'Sober' drinks are popular: Why? Are they a good alcohol alternative? – USA TODAY

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From Dry January to Sober October, ditching alcohol continues to climb in popularity. With the trend not stopping anytime soon, products are hitting shelves marketed specifically to alcoholic drink ditchers.
But with ingredients like CBD, THC, nootropics and descriptions that boast mood-altering effects without alcohol, are these options really sobriety-friendly? Experts say there are a few things to consider.
“It really just depends on somebody’s definition of what sobriety means to them and how much they feel comfortable depending on the effects of these on their bodies and brains,” says Hilary Sheinbaum, author of “The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month.”
For example, if someone is sober from alcohol, Sheinbaum counts all these ingredients as qualifying. If someone’s definition also includes cutting out marijuana, some of these options wouldn’t be a fit.
It also depends what’s in the product itself to determine if these are true “sober alternatives.”
“Products containing cannabis such as CBD typically don’t produce intoxication, however they are psychoactive, so it is important to understand your personal reaction to these ingredients,” explains Dana Amaya, a registered dietitian at Lenox Hill Hospital. “Cannabis ingredients containing THC are intoxicating, can interact with medications and medical conditions and one should speak with a health care professional if concerned.”
‘Sober October’:Seven non-alcoholic cocktail recipes to try at home
Though a sober scale may be defined a bit differently by everyone, there is no question that these products are popular.
“People are looking for options that aren’t going to have the damaging effects of alcohol but still allow them to sit back, relax, have a beverage that is considered sophisticated or more adult-like than a soda or sparkling water,” Sheinbaum says. “It allows people to congregate and be social without the added pressure of imbibing.”
In addition to an increase in non-alcoholic versions of beer, wine and cocktails, a new category of alcohol alternative drinks like Cann, which describes itself as a lightly carbonated “social tonic” infused with CBD and THC, are gaining popularity. 
Celebs are taking notice too. There’s Katy Perry’s De Soi, which is described as a “non-alcoholic apéritif” with natural botanicals and adaptogens, and the Bella Hadid-backed Kin Euphorics, an “aperitif-style, mood-boosting spirit” with nootropics.
“This market has been booming,” Sheinbaum adds. “Younger generations are really driving this change… They still want to socialize, they still want to have fun, they still want to feel like they are part of the experience – it’s only going to go up from here.”
Health has also become more top-of-mind. 
Amaya increasingly sees consumers choosing alcohol alternative drinks over alcoholic beverages due to “mounting health and wellness concerns.”
“Consumers are also interested in avoiding the empty calories in alcohol, as well as ‘next day regrets’ often associated with alcoholic beverage consumption, resulting in reduced inhibition,” she adds. 
Though adaptogens and nootropics can boost calmness or elevate mood and thinking, they have not been shown to cause dependency like alcohol, Sheinbaum explains.
“You’re not going to wake up the next morning feeling hungover. You’re not going to be ‘drunk’ off of nootropics or adaptogens and making decisions that perhaps you wouldn’t make if you were not drinking.”
In terms of CBD, Dr. Jessica Shepherd, chief medical officer of online health information platform Verywell Health, says it has demonstrated some efficacy in various physical and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, neurologic disorders, such as seizures, and chronic pain issues.
Though popular, these drink options may not be a solution for everyone.
If you’re someone curious about sobriety to boost health or skip out on hangovers, Sheinbaum explains, this type of swap makes sense. If you’re someone who struggles with alcohol use disorder or struggles with mental health challenges like severe anxiety, these options are not a replacement for professional help. 
“Anybody who wants to try these beverages instead of alcohol, it’s definitely a plus, but it’s certainly also not a replacement for seeking help if that is something that somebody is struggling with,” Sheinbaum says.
People should also be cautious if they’re already on medication for something that’s been clinically diagnosed, Shepherd says.
“This is not a substitute to that,” she says. “Talk to your health care provider before stopping a medication and taking on something like this.”
Just as people have different reactions to alcohol, the same goes for other substances that may be in alternative products – so buyers need to be aware.
CBD, for example, doesn’t have much federal supervision. Like other supplements sold over-the-counter, very few are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This means it’s important for consumers to understand what they’re drinking and for companies to bring more transparency as more brands are expected to hit the market. 
“Go very slow initially until you understand your personal reaction to these ingredients,” Amaya suggests. 
Sheinbaum advises researching the ingredients in any product you’re interested in trying and consulting with your doctor, especially if you take medications or have a medical condition. 
Shepherd says it can help to keep realistic expectations when trying these products as well.
“If you are taking it for something, say anxiety, depression, stress relief – (it) may not alleviate all of those those types of feelings for a certain person,” she says, suggesting instead a more well-rounded approach with meditation or therapy instead of “putting all the onus on one product to get you the complete outcome.”
Forget ‘Dry January’:Alcohol-free beer, wine, cocktails are available year round and are gaining popularity
Alcohol, weed in moderation:What experts think of the ‘California Sober’ approach

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