You might have seen the ads all over your Instagram feed during Dry January: the non-alcoholic alternative beverages that claim to give you a “buzz” without the hangover. They might also use phrases like “natural high,” or “take the edge off,” or “help you unwind.”
Despite the clever nuances in their messaging, they are all basically trying to say the same thing: “Our booze-free beverages can make you feel good, without the alcohol.” But is there any truth to this–and can their drinks give you the buzz without the booze?
Mindful drinking, or being “sober curious,” has spiked in popularity in recent years–with Gen Z driving much of the interest. A recent Gallup poll showed that alcohol consumption has decreased by 10 percent for adults ages 18 to 24 since 2001. And with the younger generations being more health-conscious than in the past, it is not surprising that they want to reduce their alcohol intake.
To accommodate these fairly new demands for alcohol alternatives, companies are working to not just offer the same old mocktails of years past. They want to give consumers an elevated experience, similar to the effects of drinking alcohol, using ingredients you wouldn’t normally associate with your cocktails.
Many of these companies have one ingredient in common that they claim is the secret to their “mood-altering” effects: adaptogens. These herbs, plant-based substances, or other herbal products, help to reduce stress, fatigue, and anxiety. Other products used by these non-alcoholic beverage makers include kava, cannabinoids, nootropics and others. Adaptogens, however, are the most popular.
Aplos, a non-alcoholic beverage company, describes their products as “functional, non-alcoholic spirits to help you unwind without the negative effects of alcohol.”
Recognizing a need in the beverage space for a non-alcoholic alternative that would still give the drinker a similar effect to alcohol, Aplos co-founders Emily Onkey and David Fudge worked with mixologist Lynnette Marrero to develop a solution for the sober-minded.
“David has always been a reluctant drinker. Onkey said to The Daily Beast that he drinks because of social pressure. “And he often thought, ‘I don’t really enjoy this. But I don’t want to feel weird or not fun.'”
“We made something that we would give you sort of this uplifting and energizing effect, so you’re at ease, but you kind of feel chatty and social.”
— Emily Onkey, Aplos
Eventually, they created and released their first product: Aplos Calme, a hemp-infused non-alcoholic beverage. Aplos Arise, a hemp-infused non-alcoholic beverage, was soon released. Both products will give the drinkers that buzz (without alcohol, of course).
“We wanted to make something that was more of a social lubricant [with Aplós Arise],” Onkey said. “When you walk into a room full of people you don’t know, a lot of times you make a beeline to the bar for an alcoholic drink just to take the edge off a little bit. So we made something that we would give you sort of this uplifting and energizing effect, so you’re at ease, but you kind of feel chatty and social.”
In Vino Sobrietas
Health and wellness company Apothekary offers non-alcoholic wine alternatives in addition to herbs and supplements to promote a healthy lifestyle. Shizu Okusa, the founder of Apothekary, is Japanese, and wanted to introduce Japanese health and wellness practices to the U.S..
Okusa told The Daily Beast that Americans have grown accustomed to “popping pills” and turning to alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis to relieve stress. In Asia, people tend to rely on herbal and plant medicines.
That’s the idea behind Apothekary, which also uses adaptogens in their products including Wine Down, a “red wine-inspired alcohol alternative tincture” with concentrated herbal extracts to help promote better sleep.
“Wine Down has more sedative herbs, which make you sleepy,” Okusa explained. “[This includes] California Poppy and Blue Vervain. Those are some of the key herbs in that formula that make you feel more sleepy.”
Both Aplos and Apothekary, along with the dozens of other companies working in this space, all make claims that their products can give consumers an “uplifting” effect similar to alcohol. But the question remains: Are their claims valid?
Natalie Klag, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University, told The Daily Beast that when alcohol is consumed there is an increased production of dopamine and serotonin. Both of these chemicals make you feel euphoric.
Adaptogens (and other ingredients used by these companies including cannabinoids and kava) do not increase production of dopamine or serotonin. However, they can still have an impact on making drinkers feel good by helping the body hold onto dopamine.
“Adaptogens stop the breakdown of the body’s natural dopamine and serotonin, causing increased availability for it to be active in the brain,” Klag explained.
Klag also said that other substances that are used in these non-alcoholic beverages, including kava and cannabinoids, allow for increased access to these chemicals, but they do not increase the amount that is being produced.
In short, while adaptogens do not increase production of serotonin and dopamine, they do stop the breakdown of these chemicals, allowing consumers to potentially “unwind.” Klag also explained that the substances that are being added to beverages to give a “buzzed” effect are always going to impact people differently.
“Their action will be determined by multiple factors, including the person’s body composition, but also other factors like what medications they may be on or what their baseline tolerance is for the effect in question,” Klag said.
Regardless, it looks like the non-alcoholic trend is not going away anytime soon. More and more companies are offering alcohol-free products. In fact, the non-alcoholic industry is expected to grow 25 percent in the coming years.
Health and wellness has become increasingly important for people, especially younger generations, and the market is responding to it. We can raise our glasses to the non-alcoholic alcohol alternatives on the market, regardless of whether they are successful for all consumers.
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