For one reason or another, you’re looking for alternatives to alcohol. An alcohol substitute that, perhaps, can bring some of the same benefits in terms of sedation, euphoria, or anxiety relief.
While there’s no perfect match, nothing that precisely mimics the effects of alcohol, there are so many great alternatives, some of which I actually prefer to the hooch (and I like my scotch).
If you’re looking for a list of alcohol alternatives, look no further: this list will provide. Before we dive in, though, let’s cover why you might want to seek alcohol alternatives in the first place.
Why Seek Alternatives to Alcohol?
Drinking alcohol comes with many great benefits and so many potentially terrifying side effects. Obviously, alcoholism is a major concern; you can become dependent on alcohol, which can be absolutely devastating to your health, finances, relationships, and life in general.
That’s the extreme end of things, but it’s not uncommon; one study claims one in eight American adults is an alcoholic. If you have substance abuse problems, please consult a professional and look into addiction treatment; this article is not a substitute for that, this is a fun article positioned at those seeking whimsically to try other things than alcohol.
Even if you’re not an alcoholic, though, alcoholic drinks have a ton of downsides. How about the obvious one? The hangover. Hangovers suck. Everyone hates hangovers. Alcohol abuse can happen without being a full blown alcoholic, and it mostly ends up with a fat, painful hangover.
Scientists don’t even fully understand alcohol hangovers, either. We do know there are some contributing mechanisms (some evidence points to acetaldehyde build up, cytokine response and inflammation, and dehydration), but regardless of how many hangover prevention supplements or hangover cures enter the market, you and I both know that hangovers, to a certain degree, are an inevitable cost to drinking booze.
Beyond the hangover, alcohol consumption, even when not done to the extreme where you may black out and do dangerous things, often results in embarrassing behavior. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, so you may wake up regretting things you’ve said or done.
Health concerns from alcohol use range from liver damage to obesity to damaging effects on the brain. Overall, the window of health benefits of alcohol is exceedingly small, that whole two glasses of red wine a night thing (and may actually have more to do with correlative behaviors, such as a robust social life).
All that is to say, while alcohol can be an awesome and fun time, there are massive downsides to account for.
That leads the savvy among us to seek alternatives to alcohol, where we can still imbibe and enjoy social interactions and increased relaxation, but without the extreme side effects.
(Side note: if you have alcohol dependency, I would not advise taking this article as anything resembling medical advice or advice at all. You need to consult a doctor, not a darn internet listicle).
What Makes a Good Alcohol Alternative?
A good alcohol alternative needs to mimic at least one of the positive effects of alcohol, which typically are described as such:
- Lowers stress
- Lowers inhibitions
- Helps unwind and possibly get to sleep
- Aids social interaction
A good alcohol alternative also needs to avoid common side effects or dangers or alcohol:
- Less hangover effect
- Low or no risk of physical dependency
- Lower general risk to health and wellbeing
- Greater behavioral control and memory retention
These alcohol alternatives should also be relatively easy to make or procure. Without further ado, here are 10 alternatives to alcohol to try.
10 Great Alcohol Alternatives to Try
- Kava kava
- Hawthorn Tea
- Red Bull
1. Kava kava
Kava is my favorite alcohol alternative. It’s a plant root that people grind up and make into tea, and it has a long tradition used religiously, recreationally, medically, and for health benefits.
Not only does it boast an array of positive benefits that sharply mimic alcohol’s finer benefits, but for the vast majority of people, it does so quite safely.
While there are cases that seem to link kava kava with liver damage, it’s quite rare and the causal connection hasn’t been well defined. In fact, what seems to be the main danger is when you mix kava with other substances. So absolutely do not mix kava and alcohol. No bueno.
In any case, if you’re comfortable with the risk and safety, kava kava users rave about its benefits:
- Helps manage anxiety
- Increases subjective well-being
- Lowers aggression
- Potentially increases cognition in certain circumstances
- Enhances sleep quality
- Possible helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels
- Lowers stress
- Relieves muscle soreness
As for myself, I can say with confidence that kava is a great social lubricant, which is typically what I have used alcohol for.
Kratom is actually recognized as an opium substitute that farmers used when opium supplies dwindled. It was introduced to the west in the 1830s by the British East India Company.
Some doctors believe components of kratom attach themselves to the same parts of the nerve cell as opioid painkillers and create a similar effect in your brain. They warn that kratom can have dangerous side effects, as well as potentially being addictive.
So there’s clearly some risk with this one, and scientists are still studying it (in addition, it’s banned in several countries and US states). Take this one with caution and after doing your own research.
If the risk profile seems fine to you, users of kratom love it for these benefits:
- Low doses seem to act as a stimulant
- Higher doses seem to act as a sedative
- Can decrease appetite
- Can relieve anxiety and stress
- Can act as social lubricant and lower social anxiety
I’ve taken kratom a couple times and can say that it was quite enjoyable but I didn’t love it. It made me a bit more sociable and actually seemed to relieve muscle pain and soreness, but I don’t feel the urge to take it again soon.
One of my favorite places in the world to travel is eastern Europe. Most of the time, I’m drinking vodka or good craft beer while there (Estonia has a great craft beer scene), but I also drink a lot of kvass.
Kvass is a fermented Slavic and Baltic beverage that is usually made from black bread (rye bread). This results in a sweet, caramely, dark-colored beverage that is absolutely delightful to drink.
4. Hawthorn Tea / Crataegus
Hawthorn is a plant, and its berries, leaves, and flowers are used to make medicine, or in our case, tea.
The plant is respected for its use in alleviating heart, digestive, and kidney issues.
As for the tea, it’s quite tasty when mixed with some ice, mint, and lime. You can make some sick mocktails with this.
The tea, which is made from the berries, dilates blood vessels to the brain, heart, and other parts of the body. This, in turn, gives you a bit of a loopy feeling, a bit of euphoria. This is one of the more popular recent alcohol alternatives. I really enjoy it and it seems to be relatively safe and low risk.
You’ve certainly heard of kombucha, especially if you run in the bearded Austin hipster circles I do.
What exactly is kombucha? At its simplest, it’s just fermented tea. You can brew it yourself, or you can buy it at any grocery store or most bars in the country. It’s ubiquitous at this point (and quite healthy for the gut!).
Careful on this one; if you’re trying to fully eliminate alcohol from your life, kombucha can have trace amounts.
While I like to sip on kombucha between drinks at the bar or while relaxing at home on a Sunday, it’s less of an alcohol alternative for me and more of just a normal drink. It doesn’t have any euphoric effects, so you’re not going to feel drunk on this stuff (I guess unless you drink a gallon of it or whatever).
Linden tea is another alcohol alternative that has medicinal properties and a sedative effect. Made from linden flowers, this drink is said to help assuage anxiety and aid sleep. Additionally, it’s free of calories and sugar and some say the drink also helps with these conditions:
- Cardiovascular problems
- Cold and flu symptoms
- Tense muscles
- High blood pressure
- Excessive sweating/perspiration
It’s not as well studied, but anecdotally I’d say this is a good relaxation agent. I like to drink this tea before bed to help me relax after a hard day of work. It’s not going to make you euphoric or high like kava, kratom, or other alcohol alternatives might, but it’s a nice relaxer.
There might be more hype on CBD oil than anything I can remember. It’s in everything now – coffee, lotion, shampoo, chocolate, tea, and even alcohol itself. It’s supposed to have tons of health benefits – the claims are clearly hyperbolic, ranging from anxiety to pretty much everything else that can possibly go wrong in the human body.
It is well researched, though, and has very few if any downsides or side effects (at least known now). It’s well tolerated, you can give it to your dogs to calm down, and most users at least report anecdotal effects of relaxation, stress relief, and muscle/pain relief.
I take it nightly. I drink Dram CBD soda. It’s awesome. Even if it doesn’t do anything for me, I like the taste. Also, I track my sleep with Oura ring, and I’m finding a correlation with my deep sleep and CBD consumptions. Sample size of 1, but kind of cool.
L-Theanine is an amino acid found in tea (particularly green tea, and especially the matcha variety). When combined with caffeine, it has a potentiating effect but also a blunting effect. It seems to highlight the ‘focus’ benefits of caffeine while blunting the jitters and anxiety-inducing effects of caffeine.
You can also use it by itself for relaxation and sleep (lots of studies on that), but I love to either mix it with coffee or just drink it naturally in matcha tea.
Main effects studied with l-theanine have been anxiety-reduction and sleep, and it seems to work well for both of these. Low to no downside, so I think it’s safe to give this one a try.
Kanna is a plant native to Southern Africa. It’s mainly used for its mood-enhancing and euphoria-inducing effects. Vice calls it nature’s MDMA.
It has been used in rituals and healing ceremonies for centuries. As with many alternatives to alcohol on this list, there can be downsides, so talk to a professional before trying this one. Also, it’s not incredibly well-studied, but it does appear to be as safe or safer than alcohol consumption at least.
10. Red Bull
Finally, my absolute favorite alcohol alternative: good old Red Bull (sugar free, please).
When I go out with friends and don’t want to drink, I usually just have a Red Bull or two. The caffeine and whatever other god forsaken chemicals they put in those drinks definitely kick up my energy and give me a bit of euphoria and social stamina. I’ve done dozens of nights out with just Red Bull. Next morning sucks still, but at least you’re not hungover (just tired), and you can still have a ton of fun on a night out.
Love this stuff.
Warning: Watch Out for BS Commercial “Alcohol Alternatives”
There are so many natural alcohol alternatives, and I won’t posit there will be no newcomers, but be very careful. Because of the rise in the ‘sober curious’ trend, there have been dozens of products launched claiming to rival the euphoria of alcohol (without, of course, alcohol itself).
Typically, these are wildly overpriced and basically contain a bunch of B vitamins and perhaps some caffeine and theanine (both of which on their own are super cheap). They have great branding and packaging, but they’re really just marketing innovations that will pull you from your hard earned cash. There are some cool mocktail brands coming out, but most are just drastically overpriced sugar + vitamin mixes (your good old carbonated powerade).
Stick to the basics. Kava is cheap, kratom is cheap, l-theanine is so affordable it’s laughable. These all work better than whatever beautifully branded DTC startup is trying to sell.
Alcohol can be fun and awesome, but it can also be a nag, or worse, a life destroying substance. Sucks that the outcomes range so much, but what’s great is we have dozens of alcohol alternatives. Some rival the social lubrication effect of alcohol. Some induce euphoria. Some just help you relax.
Of course, they too have varying safety and risk levels, but you’re an adult so you should research what you put in your body thoroughly before doing so. Use this article as inspiration or ideas, but do further research before trying anything here.
Also, I still love a glass of wine, but every once in a while I try out some healthy alternatives. One thing I won’t do is order non-alcoholic beers though. Non-alcoholic drinks, in general, cool. But beer? Still seems too weird to me.