NOTE: All articles are my opinion based on my research, experience in nutrition consulting, work in the field of substance abuse treatment, and my own recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction.
To say that Kombucha has become very popular in recent years is an understatement. You could consider it promoted to superfood status now. It occupies an entire refrigerated end cap at my Whole Foods. You can find it “on tap” at various stores and restaurants. Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. The variety of fruity and zesty flavors you find in Kombucha comes from a second fermentation when fruit and spices are added. Many people attribute great healing properties to Kombucha including boosting immune function, preventing cancer, improving digestion, and helping the liver.
As with any fermented beverage, it can contain trace amounts of alcohol. Trace amounts of alcohol are defined in the US as less than 0.5% by volume (1). In fact, in 2010, Whole Foods pulled all Kombucha from its shelves, including the popular GT’s brand, as it turned out that it contained more than “trace” amounts of alcohol (2). GT’s then rebranded their Kombucha by coming out with two separate lines. The original formulation has a black label and bottle top seal and it contains over the 0.5% alcohol. You must be 21 or older to purchase any of the flavors in this line. The other line, and all other Kombucha I’ve ever seen at Whole Foods and other grocery stores, contains less than the 0.5% requirement.
So if Kombucha might contain alcohol, even if it’s less than 0.5%, should recovering or recovered alcoholics drink it?
Like everything, it really depends on the person. Just like one diet, not everything works for every person.
My first instinct back when I first became aware of Kombucha (way before 2010) was absolutely not. Some think that even trace amounts of alcohol can trigger the body to crave more alcohol. So in my early stages of recovery, I abstained from things that “might” contain alcohol like Kombucha, alcohol containing mouthwash and baking extracts like vanilla extract. I didn’t cook with alcohol even though I knew that most if not all the alcohol is gone after cooking. Looking back at the Whole Foods incident, I was right not to drink it back then.
As I progressed in my recovery probably after the 10 year mark, my attitude somewhat changed. I rarely thought about drinking alcohol, it had become a non-issue for me. I think this passage sums it up best for me:
“And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality – safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.” (3)
As long as I do the things that keep me in fit spiritual condition like going to 12-step meetings, being of service to others, eating right, sleeping enough, exercising smart and managing stress, I feel bulletproof – safe and protected.
I learned that other things that I eat or drink also contained trace amounts of alcohol like vinegar (4) and even soda (5) (I don’t drink soda now but I sure did back then!). I slowly began using wine in recipes that called for it and baking with real vanilla extract on occasion. And guess what…nothing happened. I never chugged the bottle of vanilla extract or poured the entire bottle of wine into the sauce. I didn’t sneak down at night and polish off the remainder of the wine bottle. It just wasn’t an issue.
I decided to try Kombucha about 4 years ago since I was looking to add more probiotic-containing foods and drinks to my real food diet. I tried the GT Synergy Trilogy flavor – of course the under-21 version. And guess what happened again…nothing. Now, I probably drink a Kombucha or two every week. I even make my own sometimes. And I’ve never woken up the next morning wondering what I did the night before, I haven’t hidden Kombucha bottles all over the house so my husband doesn’t know how much Kombucha I’m drinking, or ever wanted more than one at any given time. I’ve never felt anything remotely akin to a buzz from Kombucha. It doesn’t make or hasn’t led me crave or want an alcoholic beverage, ever.
Let’s go back to answer my question, “Should recovering or recovered alcoholics drink kombucha?” The answer is yes for me but could be no for you. The decision is a very personal one. I suggest that if you attend 12-step meetings you discuss this decision with your Sponsor. I always recommend against drinking Kombucha for my clients in early recovery. I don’t bring a kombucha drink to any 12 step meetings. It just doesn’t feel right to me.
Do you drink Kombucha? Do you feel it’s appropriate for abstaining alcoholics to consume? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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- Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. 4th ed. New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001. 84-85. Print.