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Drinking Less

Alternatives To Drinking Alcohol: Exploring Life Beyond Booze

July 5, 2023
18 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 5, 2023
18 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 5, 2023
18 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 5, 2023
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 5, 2023
18 min read

Lots of sitcoms revolve around the characters meeting up for drinks — take the iconic Boston bar from Cheers, its modern New York counterpart in How I Met Your Mother, or the raunchy version from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There might be comedic gold in the crazy bar shenanigans, and trivia night is fun, but that doesn’t mean there are no other options for an entertaining Friday night than the local pub.

The truth is, magic and memories can be made beyond the confines of a hazy nightclub or row of beer taps. What are some great alcohol substitutes or alcohol alternatives? Travel with us through compelling alternatives to the age-old narrative of booze-fueled fun. Cheers to a world beyond the bar!

The Science of Habits

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The brain is an incredibly efficient organ that’s always on the lookout for potential ways to save energy. When we repeat a behavior consistently, our brains begin to process it with less and less conscious thought, transforming that behavior into a habit. This happens in a region of the brain known as the basal ganglia.

Three elements make up the habit loop:

  • Cue. This is the trigger that initiates the behavior. For instance, feeling stressed might be a cue for some to grab a drink.
  • Routine. This is the behavior itself. In this context, it could be the act of drinking.
  • Reward. After performing the behavior, we receive a neurological payoff in the form of dopamine — the brain’s “reward” chemical, responsible for pleasure-seeking behaviors and reward-driven learning. When our habits consistently stimulate dopamine release, they become even more ingrained. This is why alcohol — which triggers dopamine release — seems to provide temporary relief from stress and gives us a brief feeling of euphoria.

Over time, as this loop is continually reinforced, the habit becomes more ingrained. When it comes to alcohol, the association of drinking with fun makes the habit feel like a given simply because it’s reinforced by our own behaviors, as well as by society. But what if it’s simply one of many options? In other words, what if we could replace the habit of drinking to relax and let loose with something else that’s just as satisfying?

Setting the Neurological Stage

Knowing how habits form gives us the roadmap to alter or replace them. The key is to identify the cue and the reward, then find a different routine that delivers the same reward without the negatives associated with the old behavior.

Dopamine plays a pivotal role in this process. By consciously selecting alternative activities that trigger dopamine release in healthier ways — such as exercise, accomplishing tasks, or even enjoying good food — we can build up a reserve of alternatives to drinking.

Find Your “Why”

When setting out to find alternatives for alcohol cravings, it’s best to start with a bit of self-exploration. To find an activity that will do the trick, look for something that adds to your life in a meaningful way. Every story has its motive. What's yours? Are you looking for better health, stronger relationships, or improved mental well-being? Your “why” is the plot twist that changes everything! Science says when we attach a strong personal motive to a behavior change, we're more likely to stick with it. This is because your “why” directly stimulates your brain's reward system, releasing feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine, creating a sense of pleasure and reward.

Once you have identified your goal, it’s time to start exploring new activities. Who knows? You might find some new favorites!

The Brain-Boosters

Let's talk about some brain-boosting activities. While alcohol can do a number on your brain, the body is extremely resilient. By immersing yourself in brain-boosting activities, you're not just avoiding the negative effects of alcohol, you're actively elevating your cognitive potential.

There are plenty of ways to relax and feel good — all while boosting your brainpower! Here are a few favorites:

1. Practice Meditation and Mindfulness

Both of these practices are like a workout for our brain, helping to strengthen and build new neural connections. They also encourage relaxation and stress relief, replacing those "relaxing" benefits we often associate with alcohol.

2. Hone a New Language or Skill

Learning a new language exercises your brain while opening doors to understanding different cultures. Apps like Duolingo make this process fun and accessible.

Sign up for workshops, online courses, or lectures on topics you're unfamiliar with. The options are endless, ranging from astrophysics to zoonoses. Grappling with unfamiliar concepts and information can stimulate neural growth and connectivity.

3. Nature Walks With a Twist

While walking in nature is therapeutic, add an element of brain-boosting activity by turning it into a learning expedition. Identify plants, birds, or stars. Apps like iNaturalist can help you catalog and learn about various species.

Want to stay closer to home? Try gardening! Explore the science behind plant growth and watch your efforts turn into a beautiful garden in your backyard or on your windowsill. Tending to plants is not only rewarding, but it also has therapeutic benefits. “Horticultural therapy” reduces stress and improves mood by increasing levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness.

Alcohol-Free Fun

The Health-Enthusiast Route

The health benefits of reducing alcohol intake are numerous, ranging from lower blood pressure to reduced risk of certain cancers. But there are also more immediate ways to give your body a wellness boost.

4. Get Moving

Regular exercise releases endorphins, those lovely chemicals that make us feel happy and relaxed. Whether it's yoga, running, or dancing in the living room, physical activity is a fantastic substitute for the temporary high alcohol provides.

If swimming is your thing — even better! Water has incredible therapeutic properties. Beyond just swimming, explore activities such as aqua aerobics, cold water immersion (known for boosting immunity and mood), or even attend floatation tank sessions for deep relaxation and mindfulness.

5. Traditional Healing Arts

Delve into the world of traditional healing practices such as Ayurveda, acupuncture, or reflexology. Attend workshops or sessions to understand your body type, imbalances, and remedies. These holistic approaches look at health as an interplay of body, mind, and environment.

Adventure Seekers' Paradise

Why not replace that wine bottle with an adrenaline rush? Engaging in thrilling activities can trigger a dopamine release similar to the effects of alcohol.

6. Adventure Sports

Whether indoor or outdoor, rock climbing provides a physical and mental challenge that can quickly turn into a passion. If you're near the water, scuba diving can offer a whole new world to explore, and it’s a fantastic way to build new experiences.

Adventure sports not only give an adrenaline rush but also offer immense health benefits. Kayaking, whitewater rafting, or mountain biking can provide full-body workouts, increase endurance, and foster a deeper connection with nature.

Artsy and Eclectic Escapades

Engaging in artistic endeavors can not only provide a creative outlet but also boost your mood and lower stress levels.

7. Photography and Digital Art

The digital age brings with it a plethora of tools to create digital paintings, graphic designs, and animations. Software such as Adobe Creative Cloud or Procreate can help you bring your visions to virtual life.

On the other hand, with the ubiquity of digital photography, going old school with film can be a refreshing change. The process is mindful, and the results can be truly rewarding.

8. Music and Soundscapes

Explore digital music creation. Apps and software such as GarageBand or Ableton allow users to compose tunes, mix tracks, and create their own soundscapes.

9. Interactive Art

Attend or create interactive art installations, immersive theater experiences, or escape rooms for an engaging mix of art, story, and experience.

Plan trips or retreats specifically focused on art. For example, sign up for a pottery workshop in a remote village, visit art festivals, or explore the art and architecture of a historic city.

The Social Butterfly Approach

Just because you're giving up alcohol doesn't mean you have to give up socializing. In fact, you might even find your social interactions become more meaningful! Socializing without alcohol might seem daunting, but it can be incredibly enriching.

10. New Social Experiences

Switch your boozy brunch for a hike with friends, join a book club, or host a movie night. There are countless alcohol-free ways to socialize that can enhance relationships.

Why not meet up for a cup of joe instead of a pint? Exploring new coffee shops and trying different roasts can become an adventure that leads you to discover all sorts of wine alternatives and alcohol replacement drinks. Plus, coffee can provide a bit of a pick-me-up without the downsides of alcohol.

Remember that change takes time and patience. Don’t worry if you slip up now and then, and certainly don’t beat yourself up about it. Just take it one day at a time, keep trying new things, and before you know it, you'll be creating new memories that don’t need alcohol to be enjoyable.

Tips for the Journey

  • Start small. Small habits add up, and tiny changes lead to massive shifts over time. Begin by designating certain days as alcohol-free and gradually increase them.
  • Rediscover morning. Remember, evenings aren’t the only time to have fun. Challenge yourself to wake up early and explore sunrise activities, like morning hikes, sunrise yoga, or even a sunrise photography challenge. The world feels different at dawn, and without a hangover, you can truly appreciate it.
  • Find a buddy. Sharing the journey with a friend or family member can make it easier. You'll have someone to hold you accountable, share new experiences, and offer support during challenging moments.
  • Stay open-minded. As you explore alcohol alternatives, remember that not every activity or hobby will resonate with you. Be willing to try multiple options before finding what truly fits.
  • Prioritize self-care. Transitioning away from alcohol can be emotional. Prioritize self-care routines, whether those include meditation, spa days, or simply spending time in nature.

  • Stay positive. There may be moments when you slip back into old habits. Instead of being hard on yourself, use these as learning experiences. Stay positive, and remember the reasons you started this journey.

A New Story

In a world awash with clinking glasses and celebratory toasts, there's more to socializing and relaxation than the familiar fizz and burn of alcohol. Stepping outside the liquor spotlight, there’s a vast and vibrant world of experiences waiting to be explored. Whether you're seeking better health, deeper connections, or simply a change of pace, there's a fresh chapter waiting for you, no bottle required.

Every activity you undertake is an opportunity to weave a new storyline — one that doesn't rely on the crutch of alcohol. So get out there, try new things, and start creating your healthier, happier narrative. Now, that's a show worth binge watching!

Summary FAQ

1. How can I find satisfying alternatives to drinking alcohol?

Look for activities that align with your personal "why" or motive, whether that's health, relationships, or mental well-being. Science shows that strong personal motives for behavior change, when tied to activities, increase the likelihood of them becoming new habits.

2. What is neuroplasticity and how can it help in changing habits?

Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to reorganize and form new neural connections throughout life. By understanding how it works, people can consciously select alternative activities that give similar dopamine rewards, enabling them to replace old habits with healthier behaviors.

3. What are some brain-boosting activities to consider as alternatives to drinking?

Activities such as meditation, mindfulness, puzzles, board games, learning a new language, attending workshops, and nature walks with an educational twist can serve as excellent alternatives that also enhance cognitive abilities.

4. How can I maintain a social life without alcohol?

Embrace new social experiences, such as hiking with friends, joining book clubs, exploring coffee culture, hosting themed dinners, or volunteering. These activities not only replace the role of alcohol but can also lead to deeper and more meaningful connections.

5. What are some tips to help transition away from alcohol and explore these alternatives?

Start with small habit changes, rediscover morning activities, find a buddy for accountability, remain open-minded to various activities, prioritize self-care, and always stay positive, even if you occasionally revert to old habits.

Ready To Explore Life Beyond Alcohol?

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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