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Alcohol and Health

Does Root Beer Make You Drunk?

May 27, 2024
17 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
May 27, 2024
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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.
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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.
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Reframe Content Team
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Clarifying the Components and Alcohol Content of Root Beer

  • The name root beer can be deceiving as most don’t contain alcohol, but some brands still make alcoholic root beer.
  • Most root beer today doesn’t contain alcohol and is considered a soft drink, but for hard root beer that does contain alcohol, the risks can be amplified.
  • Reframe can help us learn more about alcoholic and alcohol-related beverages so we can consume more mindfully! 

Is root beer, beer? If so, then why are root beer floats a popular kid-friendly dessert? If not, why can we find root beer in the alcohol aisle? Turns out, root beer has evolved significantly since it was created. Today, the recipe for root beer can vary widely and so can its alcohol content. 

Most root beers are produced as soft drinks, but some are alcoholic beverages. To determine if we can get drunk off root beer, we need to distinguish between the different types. Before we can do that, we should understand how root beer came to be and how it has developed over time. 

The Origins of Root Beer

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During the 19th century, early versions of root beer were crafted using roots, barks, leaves, and flowers of certain plants. Indigenous North Americans brewed medicinal root teas from plants such as sassafras, wintergreen, and sarsaparilla for their perceived healing properties.

In the 1840s, general stores started selling root beer for medicinal use. Over time, the native recipes were adapted to make low-alcoholic drinks known as “small beers.” Various iterations spread, and carbonation — a key feature of today’s root beer — was added at some point. By the late 1870s, a pharmacist named Charles Hire debuted the first commercial brand of root beer at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. Soon after, he was distributing it all over the country. 

Root beer continued to grow in popularity, but Prohibition prompted the creation of non-alcoholic versions. Companies also found that these versions were less expensive to produce, which shifted root beer into the soft drink category. In the 1960s, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) banned safrole, the compound found in sassafras that was believed to cause liver damage and certain cancers. Since then, beverage companies have adapted their recipes into what we know as root beer today. 

The ingredients in root beer can vary widely between different brands, but what are some common ones that give root beer its distinct taste?

What Is Root Beer Made Of?

Root beer is a soft drink that is made primarily from water, carbonation, sweetener, and caramel coloring. While original versions of root beer were made using different plants, there are other common flavorings found in modern root beer:

  • Vanilla
  • Caramel
  • Wintergreen
  • Black cherry bark
  • Licorice root
  • Sarsaparilla root
  • Nutmeg
  • Acacia
  • Anise
  • Cinnamon

Mass-produced root beers tend to stray further away from the original ingredients, whereas smaller producers stick to more traditional recipes. Root beer recipes vary widely, much like their predecessors, but do any of them still contain alcohol?

Does Root Beer Contain Alcohol?

Root beer that is commercially produced as a soft drink does not contain any alcohol. Despite its name, it contains 0% alcohol and will not make us drunk. However, it’s important to note that root beer can contain alcohol. 

Smaller companies that produce root beer similar to the ways it was in the past may produce low-alcohol versions of root beer. Since alcohol has to be clearly labeled in the U.S., root beer that contains alcohol will be clearly labeled as such.

In addition to traditional methods of brewing root beer, some companies have developed a “hard” root beer, which is intended to be an alcoholic beverage. Alcoholic versions of root beer can vary in alcohol by volume (ABV) but contain the same compounds found in all alcoholic beverages that can make us feel drunk. While there are different versions of root beer, the most popular one is the root beer soft drink. We’ve established that it doesn’t typically contain alcohol, but what about caffeine?

Does Root Beer Have Caffeine in It?

Root beer soda and alcoholic root beers are generally caffeine-free. However, ingredients can vary — making it important to check the specific beverage for caffeine content. Barq’s regular root beer, for example, does contain caffeine, while Mug and A&W do not. 

The FDA requires caffeine to be listed in the ingredients list but not the precise amount, so if we’re sensitive to caffeine, it’s helpful to check with the specific manufacturer if you need to know the amount. 

So, if most root beer doesn’t contain caffeine, isn’t made from roots, and doesn’t contain alcohol, why is it named root beer?

Why Is Root Beer Called Root Beer?

The original versions of root beer were made from roots and brewed in a manner similar to beer. The “root” part of its name comes from the tea made from sassafras and dandelion root. The “beer” comes from the fermentation process that produces beer. Over time, the ingredients and production process of root beer have evolved, but we didn’t bother changing the name. Today, the root beer we know is more of a soda, but the name “caramel-colored flavored soda” doesn’t exactly have the same ring.

For the root beers that do contain alcohol, does the name root beer fit? Let’s get to the root of alcoholic root beer and see how it compares to other alcoholic beverages.

Alcoholic Root Beer vs. Other Alcoholic Beverages

Alcoholic root beers range from about 5 to 8% alcohol by volume. This is similar to the ABV of other beers. Wines range from about 5 to 15% ABV and spirits range from roughly 35 to 45% ABV. 

Although most similar to beer, alcoholic root beer typically contains more sugar than beer. It's similar to flavored malt beverages such as hard lemonade or hard iced tea. Alcoholic root beers are typically in the lower ABV range in comparison to other alcoholic beverages. Does that mean it's better for us?

Comparing Alcohol Content of Root Beers and Other Alcoholic Beverages

Is Root Beer Good for You?

While we’ve determined that there are multiple versions of root beer, it’s only fair that we review their health effects separately. Let’s take a closer look at the three main options and how they can affect our health.

  • Commercial root beer soda. Despite the medicinal properties of traditional root beer, modern commercial root beer is nothing similar to the native version. Commercial root beer is made using artificial flavorings and contains a lot of sugar. A study found sugary soda consumption is linked to several key health conditions.
  • Craft root beer soda. Smaller companies may use higher quality ingredients such as natural vs. artificial flavors and cane sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup. However, excess consumption of soft drinks can still be detrimental to our health. 
  • Alcoholic root beer. Alcoholic root beer combines the negative effects of alcohol with the harmful effects of the sweeteners and additives that the drink contains. 

Although root beer was originally used as a medicinal tea, modern versions of root beer don’t have the same benefits. Let’s further examine the negative effects of alcoholic root beer.

Potential Dangers of Alcoholic Root Beer

Alcoholic root beers combine two beverages that can be harmful to our health — soft drinks and alcohol. Drinking alcoholic root beer can potentially lead to several consequences:

  • Increased alcohol consumption. High-sugar alcoholic beverages such as hard root beer can indirectly lead to increased alcohol consumption. The sweeteners and flavors in alcoholic root beer may mask the unpleasant taste of alcohol — removing bad taste as a deterrent to alcohol consumption.
  • Excess sugar consumption. Alcoholic root beers may sometimes contain even more sugar than their non-alcoholic counterparts to mask the flavor of the alcohol. This can easily lead to excessive sugar consumption. When paired with alcohol’s effects on our blood sugar and insulin response, it can be a recipe for disaster. 
  • Intoxication. Like all alcohol, alcoholic root beers can cause intoxication. Depending on individual factors and the amount of alcohol we consume, we may experience more mild, disorienting symptoms of intoxication to extremely dangerous symptoms that can lead to coma or even death. 
  • Long-term health effects. Excessive drinking is associated with many long-term health conditions including diabetes, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and more.

Alcoholic root beer may be lower in alcohol content than spirits. However, mindful consumption of any type of alcohol is beneficial to our health. Let's explore some ways we can practice this.

Responsible Consumption of Alcoholic Root Beer

Mindful drinking practices can be used for any alcoholic beverage (or anything, with a few tweaks). However, due to the specific contents of root beer, we can implement these specific practices to limit the negative effects. 

  • Determine ABV. Since root beers can vary widely, it's important to determine the amount of alcohol we are drinking. This can help us avoid excessive drinking and keep it at the forefront of our minds, increasing awareness. 
  • Track consumption. Alcohol consumption can sometimes turn into a habit that can lead to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Tracking our alcohol consumption can help us identify patterns and determine if we have concerns with our intake.
  • Manage sugar intake. Since alcoholic root beer frequently has high sugar content, and alcohol can also increase our blood sugar, managing and adjusting our sugar intake can help mitigate the effects of excessive sugar consumption. 
  • Maintain a balanced diet. A healthy, balanced diet can help our body replenish lost vitamins and nutrients and fight the toxins in alcohol. We aren't able to eat our way out of the harmful effects of alcohol, but these small steps can add up.
  • Exercise regularly. Staying active can help reduce the potential weight gain and increased blood sugar caused by drinking sugary soft drinks and alcohol. It can also reduce stress and improve our overall mental health. 
  • Quit/cut back on alcohol. Quitting or cutting back on alcohol helps eliminate or minimize the harmful substances we put in our body. We can prioritize our health by identifying alcohol-free alternatives and setting alcohol limits.

Not all root beer has alcohol, but these mindful drinking practices can help us prevent excessive consumption of either kind. Like the wise Irish poet Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Getting to the Root of It

Root beer, as we know it today, is a popular soft drink. Although the soda contains no alcohol, some root beer options do contain alcohol. While somewhat lower in alcohol than other alcoholic beverages such as spirits, alcoholic root beer can make us drunk and can cause negative effects. In fact, the combination of a soft drink and alcoholic beverage can heighten the negative health effects. Root beer can vary in its recipe and alcohol content, but mindful consumption can be beneficial regardless of the type of drink. Practice moderate consumption of all root beers to steer clear of severe issues.

Summary FAQs

1. Is root beer alcoholic?

Root beer that is produced commercially today does not contain alcohol. However, some companies produce an alcoholic version of the soft drink. 

2. Can root beer make me drunk?

Hard root beer that contains alcohol can cause intoxication. A soft drink that doesn’t contain alcohol will not cause intoxication despite its name.

3. Is root beer caffeine-free?

Most root beer is caffeine-free. However, this may depend on the brand.

4. How does alcoholic root beer compare to other alcoholic drinks?

Alcoholic root beer is most comparable to flavored malt beverages. It contains a similar alcohol content to beer but contains sweeteners and additives that beers don’t. 

5. Why is root beer called root beer if there’s no alcohol in it?

Root beer was traditionally brewed like beer and contained alcohol. 

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