Alcohol Alternatives: How To Relax Without Risks Of Abuse?

Last Updated: April 2, 2021

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Millions of people across America have serious drinking problems. One underlying reason for this fact is the common use of alcohol in everyday social settings. Also, many people turn to drink as a form of relaxation or stress relief. Whatever the motive for drinking, a pattern of excessive intake can result in the onset of alcoholism or clinical alcohol abuse. Fortunately, there is a range of healthy alcohol alternatives. Each alcohol substitute addresses some of the primary motivations for alcohol consumption and doesn’t lead to the use of any other mind-altering substance.

What to Drink Instead of Alcohol?

Social drinking does not typically increase risks for serious drinking problems as long as beer, wine, or liquor intake does not exceed moderate levels. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) sets moderate daily intake for men at a maximum of four standard drinks. Women stay within range when they consume no more than three standard drinks a day.

Friends celebrating and drinking at a social event.

To avoid increasing their risks for alcohol-related problems, men must also keep their total weekly intake under 15 drinks. Women must keep their weekly intake under eight drinks.

Many adults will find it easy to stretch the NIAAA guidelines’ limits by doing nothing more than taking part in social drinking at gatherings and events. This is true, in part, because of the prevalence of drinking as a social activity. A desire to join in with others also plays a role.

It can be challenging to stand in a room of drinkers and control the urge to raise a glass along with everyone else. Picking up an alcohol substitute can help simulate the ritual of drinking without increasing alcohol-related risks.

Common Examples of Alcohol Substitute Include:

  • Club soda
  • Sparkling juices
  • Kvass
  • Kombucha
  • Mead
  • Herbs like Lavender or Linden
  • Crataegus (Hawthorn)
  • Non-alcoholic mixed drinks (i.e., "mocktails") that mimic the taste of their alcohol-containing counterparts

Non-alcoholic beers and alcohol-free sparkling wine can also provide a healthy way to avoid drinking in social settings. However, despite their name, these products do contain small amounts of alcohol. This fact makes them unsuitable for people currently affected by diagnosable drinking problems. People not affected by alcoholism may find that the flavor profiles of non-alcoholic beers make them an excellent alcohol substitute for the real thing.

Things To Do Instead of Drinking

Whether consumed alone or in the company of others, alcohol is often a go-to choice for its perceived ability to increase relaxation and decrease stress. The substance’s reputation for stress relief is not entirely undeserved.

Sad and stressed woman drinking wine at home.

Well, before the body reaches the point of legal intoxication, alcohol’s effects on the brain can lead to an increased sense of ease. However, in people who imbibe in excessive amounts, the brain effects of drinking can change drastically. Instead of contributing to a decline in stress levels, heavy drinking can worsen stressful feelings, make it difficult to relax, and help create a general sense of unease.

Some heavy drinkers have diagnosable symptoms of alcoholism. However, most do not. Instead, they exceed the limits for moderate intake by taking part in the practice of binge drinking. Drinking binge is defined by the act of consuming enough beer, wine, or liquor to achieve a state of drunkenness (i.e., a BAC of at least 0.08) in two hours or less. In America, roughly one out of every six adults meets this standard one or more times a month. Regular binging can raise alcoholism risks by as much as 50 percent.

There is a broad range of alcohol alternatives to drinking for stress relief.

One Time-Tested Option Is Involvement in Aerobic Activities Such As:

  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Bicycling
  • Dancing
  • Basketball
  • Racquet sports
  • Lawn or garden work

These activities provide their benefits by doing two things. First, they reduce the body’s production of cortisol and other stress-generating hormones. Also, aerobic exercise can help increase the body’s output of “feel-good” endorphins. Production of these chemicals is mostly associated with participation in endurance sports like long-distance running.

The list of relaxing alternatives to alcohol use also includes many more targeted relaxation techniques.

Examples of Stress-Reducing Techniques Include:

  • Meditation – Focused breathing and other meditation techniques can help reduce anxiety levels, as well as ease pain sensitivity and feelings of depression.
  • Body scanning – Also known as progressive muscle relaxation, this approach combines focused breathing with the gradual, intentional release of tension in muscles throughout the body.
  • Deep breathing – This approach promotes relaxation by replacing stress-promoting shallow breathing with slower, deeper inhalations and exhalations.
  • Movement exercises – Exercises such as qigong, tai chi, and yoga promote calm and focus through a series of slow, controlled body movements.
  • Guided Imagery – People who use this technique promote relaxation by focusing on pleasant or inspiring situations, places, or past experiences.

Changes in lifestyle can also help people avoid heavy drinking. In addition to exercise, a switch to a balanced diet can go a long way toward fostering a sense of well-being and lowering stress levels.

Other Possible Lifestyle Alternatives to Alcohol Include Such Things As:

  • Learning time management techniques
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Socializing with friends in alcohol-free activities
  • Learning how to reduce self-critical behavior
  • Taking occasional breaks from the use of social media and the Internet
  • Taking recreational classes

People who are concerned about their current pattern of drinking can take more drastic lifestyle-related steps.

Examples Here Include:

  • Maintaining an alcohol-free home
  • Avoiding situations where drinking is the norm
  • Setting a limit on consumption before engaging in drinking
  • Learning how to substitute alcohol when personal drinking limits are reached
  • Talking to a trusted friend or loved one about potentially problematic drinking

In addition, people with drinking-related severe concerns can consult their doctors or an addiction specialist.

Avoiding Alcohol Problems

Despite the prominence of drinking as a social activity and tool for stress relief, people who want to avoid developing alcohol-related problems have a wide array of potential options. Available methods range from non-alcoholic beverage selection and physical exercise to targeted stress relief and lifestyle modification. Not all of these options will appeal to every person. However, with a little experimentation, most people should find a mixture of methods that lead to lowered risks for heavy drinking and alcohol-related health diagnosis.

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Page Sources

  1. Dawn E. Sugarman, Kate B. Carey, Drink Less or Drink Slower: The Effects of Instruction on Alcohol Consumption and Drinking Control Strategy Use, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805122/
  2. Linden AN, Kite BA, Braitman AL, Henson JM, Protective behavioral strategy use and motivations for drinking: exploring Alternatives to Drinking strategies, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24229844
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking Levels Defined. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: April 2nd, 2021

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.