Alcoholic Cravings and Triggers

Recovering alcoholics avoid alcohol. The reason is simple; if you suffer from alcoholism, consuming one drink is nearly impossible, because it produces an almost immediate, uncontrollable craving. Once the craving kicks in, there is no predicting the behavior that will follow. Considering that premiss — is it safe for sober people to eat food cooked with alcohol?

The circumstance

A recovering alcoholic who mistakenly consumes alcohol, will be upset. They might think that they have relapsed, even though it was not their fault. Some folks might even use it as an excuse to justify a return to full-blown drinking. But, as long as the consumption was truly an accident, it is not a relapse. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to let your guard down; the taste of alcohol in food can be enough to trigger a craving that leads to a relapse.

How to avoid a trigger

Food that has been cooked for a long time, will still contain a small bit of alcohol. The amount of alcohol remaining after cooking is in the range of 4%-85%.  To reduce the risk of a craving, I suggest that

Refusing Drinks
Build your drink refusal skills with these tips.

people avoid alcohol no matter what form it comes in. Even the taste of alcohol can be enough to bring up drinking memories which can effect judgement. Use common sense, but if you are cooking for guests that are recovering alcoholics — let them know when food  contains alcohol. To be on the safe side, there are plenty of substitutes that can be used in cooking.

Non-alcoholic substitutes

  • Amaretto – Non-Alcoholic almond extract.
  • Anisette – Anise Italian soda syrup or fennel. Also use the herbs anise or fennel.
  • Beer or Ale – Chicken broth, beef broth, mushroom broth, white grape juice, or ginger ale.
  • Bourbon – non-alcoholic vanilla extract.
  • Brandy – Water, white grape juice, apple cider or apple juice, diluted peach or apricot syrups.
  • Champagne – Ginger ale, sparkling apple cider, sparkling cranberry juice, or sparkling white grape juice.
  • Coffee Liqueur – Chocolate extract mixed with instant coffee. Can also substitute espresso, non-alcoholic coffee extract, or coffee syrup.
  • Cognac – Juice from peaches, apricots, or pears.
  • Cointreau – Orange juice or frozen orange juice concentrate.
  • Creme de menthe – Spearmint extract or oil of spearmint diluted with a little water or grapefruit juice.
  • Grand Marnier or Orange-Flavored Liqueur – Unsweetened orange juice concentrate or orange juice.
  • Kahlua – Coffee or chocolate-flavored liqueur.
  • Kirsch – Syrup or juices from cherries, raspberries, boysenberries, currants, or cider.
  • Peppermint Schnapps – Non-alcoholic mint or peppermint extract, mint Italian soda syrup, or mint leaves.
  • Port Wine, Sweet Sherry, or Fruit-Flavored Liqueur) – Orange juice or apple juice.
  • Rum (light or dark) – Water, white grape juice, pineapple juice, apple juice or apple cider, or syrup flavored with almond extract.
  • Sake – Rice vinegar.
  • Sherry or Bourbon – Orange or pineapple juices, peach syrup, or non-alcoholic vanilla extract.
  • Southern Comfort – Peach flavored nectar combined with a small amount of cider vinegar.
  • Tequila – Cactus juice or nectar.
  • Triple Sec – Orange juice concentrate, orange juice, orange zest or orange marmalade.
  • Vermouth, Dry – White grape juice, white wine vinegar, or non-alcoholic white wine.
  • Vermouth, Sweet – Apple juice, grape juice, balsamic vinegar, non-alcoholic sweet wine, or water with lemon juice.
  • Whiskey – If a small amount is called for, it can be eliminated.
  • Vodka – White grape juice or apple cider combined with lime juice or use plain water in place of the vodka.Lightly Sweet Wine –
  • White grape juice combined with lemon juice.
  • Grappa – Grape juice.
  • Port Wine – Concord grape juice with some lime zest added, cranberry juice with some lemon juice added, or grape juice concentrate. Substitute orange juice or apple juice for lighter ports.
  • Red Wine – Red grape juice, cranberry juice, chicken broth, beef broth, vegetable broth, clam juice, fruit juices, flavored vinegar.
  • White Wine – Water, chicken broth, vegetable broth, white grape juice, ginger ale, white grape juice.
  • Sweet White Wine – White grape juice plus 1 tablespoons Karo corn syrup.
Non-alcoholic Beer and Wine

Non-alcoholic beverages do provide the familiar taste without enough alcohol to effect a change in mood.  However, 0.5 percent alcohol by volume or slightly less is present in these beers and wines. I have always had the opinion that only Non-Alcoholics should drink non-alcoholic beverages.  Keep in mind, this is a personal decision. In general, most people advise against it.

triggers cravings
Here is a worksheet – triggers, cravings and avoiding a relapse.

From the Betty Ford Organization:

I have spoken to many recovering alcoholics about their attitude toward these beverages and, with few exceptions, they state emphatically that drinking them would be a distinct compromise to the commitment to sobriety.  Others say that it would mean that “my mind is still on drinking.”  Still others suggest that they would “feel guilty and uncomfortable since the very taste of beer or wine opens up a past which is marked by remorse for me and pain to others.”  Some have told me that when they were served nonalcoholic wine it activated a craving for the “real stuff” that frightened them.  One said he “felt like I was on the slippery slope to relapse.”

More Examples Abound

Others slippery areas are mouthwash, cough medicine and even some herbal remedies. The short version: use your best judgement or even better ask a trusted friend, advisor or doctor.
Our 800RecoveryHub site offers free and confidential help

11 thoughts on “Alcoholic Cravings and Triggers

  1. Great article, as always! The triggers are elusive, often accidental and sometimes coincidental (that tempting grape juice “almost” tastes like wine!) Perhaps best to avoid any ingredients too closely associated with alcohol? I’m no expert, but I do have a rather-too-close relationship with downing the booze.


    1. Yes, vanilla and other extracts contain alcohol. You can purchase alcohol-free versions online. I have also see this product at Trader Joe’s. Another excellent option is vanilla paste.


  2. I use to know this amazing electrician and one day he invited me over for cookout, and I notice he was drinking but I had never seeing that type of beer. As curious fellow I ask him, with shame he explain that it was non-alcoholic beer, I said congratulation for staying sober, it hard. He smile, to this day his yet to touch another bottle.


  3. How informative is your site!!!…… bravo!/ I recently wrote a peace entitled ‘thievery of an alcoholic’…. interesting enough I was drowning in cheap vodka, a whole $6.57 worth when I wrote it…. it wasn’t until two days later that I was able to read it with an uncompromised sense….. it’s a devilish thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well thank you so kindly …. I like you even without the complement since I am a cheap vodka chugger myself. My favorite thing was to sleep with the bottle in my bed. It’s was so convenient. My toxicity level must have been quite high, since I have major memory gaps in the first month of sobriety. That was quite a while ago ….. Thank God!

      Liked by 1 person

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