As November comes to an end and the holiday season swings into full gear, the list of party invitations begin to pile up. There are the office parties, neighborhood-block parties and any number of friends and family that take pride in throwing their annual ugly-sweater holiday party or whatever it might be. Then, lest we forget, come the New Year’s Eve parties.
In most cases there’s alcohol at these events, which is fine for people that can drink, but is a serious holiday bummer for anyone that might be pregnant, have a lot of driving to do or is in recovery from addiction.
Festive holiday “mocktails” that are alcohol-free are one good option, but for people that favor beer, it begs the question: can you get drunk from non-alcoholic beer, AKA near-beer?
How is Non-alcoholic Beer Made and Does it Contain Alcohol?
First, a little bit of historical perspective. During prohibition, government-teetotalers decided the strongest an alcoholic beverage could be was 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). In fact, in a few states with strict alcohol regulations, like Utah and Oklahoma, non-alcoholic – 0.5% Alcohol By Volume (ABV) – beer is the standard fare at grocery stores. The harder stuff is sold at state-regulated liquor stores.
Near-beer is able to mimic the many flavors and variations of regular beer because the brewing process is essentially the same, but with an added step or two. As Gizmodo lays out in The Science of Non-Alcoholic Beer, NA beer:
- Begins the process just like normal beer…
- It goes from the mash, to the boiled wort, where hops are added and the fermentation process kicks in…
- But where regular beer is aged, bottled, canned or kegged at this point, near-beer goes through the extra step of being boiled yet again, so the alcohol can be filtered down to 0.5 percent ABV
Will I Get Drunk From Drinking Near Beer?
Here’s the bottom line: an adult cannot get drunk on near-beer even though non-alcoholic beer contains some amount of alcohol. Bangers and Mash, a site devoted to all things fermentation, notes, “There just isn’t enough alcohol to affect your system,” no mater how much a person drinks.
In fact, the unscientific experiment discussed in the article asserts that a person would have to drink 56 O’Doul’s non-alcoholic beers in one hour to be legally drunk. By the way, O’Doul’s alcohol content is 0.4 percent alcohol.
Even if those numbers are off by a considerable amount, it would still be numerically impossible to get inebriated by drinking NA beer.
The next logical question is whether or not drinking NA beer might be a trigger for anyone recovering from alcoholism or addiction to other substances. This has been a point of debate in 12-step and other recovery circles for decades.
Should Someone in Recovery Drink Non-alcoholic Beer?
“The jury is still out regarding the impact of non-alcoholic beer on alcohol abuse,” Patricia Taylor, a director at a Washington-based consumer advocacy group, told the New York Times some years ago. Taylor added, however, “The benefit is that they do offer an alternative to alcoholic beverages.”
Taylor and others acknowledge that near-beer might trigger cravings to drink real beer for people battling alcoholism. That, however, is up to the individual.
For many people recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction, non-alcoholic beer is a possible way to assimilate – to feel normal, to feel accepted during a holiday season or social gathering when everyone around them is partaking in alcoholic beverages.
It may seem difficult, and at times unfair, that people who have a past or present issue with alcohol feel isolated from socializing with family and friends who are able to drink alcohol during holidays and other gatherings.
The fact remains, a person cannot get drunk on near-beer, and it might just be a positive alternative for someone doing their best to remain sober during a national season of drinking alcohol.