There is an interesting development unfolding in American homes as well as the party scene right now. Both overconsumption of alcohol and a shift toward alcohol-free beverages are trending.
Sometimes we have to just shake our heads at what appears to be a paradox. Alcohol consumption is the highest it has ever been. Yet, the demand for alcohol-free adult beverages is prompting alcohol manufactures to create non-alcoholic drinks. What is behind such a conundrum?
The two seemingly contradictory trends are part of one pivotal phenomenon: the descent into and rise out of alcohol addiction.
First, a little background.
Pre-Pandemic Alcohol Consumption was Higher Than Ever
Back in 2019, experts warned the public that alcohol consumption had reached previously unseen levels. More folks than ever were integrating alcohol into their life, whenever, wherever, and at whatever time. People were notoriously consuming adult beverages during play-dates, midday lunches, and at Sunday breakfast.
Then came COVID-19 and the resulting quarantine.
Pandemic Alcohol Consumption Increase
Quarantine provided the perfect opportunity to drink, and drink, and drink. Health agencies continued warning the public of the escalating public health crisis that drinking had become. Meanwhile, internet companies like Drizzly came along to deliver that not-so-blessed elixir right to one’s doorstep. Across the nation and across social media, folks shared in the joke that day drinking had become.
So, did quarantine result in more alcoholics? Not according to new science into the phenomena behind alcohol addiction. As a matter of fact, alcohol-free proponents contest that the concept behind the term “alcoholic” is both flawed and dangerous. Essentially, the paradigm-shifting belief is that there is no such thing as an alcoholic.
Does that mean we are all free to gobble down that next craft beer or bottle of white wine? No, not at all. But what does it mean to be an “alcoholic?”
What is An Alcoholic?
The term “alcoholic” comes from Alcoholics Anonymous. For about 80 years, AA had offered the only respite that most alcohol-addicted individuals could find.
AA is a faith-based organization, teaching that certain people are born with a genetic weakness that makes them an alcoholic. These people, AA teaches, will not be able to drink ever; as they will become addicted. An alcoholic is incapable of managing their drinking or curing the fatal disease that they were born with. Furthermore, AA teaches that an alcoholic must surrender to a higher power to stave off their imminent demise. There is no cure for the alcoholic.
Seems pretty grim, doesn’t it? But, the judgement and sentencing of the “alcoholic” is only part of the problem.
Alcohol a Socially Acceptable Drug?
The alcohol that we drink is ethanol, contends AF proponents, the exact material put into gas tanks. This concoction makes its way into our system, creating a depressive, numbing effect. Our highly adaptable bodies immediately go to work to offset this sedation by releasing natural stimulants.
It takes a bit of consumption before we become excellent at handling a large amount of alcohol. The more alcohol put into the body, the more the body must adapt to keep us alive. This is what is referred to as “building a tolerance.”
William Porter, author of “Alcohol Explained,” describes the science behind alcohol addiction in the following video.
Essentially, what comes hand-in-hand with tolerance is the propensity for withdrawal. Withdrawal occurs because our bodies have adapted to alcohol and the alcohol is no longer present. Because the sedative effects of alcohol are gone, the body now has a dramatically increased amount of its own natural stimulants in circulation.
This is when hands begin to shake. This is when anxiety becomes overwhelming. Or, in those who are not so far along in the adaption process, this is simply when they don’t feel so well and don’t want to deal with their day-to-day lives.
It is also often when one reaches for another drink to take the edge off, thereby descending a little further into physical dependence on alcohol. While heroin and cocaine addicts suffer terribly when they do not have their drug of choice, alcohol-dependent people can die during withdrawal as the excess chemicals can trigger seizures.
Everyone is Susceptible to Alcohol Addiction
Advocates of alcohol-free living do acquiesce that those who suffer from emotional, mental, financial, familial, or other issues will seek out the numbing quality of alcohol more readily than those who do not. However, they argue, it is not always negative emotions leading to alcohol overconsumption. Many alcohol-addicted people say they began using the drug to have fun. After all, the alcohol industry spends between $1- and $2-billion dollars per year marketing alcohol as a fun, sexy way to let loose with friends.
Essentially, AF researchers say the problem exists within the beverage itself, calling it an “addictive poison.” Furthermore, they argue every person is susceptible to circumstances that can plague them to the point of seeking relief in alcohol.
A Needed Perspective Change Regarding Alcohol
There was a time when drinking was not so widespread. There were certainly more places where alcohol consumption was not deemed appropriate. Yet, year after year, alcohol has etched its way into society, much the same way it etches itself into the biology of the addicted.
According to AF promoters, the greatest travesty in labeling those who are addicted to alcohol as “alcoholics” is that so many people believe that they are immune to the dangers of alcoholism. When a person believes they can drink freely because they aren’t an alcoholic, they are in danger of over consuming and, thus, becoming addicted. Once enough alcohol is consumed and the inevitable biology has occurred, the reality awaiting is a shameful one. To admit that one has a problem with alcohol erroneously appears synonymous with admitting one is of weak character and was even born defective.
This self-appraisal would be incredibly difficult for anyone, but much more so for someone who is suffering the physical and psychological decline which alcohol addiction creates. Many struggling with alcohol addiction will choose another drink and denial over such a terrible label.
A New Trend and a Healthier Society
The social acceptance and promotion of alcohol, and the overconsumption that ensued, has prompted more research, more thought, and a fundamental change in the way that alcohol addiction is viewed. Rather than seeing the individual as the problem, proponents of alcohol-free living place the blame on the substance itself.
Quit Lit (alcohol-free literature) authors such as Porter and Annie Grace (writer of This Naked Mind) are dispelling the myths behind the alcohol craze and the shame that had previously gripped the alcohol-addicted.
Much the way today’s younger generations grimace at cigarette smoke, tomorrow’s young people may very well grimace at the thought of drinking the same concoction that powers machinery.
Living alcohol free is quickly becoming the newest health trend with young people congregating at alcohol-free bars and breweries. Major beer and wine manufactures have launched AF beverages and restaurants are beginning to put as much thought and ambiance into their alcohol-free drinks as they do into alcoholic cocktails as people find their way out from under the alcohol epidemic and into a healthy alcohol-free lifestyle.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, you can find support at Smart Recovery, by speaking with your doctor, and by researching “quit lit” books (like Alcohol Explained) via Google or Audible.
TIME Reports Alcohol Free Beverage Industry Growth by 39%
“It’s not only a generational fad: About half of U.S. adults (and two-thirds of those ages 21 to 34) say they’re trying to drink less, according to data from market-research firm Nielsen. The U.S. market for low- or no-alcohol beverages is set to grow by about 39% by 2022.
With Budweiser and Bud Light sales faltering, parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) has invested in everything from fruit juice to probiotic drinks, and has committed to making 20% of its beer volume no- or low-alcohol by 2025. If the marketing for Keel, a new lower-alcohol vodka, is to be believed, these products are all part of a “moderation movement.”“Why Alcohol Companies Are Betting on Non-Alcoholic ‘Booze'” Jamie Dusharme TIME