The Seriously Dark Side Of ‘Mocktails’ You Probably Never Thought Of Before

Photo: Getty Images
Why Non-Alcoholic Drinks & Mocktails Put Sobriety At Risk For Alcoholics In Recovery

It’s no secret that many American women, just like their masculine counterparts, enjoy sipping a cold one or two (or three), so the increasing popularity of trendy mocktails and non-alcoholic mixed drinks shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

From Rosé All Day — self-identified as "A top trending wine hashtag, #RoséAllDay has become a social media phenomenon with hundreds of thousands of rosé lovers sharing their excitement for the wine by posting pictures emulating a trendy, chic lifestyle" — to half marathons ending with beer and champagne, liquor companies have capitalized on female-identified alcohol consumers for decades.

And it seems their increasing efforts to target women in ad campaigns for alcoholic beverages has worked.

Unfortunately, this rise in the number of women drinking alcohol on a regular basis has led to not-so-rosy statistics related to alcoholism and sobriety.

Alcoholism among women in the U.S. increased by 83.7 percent between 2002 and 2013, according to a 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), compared data obtained over the course of two nationally representative surveys of U.S. adults who discussed their drinking habits in face-to-face interviews, the first held between April 2001 and June 2002, and the second between April 2012 and June 2013.

As reported by NPR, high-risk drinking (four or more drinks in a day on a weekly basis for women and five or more for men), rose by 29.9 percent overall.

When separated by gender, however, high-risk drinking among women rose around 58 percent.

RELATED: How Celebrities Like Wendy Williams & Lala Kent Are Making Recovery Less Isolating For People With Addictions

It’s no surprise, then, that from 1992 to 2007, the number of middle-aged women who checked into rehab for alcohol nearly tripled, as stated by Gabrielle Glaser in her book, Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink—And How They Can Regain Control.

So what happened when these women started sobering up?

"Mocktail" companies stepped in.

As someone who’s sober, I can appreciate options.

My go-to drinks include many favorite beverages for alcoholics — Diet Coke and coffee for life, along with La Croix (seriously, I crushed a 12-pack a day when I first put down the bottle).

There’s a fine line, however, between insipid club sodas with browning limes and a $15 mocktail (yes, that exists).

RELATED: What's A Functioning Alcoholic? How To Tell The Difference Between Having A Drinking Problem & Staying In Control

Capitalism relies on consumer trends, and when women stopped slapping down plastic for their artisanal quinoa vodka, companies like Curious Elixirs, SEEDLIP, and Mingle Mocktails started whipping up booze-free alternatives. The products range from $8.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle of mock mojitos to $36 for a 23.7-ounce liter bottle of “distilled non-alcoholic spirits”.

Friends, this is not a styrofoam cup of Folgers.

And it looks like the mocktail trend isn’t stopping anytime soon, even in restaurants.

In response, industry site Restaurant Business says, "bartenders are employing ... ingenuity and techniques to developing the low- and no-alcohol side of the menu."

Even Ocean Spray created a mocktails line, with options including Cranberry Peach Bellini, Cranberry Sangria and Tropical Citrus.

Back in 2017, the company issued a press release with the following quote from Clark Reinhard, VP of Global Innovation at Ocean Spray:

“It’s like a reward at the end of the day; something to savor and help you unwind!”

Minus the risk of a DUI, of course.

What’s the difference between Ocean Spray Mocktails and regular juice?

The flavors, which emulate traditional cocktails. That’s it.

RELATED: If You Do These 10 Things, You're Becoming An Alcoholic

So, what does this have to do with women? Aren’t sober men looking for booze alternatives while in recovery, too?

I’m going to dive a bit into feminist theory, so bear with me.

For me, feminism means autonomy; the phrase “my body, my choice” covers everything from my reproductive health to shaving my armpits (sometimes I’m in the mood for body hair, sometimes I’m not). I cherish my ability to choose, and that includes what I consume.

When I got sober, I realized that teetotaling goes beyond learning to face my demons — it also means not getting sucked into gendered, capitalistic expectations of what I should consume.

Now, thanks to Pinterest and wine glasses boasting “Mommy Juice,” it’s become socially acceptable to flaunt your functioning alcoholism.

And you can spend money on it, too!

Writer Claire Gillespie summarized the issue succinctly in her article, "Becoming Sober Made Me Realize How Problematic ‘Wine Mom’ Culture Really Is".

“Sobriety has also made me acutely aware of how screwed up the narrative specifically around mothers and drinking is,” Gillespie writes. “I’m the first person to hold my hands up and admit that I bought into that narrative for a long, long time. Like matching a man beer for beer was some kind of feminist statement ... Like a bottle of wine after I got the kids bathed and in bed was my rightful reward as a parent …

"That is, until I got sober, and I saw it for what it is: hugely problematic, potentially offensive, and dangerous for those moms who are genuinely struggling to keep it together and might not know how or where to get help.”

RELATED: No, Your Love Isn't Enough To Get Them To Stop Drinking

We all drink alcohol for different reasons.

For me, it was to escape the bone-rattling symptoms of agoraphobia. For a period in my life, I couldn’t go to the grocery store, take elevators, drive on the freeway or in the left lane without having a panic attack that left me wheezing in the fetal position.

I still can’t fly, but with a steady regimen of SSRIs and therapy, I’m getting there.

As is common for people with agoraphobia, I turned to the bottle to ease my symptoms.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 8 million Americans aged 18 and older suffer from both addiction and a mental health disorder (known as a co-occurring disorder), so I am far from alone.

For a few hours, whiskey would coax enough of the neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid to make me feel relatively normal. Once the drunken stupor wore off, though, I’d feel even worse.

I took my last drink on August 6, 2016.

I’d been wanting to dry out for a few years, and after the worst hangover of my life ensued on August 7, 2016, I knew I was done for good.

RELATED: A Public Apology To Anyone Hurt By An Alcoholic Like Me

Initially, getting sober meant finally grappling with the demons I was literally trying to drown.

For the first few weeks, sleep was elusive.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

I’d lie awake at night staring at the ceiling, choked with the fear that I’d stop breathing the second my eyes fell heavy. I started meditating, journaling, practicing yoga, and going to therapy twice per week. It was exhausting work — much harder than chugging glasses of wine from a box whenever I had a hard day — but ultimately, it got easier, and I slowly learned how to breathe again.

Once I could actually drive on the freeway and take full breaths like a properly functioning human, I realized my sobriety aligned with my core feminist values.

And let’s be real: I’m not going to let some advertising executives decide what’s best for me, my body, or my life.

The lack of hangovers started this journey, but my anti-capitalist approach to sobriety sustains my teetotaling.

Admittedly, part of my fear of drinking a booze-less replica is that I’ll end up craving the real thing; I’ve never understood how anyone can drink an O’Douls without tossing it mid-bottle and lunging for the nearest IPA.

More than anything, though, the thought of sipping on a beverage that aims to fill my booze-free void is, well, creepy.

Now that I’m abstinent from lady boozing, why would I find a $12 cranberry juice in a martini glass appealing?

I said goodbye to my party-girl image a long time ago, and I don’t need a beverage posing as something it’s not just for the sake of appearances.

RELATED: Bragging Online About How Much You Love To Drink Makes You Look Sad

The problem with the mocktails trend isn’t just the hefty price tag; it’s the signaling that sobriety is dull, or deviant from the norm.

When someone says, “It’s time for a drink,” you automatically think there’s booze in it, right? You can thank advertising for that.

Then there’s the capitalization of not just mocktails, but of being sober.

Take, for instance, Soberito, which sells shirts that boast, “100 percent sober, 200 percent fun.”

What’s the implication? That being sober normally isn’t fun.

This tee shirt is meant to remind everyone that just because you’re on the wagon, that doesn’t mean you forgot how to laugh.

It’s kind of like that friend who constantly feels the need to remind you they’re a good friend.

Chances are, they’re more of a lousy acquaintance.

People get sober for so many reasons; for me, I was done hiding from my emotions, and I no longer wanted my wallet (or my liver) to give into society's expectations of what I should consume based on my gender.

That being said, if a non-alcoholic cocktail gets you to bed sober one day at a time, drink up. As long as you’re not hurting yourself or someone else, I will never judge how you stay on the wagon.

It’s my personal decision to steer clear of mocktails because, as I see it, that "Mockapolitan" isn’t so far removed from an actual Cosmo.

RELATED: 103 Ways My Life Improved In 3 Years Without Alcohol

Bonnie Horgos is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis, who writes about feminism, LGBTQ issues, gender-based violence, health, and wellness. As someone who’s sober, she is particularly interested in the intersection of sobriety and feminism. Learn more on her website or follow her on Twitter @bonniehorgos.

YourTango may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through links featured in this article.