue and depression. Examples of adaptogenic ingredients include:

  • Ginseng. Derived from the root of the ginseng plant, ginseng may offer health benefits like improved brain health, enhanced immune function, better blood sugar control and increased energy.
  • Hemp seeds. The small brown seeds of the hemp plant are rich in protein, fiber and healthy fatty acids. Although the hemp plant is a member of the cannabis family, hemp-derived products do not contain enough THC to create the “high” traditionally associated with marijuana. Benefits of hemp seeds may include improved brain, heart and skin health.
  • Tumeric. A common spice that is proclaimed to help regulate cortisol levels, manage stress and reduce inflammation.
  • CBD. Cannabidiol or CBD is the main compound in cannabis that does not create mind-altering effects. It may be useful in reducing anxiety in some people.
  • Ashwagandha. Derived from an evergreen shrub that grows in Africa and Asia, ashwagandha has been found to help lower stress and anxiety.
  • Lion's Mane Mushroom. Named for its resemblance to a lion’s mane, some studies suggest that extracts from this mushroom may promote nerve growth and boost cognitive functions.
  • L-Theanine. An amino acid found naturally in tea leaves that may be helpful in relieving stress, improving mood and promoting relaxation.

Adaptogenic beverages may contain one or more of the ingredients listed above and are available in a variety of forms including sparkling waters, flavored teas and coffees. Many can also be purchased as powdered additives.

Are Adaptogenic Beverages Safe?

Although adaptogens are naturally occurring substances, they aren’t necessarily risk-free. Some have the potential to interact negatively with certain prescription medications, so it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any adaptogenic beverage or supplement. Pregnant women should also talk to their doctor before use.

Because they’re not regulated by the FDA, adaptogens aren’t proven to provide the health benefits they claim and some people may actually experience negative side effects like headaches. And, as with alcohol, they can be expensive and high in calories – if weight gain is a concern, intake should still be moderate.

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For those considering a no- or low-alcohol lifestyle to improve their health, University Hospitals recommends talking to a primary care provider or nutrition specialist for assistance in supporting this positive change. If alcohol addiction is a concern, we also offer comprehensive addiction treatment services.