estimated read time - 14 min
estimated read time - 14 min
Throughout history, alcohol has played a significant role in social gatherings, events, and even in everyday life as a means to unwind. Many individuals turn to alcohol to boost their confidence and feel more at ease when interacting with others, while others rely on it to relax after a tiring day.
However, it is crucial to question the safety of alcohol consumption. According to the World Health Organization's 2022 statistics, irresponsible alcohol consumption leads to approximately 3 million deaths each year. This accounts for 5.3% of all deaths globally, with alcohol-related factors contributing to 5.1% of diseases and injuries. These distressing figures illustrate why alcohol is recognized as one of the most commonly abused substances worldwide.
Understanding how alcohol affects the body and why some individuals struggle to control or cease their consumption is important. Below we will discuss more on how alcohol works and the dangers that go along with it. Also, we'll be sharing some healthier alcohol alternatives.
There are various factors and motivations behind alcohol consumption. One of the primary reasons is it has been a past time we evolved with over the lifetime of humanity, for enjoyment and having a good time. Initially, alcohol can induce feelings of happiness, relaxation, and an overall sense of well-being. It often reduces inhibitions, making individuals more outgoing, confident, and sociable.
Additionally, people may turn to alcohol as a means of coping with stress and finding temporary relief. During times of emotional distress or when seeking an escape from problems, alcohol may be seen as a source of solace. Peer pressure and curiosity can also play a role in individuals choosing to consume alcohol. The influence of those around us can greatly impact our decision to drink.
Alcohol has become deeply ingrained in many celebratory occasions, such as weddings, parties, and holidays. Some people drink alcohol to commemorate these special events and enhance the festive atmosphere. In certain cultures, alcohol consumption has become an integral part of their traditions, including its inclusion in traditional ceremonies and rituals.
Alcohol is one of the fastest chemicals that we know of that can pass through the blood brain barrier in humans almost instantly. We believe this has something to do with the co-evolution with alcohol regarding our adaptation to eating fermenting fruit that has fallen from the tree. When alcohol is consumed, it is absorbed through the stomach and small intestines to get into the bloodstream. Once it is in the bloodstream, it is then distributed throughout the body including the brain, liver and other organs. The effects of alcohol is primarily meditated by the central nervous system.
Alcohol increases the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain which can lead to a decrease in brain activity and sedating effects. It can also inhibit the excitatory effects of the neurotransmitter glutamate which is involved in learning, memory, and cognitive function and further contributes to the impairing effects of alcohol. The euphoric and uplifting effects of alcohol is due to its ability to increase the release of dopamine in the brain which is associated with brain's reward and pleasure centers.
Alcohol is then metabolized in the liver. The liver produces enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), that break down alcohol into acetaldehyde and then into acetic acid. Women tend to have less ADH naturally occuring in their bodies so they actually absorb a third more alcohol into their bloodstream than men do. This means for every 3 drinks a man and women drink, the woman feels like she had a full drink more. Once alcohol is metabolized, it generates toxic by products like acetaldehyde, which is associated with the negative effects of alcohol and its hangover symptoms. (9)
Although alcohol has become a big part of almost every society around the world, consuming too much comes with a price. Habitual alcohol consumption comes with various risks and potential negative consequences. These risks depend on several factors such as the amount and frequency of consumption, a person’s tolerance, health and genes. Below are some of the most common risks linked with alcohol drinking.
Alcohol abuse can lead to a range of health problems with significant consequences
Liver Damage: Excessive alcohol consumption can result in the development of fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis, which are common liver diseases associated with alcohol abuse.
Cardiovascular Problems: Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and an increased risk of stroke.
Increased Cancer Risks: Alcohol consumption has been linked to various types of cancer, including liver, breast, colorectal, and oral cancers. Ethanol, a component of alcohol, breaks down into acetaldehyde, a carcinogenic substance that can damage DNA and hinder the repair process, thereby increasing the risk of cancer.
Weakened Immune System: Alcohol abuse can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Alcohol can disrupt the immune pathway in complex ways. This can impair the the body's ability to defend against diseases, infections and may lead to organ damage related to alcohol(10).
Nutritional Deficiencies: Alcohol can interfere with the body's ability to absorb and utilize essential nutrients, leading to nutritional deficiencies that can have wide-ranging health implications.
Affects on Mental and Emotional Health
While alcohol may provide temporary escape from negative emotions, excessive and long-term consumption can actually worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alcohol is a depressant that can affect several neurotransmitters in the brain, resulting in mood swings, increased feelings of sadness and worsen anxiety.
Overtime as your body adjusts to recurring alcohol in your system (known as alcohol tolerance), you will need to drink more and more to get the same buzz. This may seem like a "cool" thing but it's actually a red flag because it usually means your body adapted to the presence of alcohol taking place of your natural neurotransmitters. Your body adjusts and either loses receptor sensisitivity or stops producing regular levels of your natural GABA neurotransmitters, instead trying to get this feeling from exogenous sources (ie, alcohol).
Without the alcohol presence (say in the early morning) your body will go into a withdrawal period because it cannot properly balance the central nervous system without alcohol.
Alcohol can also intensify emotional responses which can lead to emotional instabillity. It may cause unpredictable outburst of anger or emotional outburst which can be inappropriate in certain situations or events.
Impaired Cognitive Function and Judgment
Alcohol can affect the cognitive function of the brain which can lead to difficulties in thinking clearly, making sound judgments, and problem-solving. It can impair memory, concentration and attention span which can leave a negative impact on work and daily functioning.
Additionally, alcohol can lower inhibitions and impair impulse control making people become more aggressive, irritable, and more likely to engage in dangerous actions.
Social and Relationship Consequences
When an individual is experiencing distress and has developed depression or anxiety, it can significantly impact their relationships with others. Excessive alcohol consumption can exacerbate this situation, causing the person to become impulsive and irrational, leading to negative behavior towards others. These actions have the potential to tarnish an individual's reputation and adversely affect their social functioning.
Alcoholic beverages can prove to be quite costly, particularly if an individual becomes dependent on them. Additionally, legal fees and medical expenses associated with alcohol-related issues can have a significant impact on one's finances, particularly if consumption is not properly controlled.
Addiction and Dependence
Alcohol stands as one of the most widely abused substances globally, primarily due to its widespread availability. Its easy accessibility makes it convenient to obtain a drink at any time, contributing to the high prevalence of alcohol abuse. One of the significant outcomes of alcohol abuse is the development of both physical and psychological dependence on the substance.
Alcohol triggers the release of dopamine and endorphins in the brain, which are neurotransmitters associated with feelings of pleasure, happiness, and satisfaction. These substances, often referred to as "happy hormones," contribute to the pleasurable experiences associated with alcohol consumption. However, when individuals consume alcohol chronically, the excessive stimulation of these hormones can lead to an overload, potentially causing cravings for alcohol as they seek to recreate that same pleasurable experience.
Alcohol withdrawal may occur once a person who is already dependent to alcohol decides to suddenly stop or reduce his alcohol consumption. This can happen to individuals who have been excessively drinking alcohol for a long period of time. Symptoms of withdrawal may include headache, palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, tremors or worst seizures and delirium tremens(8).
While moderate consumption of alcohol can induce feelings of relaxation, the side effects and consequences of irresponsible drinking can have severe implications for an individual's health. Engaging in excessive or irresponsible alcohol consumption can result in serious health problems that may have long-lasting effects, potentially altering a person's life permanently.
A wide range of beverages exists as excellent alternatives to alcohol. Some of these options include non-alcoholic versions that closely resemble the appearance, taste, and experience of alcoholic drinks, but without the presence of alcohol and its associated negative effects. Additionally, there are all-natural organic drinks available that can provide a relaxing effect, offering an alternative means to unwind without the need for alcohol.
Non-alcoholic beverages are crafted through a brewing or fermentation process similar to that of regular beers or wines. However, they undergo a specific method to remove or reduce the alcohol content. These beverages can offer a comparable taste and provide a similar experience to their alcoholic counterparts, but without the intoxicating effects. In the United States, a beer or wine is classified as non-alcoholic if its alcohol by volume(ABV) measures 0.5% or lower.
Athletic Brewing Co. Run Wild IPA- Athletic brewing is a non-alcoholic brewing company that specializes in producing non-alcoholic craft beers. They operate in their own brewing facilities.
Grüvi Stout- is a hang-over version of the Irish brew. They are completely alcohol free.
Suntory ALL-FREE- is a non-alcoholic beer alternative that originated in Japan.
Heineken 0.0- Heineken 0.0 is considered an non-alcoholic beer but it is not 100% alcohol free. It contains a really small amount of alcohol, which is around a maximum of 0.03% ABV.
Clausthaler Original Non Alcoholic- Clausthaler is one of the pioneering companies that produces non-alcoholic beers. The Clausthaler Original is one of their flagship products known for its crisp and malty flavor.
Budweiser Zero- is the non-alcoholic version of Budweiser. Budweiser Zero is alcohol free with only 50 calories and zero sugar.
Ariel Vineyards Non-Alcoholic Wines- they offer dealcoholized wines, which includes Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sutter Home Fre- Sutter Home offers non-alcoholic wines called Fre. From red, white to sparkling wines, some of these are the Fre Chardonnay, Fre Moscato, and Fre Red Blend.
St. Regis Reserve Non-Alcoholic Wine- they produce a collection of non-alcoholic sparkling wine including Brut, a Rosé, and a Sparkling White.
Pierre Chavin Zero- offers a wide range of non-alcoholic wines, from red, white to rose varieties.
Freixenet Alcohol-Removed Sparkling Wines- they are produced in Penedès DO of Spain to cater to their health and wellness customers.
Martinelli's Non- Alcoholic Sparkling Cider- it is the non-alcoholic version of their Champagne Cider.
Non-alcoholic alternatives for spirits like vodka, rum, gin, tequia, whiskey, etc. are now available in the market. These non-alcoholic spirits are typically crafted from botanical ingredients like flowers, leaves, roots, or spices. They serve as excellent bases for creating mocktails or other non-alcoholic beverages, providing the opportunity to enjoy the flavors and essence of traditional spirits without the alcohol content.
Mocktails are essentially non-alcoholic versions of cocktails. They are crafted using combinations of fruits, sodas, herbs, and juices. These beverages closely resemble the appearance and can even mimic the taste of traditional cocktails, providing a delightful experience without the inclusion of alcohol.
Here are some of the most common mocktails:
Virgin Mai Tai- classic ingredients of non-alcoholic Mai Tai include orange juice, pineapple juice and a dash of granadine syrup.
Herbal teas serve as an excellent alternative to alcohol, offering flavorful and soothing effects. These delightful beverages not only provide a pleasant taste experience but also come with a myriad of potential health benefits. With their diverse range of herbal blends, herbal teas offer a refreshing and nourishing choice for those seeking an alternative to alcohol.
Chamomile tea- chamomile teas have calming properties that may help relax the body and mind. It may also help with sleep.
Rooibos Tea- a caffeine-free tea that is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties which may help reduce inflammation and pain(6). It comes from the leaves of the Rooibos plant and has a sweet and nutty flavor.
Hibiscus Tea- hibiscus tea is known for its cardiovascular benefits. It helps lower blood pressure, blood sugar level and cholesterol.
Lavender Tea- has a calming and floral aroma which helps promote sleep, relaxation and stress relief.
Green Tea- green tea is one of the least processed teas, which is why it contains high levels of antioxidants.
Chai Tea- is a sweet and spicy tea with ingredients such as black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger and other spices.
Peppermint Tea- the flavor of peppermint tea is energizing and revitalizing. It can help you relax, relieve stress and help with digestion.
Lemon Balm Tea- lemon balm tea is often used for its calming properties which can help reduce stress and anxiety, and promote sleep and relaxation.
Ginger Tea- are often used to calm the stomach, promote digestion and alleviate nausea. Ginger tea has a slight spicy and warming flavor
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that comes in a variety of flavors. It is made by fermeting sweetened tea with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). During fermentation, the SCOBY consumes the sugar and converts it into acids, vitamins, and a small amount of alcohol.
Kombucha may fall under the non-alcoholic category, but it still contains very little amout of alcohol due to the fermentation process. However, unlike alcoholic beverages, kombucha is non-intoxicating and it does not produce the same psychoactive effects with alcohol.
Of course we can't finish off this list without our favorite root drink. Kava is a plant that originated in the South Pacific Islands. It is renowned for its anxiolytic and sedative properties, which can aid in reducing stress, anxiety, and promoting relaxation and sleep. Made from the powdered roots of the kava plant, it is commonly prepared as a tea or drink. Nowadays, various forms of kava are available in the market, such as capsules, tinctures, extracts, and powders. However, we recommend using the traditional preparation method for an authentic experience.
Increasingly, kava has emerged as a healthier alternative to alcohol for individuals seeking relaxation, especially those who are looking for a drink that will be lighter on the liver compared to alcohol. While offering similar effects to alcohol, kava is completely devoid of alcohol content and lacks the deeply intoxicating properties which usually lead to impaired inhibition. You can still think clearly while relaxing on kava. It allows one to unwind and alleviate stress without experiencing intoxication. Furthermore, kava is non-addictive, making it unlikely to lead to cravings or dependence like alcohol. Importantly, kava is known for its minimal likelihood of causing hangovers the following day.
You may also mix kava with your favorite juices, milk or alcohol-free drinks to enhance the taste. We make a bunch of different kava cocktails from time to time to change things up at the office. Check out some recipes here
However, it is important to note that kava is not for everybody. There are certain group of people who we wouldn't recommend to take kava. They are the same groups who also shouldn't use coffee, alcohol, or medications, which is of course pregnant and breastfeeding woman. We don't recommend people with existing liver problems, people on certain medications and children who are below 18 years old to use kava either. You may check out our blog here for information on kava restrictions.
Alcohol alternatives are designed to mimic the taste and aroma of alcoholic drinks but are intentionally made to be non-intoxicating. While some alcohol alternatives may have ingredients that can provide mild relaxation or mood-enhancing effects, they are not intended to reproduce the same level of euphoria or intoxication as alcohol. If they are stated to give some sort of effect, it is usually pretty mild. Kava is the most potent non-alcoholic drink on this list and should be used with caution as it can impair your ability to drive.
While many alcohol alternatives are generally considered safe, it's important to recognize that not all alternatives are suitable for everyone. Several factors come into play, including allergies and sensitivities, medication interactions, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and personal health conditions. Certain individuals may have allergies or sensitivities to specific herbs, botanicals, or additives present in these beverages. Therefore, it is crucial to read the ingredient labels and be mindful of any potential allergens.
Moreover, some ingredients found in alcohol alternatives may not be appropriate for pregnant and lactating women. If you are currently taking medications, it is advisable to consult with your physician to ensure that there are no potential interactions between the medications and the ingredients in the alcohol alternatives.
By considering these factors and taking the necessary precautions, you can make informed decisions regarding the consumption of alcohol alternatives that are compatible with your specific circumstances and health needs.
In conclusion, while alcohol may provide temporary relief from problems and stress, its irresponsible consumption can result in negative consequences and risks. Long-term and excessive alcohol intake can lead to serious health issues, addiction, withdrawal symptoms, impaired cognitive function, and various social, financial, and physical problems. Consequently, many individuals are seeking healthier alternatives to alcohol.
Fortunately, there are numerous alcohol alternatives available in the market. These options include non-alcoholic beers and wines, mocktails, herbal teas, kombucha, kava, and other drinks or supplements designed to promote relaxation and stress relief. By exploring these alternatives, individuals can prioritize their well-being while enjoying a variety of flavors and experiences without the negative effects associated with alcohol.
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