Nonalcoholic and alcohol-free beverages can seem like a good option for recovering alcoholics to turn to, but the dangers of relapse are much greater than the benefits. Your favorite NA beer or “mocktail” might seem like it helps curb your craving, but it is really hurting your recovery. Research has consistently shown that NA drinks can actually act as a trigger for relapse, and recovering alcoholics can associate the same attitudes and behaviors drinking nonalcoholic beverages as they do to drinking the real stuff.
The smell and consistency of a NA beer is enough to bring memories of drinking back to a recovering alcoholic. The anticipation of the good feelings we get from alcohol are enough to affect your brain chemistry. The taste of the drink can also cause a placebo effect of a buzz from drinking based on the memory of that feeling. Drinking a NA beverage could be enough to take a person back to a time before recovery, when alcohol controlled life choices, and cause enough craving to spark a relapse.
A laboratory study done by California researchers found that even the smell of beer can cause pleasurable sensations. In their experiment, rats were given alcohol or quinine (a bitter substance) when they smelled either banana or orange. When they smelled banana they were given alcohol. When they smelled orange they were given the quinine. The results showed an increase of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that plays a role in the feelings of pleasure and elation, in the rat’s brain when they smelled banana. The anticipation of receiving alcohol was enough to cause the dopamine spike.
Alcohol Affects Your DNA
Another study done by Rutgers University and Yale University found that heavy drinking or binge drinking can even affect your DNA to the point that you crave alcohol on the genetic level. Participants in this study were found to have two genes affected in their bodies; the gene that regulates the body’s stress response and the one that controls your biological clock. With these genes affected, the target group of heavy and binge drinkers reported even being able to smell and taste beer when simply shown a picture of one.
The dependence created by alcohol is being further understood and researched. These new finding show that alcohol can alter your DNA and create triggers in your brain that lead to cravings. Although a nonalcoholic drink might seem harmless, the way your body and brain react to the cues or memories of drinking alcohol could lead to a desire for the real thing and end in relapse.
If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol addiction and need advice on next steps, call Rock Recovery Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. You can call our 24-hour help line or chat live with us now.