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2020 was a year of establishing new routines (for better or worse) and high on that list for many of us was regularly overdoing it on alcohol. Between trying to cope with the stress and anxiety of everything the year brought, looking for a way to mark the end of a work-from-home day, and the sheer boredom of being sequestered within the same four walls with the same few people for months on end, there was no shortage of excuses to kick back with a cold one.
I, like many, found excitement in learning how to be an at-home bartender and solace in a reliable routine of a 5 o’clock cocktail with my partner.
As long as you have a healthy relationship with alcohol, doing this is totally fine: “For those who don’t have addiction issues, drinking alcohol in moderation can be safe and appropriate,” Dr. Abe Malkin, MD, board-certified family medicine and addiction medicine doctor and advisor for alcohol treatment program monument, told Insider.
But the catch here is “in moderation.” Drinking every day and/or knocking back upwards of two to three drinks begins to interfere with your body functioning in a healthy manner. So, if it feels like it’s time to reign in your drinking habits or cut them out altogether, having a tasty alcohol-free beverage is a great way to make sober nights easier and more exciting.
How mixers and mocktails can help you cut back on booze
Whether you’re looking to cut back on how many nights you drink, how many drinks you have a night, or looking to go fully sober, it’s helpful to have more in your fridge than just water.
“For many people, we like to have something to hold or do with our hands in a social situation and a drink that helps us relax and enjoy a social situation more,” said Marysa Cardwell, RDN, a nutrition therapist, and contributing dietitian to Lose It!.
Since making and consuming alcoholic drinks is an activity in itself, you need something to replace that action and reward. When I first started trying to keep a few nights of my week alcohol-free, I found the biggest roadblock was missing that end-of-day marker or celebratory feeling. On Friday nights, I wanted an activity that declared it was time to relax. Weekly Bachelorette night felt remiss without something to sip while FaceTiming girlfriends.
“There’s a perceived social connection and camaraderie that is associated with drinking alcohol-based drinks,” said Dr. Malkin. “However, this can be achieved by drinking non-alcoholic drinks as well, as simply the act of sharing a beverage regardless of alcohol content can be a social activity.”
And he’s right: Once I dove into the world of non-alcoholic celebratory drinks, it shifted how I felt about taking a night or two off from booze. I pivoted my quarantine habit of making fun cocktails to making fun mocktails (which actually became more satisfying to nail because, really, it’s a lot harder to make something drinkable without beloved flavors like bourbon).
I even introduced friends who were pregnant or who don’t drink for various reasons to my favorites, and now they love having a beer-looking bottle to sip fancy fizzy water out of on Zoom happy hours. It draws less attention to the fact that they don’t imbibe.
“Substituting non-alcoholic beverages can be a great way for someone who is sober to participate socially in festivities without slipping up and having an alcoholic drink,” Dr. Malkin confirmed.
How I compiled my favorite healthy sober mixers
The following list is comprised of a few separate categories: Non-alcoholic spirits that mimic favorites like gin, whiskey, vodka, and rum (spoiler: almost all are disappointing); pre-bottled zero-alcohol craft cocktails; aperitifs and digestifs that can be drunk over ice or used as a mixer in a mocktail (or cocktail); and beverages with adaptogens or botanicals that enhance your headspace in an alternative, natural way via plants and herbs.
It’s worth noting that any non-alcoholic spirit may be triggering for recovering alcoholics, and drinks made with adaptogens or nootropics may not be safe if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding (and it’s smart to consult with a doctor before consuming).
At the end of this guide, I’ve included insight into how I tested the mixers and mocktails, what to look for in a “healthy” mixer, and input from experts on when drinking becomes unhealthy and why it’s smart to try to drink less around the holidays.
Read on to see the best zero-alcohol spirits, cocktails, and sodas:
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