Non-Alcoholic Drinks And Foods To Avoid When In Recovery

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) outlines four stages of recovery for patients with addictive behavioral disorders who also have subsequent substance misuse issues. These include:

Early Abstinence
Protracted Abstinence

These stages are in no way an exact representation of every patient’s psychological and physical experience undergone in addiction recovery. However, the four stages do present a template to help guide the treatment and further the self-awareness of the substance misuse recovery process for patients and patient support networks.

The two major takeaways from these steps in regards to avoiding triggers in recovery are that first, achieving initial sobriety only makes up a small fraction of the addiction recovery process. The second takeaway would be that the remainder of the steps involve what we refer to as sobriety maintenance.

Sobriety maintenance, either through increasing self-awareness or enacting actionable avoidance plans of potential triggers, makes up a large portion of the recovery process with a significant amount of overlap in each of these stages. This entails identifying potential triggers in everyday life that could spark a relapse once leaving a rehab facility. The obvious examples of avoiding illicit substances, situations involving illicit substance use, or even familiar habits are obvious, but not as much attention is applied to the seemingly innocuous everyday foods and drinks that actually could pose a potential risk of triggering a relapse such as the ones below.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks like Monster, Red Bull, Nos, Bang, etc. are a common caffeine alternative to coffee found on the shelves of every convenience store and gas station. The energy-based beverages even seem to contain a degree of healthy ingredients including essential amino acids and vitamins like taurine, glucuronolactone, B vitamins, guarana, ginseng, ginkgo Biloba, and l-carnitine just to name a few. However, the caffeine levels that these drinks induce represent a potential risk for triggering a relapse.

Caffeine itself is addictive and the large amounts that a single energy drink provides an individual can lead to an altered state of consciousness. Arguably, the addictive properties alone of such high levels of caffeine can pose a high risk for relapse in patients in early and late-stage addiction recovery. However, the main trigger for most will revolve around the intention behind imbibing an energy drink. If the intention begins to shift toward creating an altered state of consciousness instead of simply staying awake, then energy drinks become too similar to substance misuse and should be avoided.

The familiarity in behavioral tendencies — seeking an altered state of consciousness from an ingested substance — can lead to a potential relapse. In smaller doses, say with a cup of coffee, caffeine can generally be used responsibly by patients with addictive disorders with little to no risk of triggering a relapse. However, energy drinks pose a higher risk due to the large amounts of caffeine available in the product, and patients with addictive disorders should be wary about consumption both in the early and later stages of recovery.

Non-Alcoholic Beer

In theory, a non-alcoholic beer substitute seems like the perfect solution, especially for patients that misused alcohol as a result of their addictive disorder. Substituting a safe, healthy drink for an unhealthy beverage that created unsafe habits sounds like an appropriate measure to help wean patients from their risky behavioral habits. However, non-alcoholic beer still contains about .05 percent alcohol; the alcohol content alone will not cause anyone to be inebriated, but any percentage of ingested alcohol could trigger cravings for more illicit substances leading to a more serious relapse and further substance misuse.

Aside from the alcohol content alone, the smell, taste, and familiar habit of drinking beer can also lead to relapse, especially for those in early recovery. If patients do find themselves in a bar setting, a much safer alternative — if the social situation can not be avoided — is to ask for a mocktail, a specialty non-alcoholic craft cocktail. Mocktails are increasing in popularity and are even regularly included on drink menus these days.



Kombucha is another health drink that has risen in popularity in many markets with a probiotic claim toward it being a healthy drink alternative. In actuality, though, Kombucha is a fermented tea that can contain up to .5 percent alcohol content, an alcohol percentage that is significantly higher than that of a non-alcoholic beer. This drink has none of the behavioral familiarities that could potentially trigger a relapse, but the high volume of alcohol makes it a risky drink particularly for those in early recovery. To put it in perspective, eight commercial servings of Kombucha drunk successively in a row would be the equivalent of one alcoholic beer.

We would recommend avoiding Kombucha as your drink of choice, but if you do indulge, then be sure to know what the alcohol content is for each particular batch of fermented tea. Although legally Kombucha products are no longer allowed to be sold with an alcohol content above .5 percent, some homegrown varietals do contain an even larger percentage of alcohol. Individuals with addictive disorders should be extremely cautious when drinking any form of Kombucha.

Wine Reduction Sauces & Marinades

Many dishes in restaurants will be cooked with wine or even alcohol, and although generally safe from an ingestion standpoint for those with addictive disorders — with the assumption that the majority of alcohol is cooked off — patients may still want to avoid eating any foods prepared with alcohol. The smell or even taste of alcohol can still be a potential trigger for relapse not to mention that not all of the alcohol will cook off in a prepared dish. Alcohol retention in food depends on the method of cooking as well as the type and amount of alcohol used in the prepared dish. With this in mind, those in early and even late addiction recovery may want to pass on any sauces or marinades made with alcohol and wine reductions.

Avoidance of familiar behavior and understanding underlying intentions are the overarching guides we can provide when deciding whether a certain substance is a potential trigger. Each client will have to make the decision themselves, but the emphasis on change and making the necessary adjustments to alter behaviors remains the same no matter the stage of the recovery process.

If you or someone you love is seeking treatment for an addictive disorder, then Choice House can help. We offer men the opportunity to achieve and maintain sobriety through a variety of therapeutic modalities that enable them to craft a new foundation of love, understanding, and empathy. Choice House is a dual-diagnosis treatment facility that offers three unique programs of service that include a 90-day inpatient program, an intensive outpatient service, and our sober living campus. Located in the Boulder County area of Colorado, our facilities are between the bustling city of Louisville and the Rocky Mountain National Park. Those seeking outpatient services will benefit from our facility’s proximity to city living by allowing them to maintain employment and keep active social lives while receiving the necessary guidance and treatment for their addiction recovery. We also take full advantage of the Colorado nature right in our backyard and employ a unique outdoor therapy modality. We facilitate men reconnecting with themselves, nature, and their fellows through physical activities like hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking. We strongly feel that the bonds of friendship made in rehab will prove vital to the recovery process. Our outdoor therapy in the scenic Rocky Mountains only helps to solidify those friendships. For more information regarding Choice House facilities or treatment programs, please give us a call at (720) 577-4422.

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