“Why aren’t you drinking?”

During the months I was trying to keep my depression a secret, there was one small thing that kept giving the game away. Was it the mood swings? No. Was it the headaches? No. Was it the lethargy? No again. It was non-alcoholic drinks.

It’s not that I’m a big drinker. After drunkenly embarrassing myself at a friend’s wedding several years ago, I decided I wasn’t very good at this drinking lark, and opted for a ‘quality rather than quantity’ policy. And fatherhood has also deterred me from pushing my limits, because having a hangover after a disrupted night’s sleep and an early start just doesn’t bear thinking about – especially when accompanied by the cacophony of sound that young children effortlessly generate. 

When you’re out meeting friends at a pub or restaurant, though, or if you’re going to a party, and everyone else is sharing a bottle of wine or buying a round of beers, they somehow notice if you don’t join them.

So, why this abstinence from alcohol? Well, when I started taking Citalopram, an antidepressant, two years ago, it said quite clearly on the label that alcohol should be avoided. When it comes to medical instructions, I am an obedient chap. I do what they tell me. I am no expert on medicine and its side effects, and I never fancy experimenting with a more rebellious stance. Other people who’ve taken Citalopram have told me it’s OK to drink alcohol in moderation, but those same tales have often ended with ‘but it might make your symptoms worse’ or ‘and then I passed out’. I have very understanding friends, but I can imagine that me passing out during a night out would put a dampener on the occasion. Even that might be preferable to one of my blacker moods being unleashed in a social setting. So the potential side effects, in combination with my low tolerance of alcohol, would suggest I’m better steering clear.

My teetotal nights out have served me quite well, in a way. Sometimes, when I’ve wanted to talk to a friend about depression, but found it too awkward or weird to just blurt it out, my alcohol-free drinks have given me a way to raise the subject in an informal and light-hearted way. There was one time when I was going to a party in another town, and my friend asked how I’d be getting there. I said I’d be driving. “Don’t you want to have a drink?” she asked. “I can’t at the moment,” I replied. “I’m taking some tablets for depression.” And we got talking, and I realised that discussing such things doesn’t have to be heavy-going.

Do I miss alcohol? Yes, sometimes. A glass of wine would go down a treat, as would a cold beer or a single malt whisky. I’m saving one of these as a treat for when I’m eventually liberated from Citalopram, but I am no longer setting myself unnecessary targets, because they only lead to disappointment and frustration. I’ve already aimed for a cool summer beer (last summer) and a celebratory Christmas tipple (last Christmas). Neither happened. I’ve come to accept my relationship with Citalopram and the completely alcohol-free lifestyle that comes with it, and know that rushing to try and reduce my dose will do me more harm than good.

What I have gained from not drinking alcohol is expertise in a new area – the unappetising-sounding world of alcohol-free beer. There’s a growing number of contenders in this niche market – but which should you go for? Here’s my rundown of the ones I’ve tried. Let me know your verdicts, or if you’ve found anything better – or worse!

Brook’s non-alcoholic beer review

Beck’s Blue: This is the king of non-alcoholic beers, and the one that is making its way into more and more pub fridges. It’s the closest I’ve tasted to ‘real’ beer. Admittedly it’s not as nice as its alcoholic twin, but that would be a tall order.

Kaliber: At the other end of the scale, this is the nastiest beer in this genre. It tastes of used dishwater and is so rank that I once paid for a bottle, took one sip, and bought something else. I NEVER waste a drink…

Sam Smith’s: Although I feel a certain loyalty to this Yorkshire brewery, I don’t feel inclined to stand up for their non-alcoholic lager. I tried it once. It vies with Kaliber for the crown of ‘Most rancid’.

Cobra: I love Cobra beer. Nothing goes better with a curry. But the alcohol-free equivalent is a big disappointment. It tastes of soap. I don’t know why; nor do I wish to know. I’ve given it a couple of chances, but it will not get another.

Bavaria: There are two Bavaria alcohol-free beers in my local supermarket. One, the wheat beer, is a runner up to Beck’s Blue. It’s a little on the gassy side, but tastes a bit like Hoegaarden, which is a good thing in my book, and is drinkable – although you probably wouldn’t want more than one can. The regular ‘malt’ alcohol-free lager is not so good. It’s inoffensive, and it’s cheap, but there are many nicer drinks you could spend your pennies on.

Bitburger Drive: Sounds like it should be nice, but it’s another disappointment. I’d rate it around the middle of the range – infinitely better than Kaliber but lagging behind Beck’s Blue.

Erdinger: I’ve only tried this once. I seem to think it was OK, and one of the few I would go back to.

And finally… Swedish cider-maker Kopparberg has entered the ‘alcohol-free versions of alcoholic drinks’ market with a couple of alcohol-free ciders – one pear and one mixed fruit. The pear one is deliciously crisp and light, fruity and tasty. A cynic might say ‘Alcohol-free cider? That’s apple juice isn’t it?’ And they might well have a point. But it tastes good. The mixed fruit offering is pleasant but not as good as the pear one. Stick to Vimto.


10 Comments on ““Why aren’t you drinking?””

  1. expatlogue says:

    Wise words from you on not mixing alcohol and medication. I did and ended up passing out in the street outside the pub. Cue ambulance and much fuss – none of it remembered by me. I was incredulous when told the next morning, as was the narrator of the tale when it became clear I wasn’t joking; I really couldn’t remember. I can’t remember (noticing a pattern here?) if I was on Prozac or Paroxetine at the time, but there’s a cautionary tale for you.

  2. trio25 says:

    I’m not drinking at the moment having just gone back on AD’s, mainly as I don’t think its a good idea when depressed. I have previously drank on Citalopram with no real issues, my Dr said fine in moderation. But I don’t drink a lot, at most two beers of glasses of wine. Finding it hard at the moment to find something to drink in pubs the odd time I venture in as I don’t do caffeine and a lot of lemonade is full of sweeteners these days.

    • paulbrook76 says:

      I find the options in most pubs pretty boring and after a lemonade or Coke I feel like my teeth might start dissolving! I always get a tiny bit excited when I see Beck’s Blue in the fridge…

  3. Fateha says:

    As ever, great post Paul! It’s reminded that I need to stock up on my Becks Blues 🙂

  4. Noch Noch says:

    haha it was slightly easier for me. i never drank before anyways
    and i never went out in the worst bits of my depression, so no one had chance to see me… at all…
    but good tips with the beer 🙂
    Noch Noch

  5. Thanks for the reviews. I drank on my antidepressants, but am now coming off them in preparation for (hopefully) getting pregnant, so this will be very useful! I’ve only had Kaliber before and it tasted like raw potatoes so I’m relieved to hear they’re not all that bad.

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