As a Psychologist and a recovering alcoholic, clients with alcohol use disorder (AUD) sometimes ask me if mocktails are a good idea. The answer depends. Alcohol abuse is a severe problem in the United States. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism₁ (NIAAA) estimates that 14.5 million adults in the United States had alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2019. This is a significant public health concern that needs to be addressed.
What is a “Mocktail”?
Mocktails are non-alcoholic cocktails that use a combination of fruit juices, syrups, and other non-alcoholic ingredients to create a delicious and refreshing drink. Mocktails are a great way to enjoy all the flavors and presentation of a cocktail without alcohol. They often mimic the appearance of their alcoholic counterparts, making them a choice for people who do not drink alcohol, pregnant women, designated drivers, or individuals in recovery. They can also be a good choice for people who want to avoid the calories and sugar often found in alcoholic drinks.
As the popularity of mocktails continues to grow, marketers are offering a wider variety of non-alcoholic drink options, both in bars and restaurants and in retail stores. This trend is driven by consumer demand, as more and more people look for delicious mocktail options when they go out to eat or drink. Some marketers are targeting mocktails as a way to be a designated driver and still be able to enjoy a drink in social situations. In contrast, others promote them as a healthier alternative to alcoholic drinks. They emphasize that mocktails are low in calories, sugar, and alcohol so that they can be enjoyed without the adverse effects of alcohol.
“It’s wonderful for folks who don’t have an alcohol use disorder,” said Tim Brennan, chief of clinical services for the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai Health System. “For those who want to mitigate the negative effects of alcohol like headache, fatigue, morning sluggishness, a mild hangover, things like that, I think it’s great they now have options.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted global alcohol sales. As people turned to alcohol to deal with the stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic, alcohol sales increased in some countries. This was especially true in the US, where data indicates that during the first few months of the pandemic, alcohol sales rose by as much as 55%.₃ To curb alcohol consumption, the World Health Organization₂ has concluded there is no “safe amount” of alcohol to consume.
For Those With Alcohol Use Disorder, Do Not Drink Mocktails
Mocktails may not be a good decision for people with AUD because they can still trigger cravings for alcohol. Although they know that alcohol is bad for them, they may find it difficult to resist the temptation entirely. It can stimulate guilt, and ordering a mocktail can mean asking for something that friends or family may not understand, further isolating the individual. The lack of clarity around whether mocktails are safe during recovery can be daunting and unhelpful.
For someone in recovery from alcohol addiction, the taste, smell, and ritual of drinking a mixed drink can be very similar to sipping an alcoholic beverage, which can make it difficult for them to resist the urge to drink. Additionally, mocktails served in the same settings as alcoholic drinks, such as at bars or parties, can be a challenging environment for an alcoholic trying to avoid alcohol.
How Can DBT Skills Help?
Mocktails can provide a reprieve from the triggers and emotions that led to drinking in the first place. However, it’s important to note that avoidance or numbing of emotions can lead to more intense and prolonged suffering down the road. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) teaches us techniques and skills that help strengthen our ability to manage our emotions, tolerate distress, and improve our relationships with others. Studying these skills can improve our physical health, psychological well-being, work performance, conflict resolution skills, and decrease suicidal thinking. DBT skills can help people with AUD decide whether or not to drink mocktails by teaching them how to cope with their urges and emotions. Some specific DBT skills that may be useful in this situation include:
- Mindfulness: This skill involves being fully present in the moment and observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judgment. Mindfulness can help the person become more aware of their triggers and cravings for alcohol.
- Distress Tolerance: This skill involves learning to tolerate and manage difficult emotions and situations without worsening them. It can help the person resist the urge to drink when feeling stressed or upset.
- Emotion Regulation: This skill helps the person identify and change negative patterns of thinking and behavior that contribute to alcohol use.
- Interpersonal Effectiveness: This skill involves learning how to communicate effectively, set boundaries, and maintain self-respect in relationships. It can help the person to navigate social situations where alcohol is present without feeling pressured to drink.
Through DBT, individuals can learn skills that will help them to build self-esteem and regulate their emotions. This, in turn, reduces the need for alcohol to cope with negative emotions. DBT is a therapy that teaches skills and helps individuals understand the underlying causes of their addiction. It promotes change by working on negative thought patterns and behaviors.
It is important to note that recovery from alcohol addiction is a journey, and it is essential to have a support system in place, whether through therapy, support groups, or friends and family.
₁ (2023, January 4). No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health. World Health Organization. Retrieved January 19, 2023, from https://www.who.int/europe/
₂ (2022, March). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved January 19, 2023, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/
₃ Polakovic, G. (2020, April 15). Pandemic drives alcohol sales – and raises concerns about substance abuse. USC News. Retrieved January 24, 2023, from https://news.usc.edu/168549/