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The best non-alcoholic adaptogen drinks for the sober curious

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Breaking news: alcohol consumption isn’t that great for you. And the number of sober curious revellers is growing — myself included.

When drinking alcohol, you may be looking at crippling hangovers, decimated bank balances and ‘beer fear’ — anxiety about what happened the night before. Long term, the health picture can be even bleaker. One recent study found that women who reported a high alcohol intake had a 45% higher risk of heart disease compared to women reporting a moderate intake. Another found that, alongside diabetes and air pollution, alcohol is one of the more harmful risk factors for faster aging of the brain.

While reading The Sober Curious Reset by Ruby Warrington, one quote really stuck with me: “Common wisdom is that alcohol is a necessary component to a successful, adult, social life, that the biggest drinkers have to most fun, and that the hangovers are always worth it for the highs. When for most of us … the story is far more complicated.”

Perhaps this is why, according to Dazed, messy nights out on the town are ‘on the brink of extinction’. Gen Z appear to be leading the charge in swapping out boozy bar crawls for more experience-led activities, but where does that leave those of us who grew up surrounded by merrily clinking glasses of social lubricant?

hand pours a apoptogenic mocktail into two glasses
Best adaptogenic drinks for sober curious socialising
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Throughout my 100-day sober endeavour, I found that lack of options frustrating. There’s only so many fizzy drinks I can knock back before starting to feel a bit sick. I was over the sweetness and craved something with a bit of bite.

A burgeoning alcohol-free drinks industry is beginning to whisper words such as ‘adaptogens’ and ‘nootropics’ into the ears of sober curious individuals looking for an alcohol replacement that still offers a bit of a buzz.





“Adaptogens come from specific herbs, mushrooms and plants (many of which are not commonly found in a standard UK diet) whereas we can find vitamins and minerals to varying levels in many food sources,” says Jo Foster, nutritional therapist and founder of Heal and Bloom. “Adaptogens can be helpful to build resilience to life’s stressors and support the nervous system. There are a range of herbs, plants and mushrooms that come under the adaptogen banner and they are best used in a specific and targeted way.”

Guided by The Sober Curious Reset, I’m on track to reach my 100-day sober mark (not that I’m counting) to see how it impacts my general health and wellbeing. However, I’ve found myself yearning for something other than sugary soft drinks to clutch on nights out while trying not to gaze too longingly at my friends’ dirty martinis (with extra olives).

It’s important to note that simply replacing the buzz of booze with the buzz of something else doesn’t address why so many of us feel we need some sort of ‘enhancement’ on a night out. The toxicity of the UK’s drinking culture runs deep — the real question is, why does it seem like a challenge to socialise or unwind sober?

No quick fix

“My worry is that people are seeking out adaptogen products as a ‘quick fix’ for feeling overwhelmed, anxious, unable to sleep or for an energy fix,” adds Jo. “Making changes to diet, lifestyle and sleep would be more beneficial in the longer term and address the root cause of why they are feeling that way.”





That being said, avoiding booze feels much easier knowing I can reach for a ‘grown up’ alcohol alternative. I want something with complex flavours and soothing sensations that can’t be found for £1.20 in my local newsagent or on the drinks table at a four-year-old’s birthday party and is, ideally, served in a pretty glass with a fancy garnish.

Thankfully, there are a number of companies that have delved into the science books to create alcohol alternatives that can provide a bit of a kick, courtesy of carefully selected, very much legal plants. Here are a few of my favourite sober curious discoveries.

Read more: How are booze-free drinks actually made? We ask the experts
Sober curious beverages: Three Spirit
Sober curious beverages: Three Spirit
Livener, Three Spirit

How does it taste?

It’s fruity without being too sweet — perfect for blending with soda or tonic water. Intense flavour comes from antioxidant-dense watermelon, green tea, ginseng, hibiscus and ginger.

 

What are the active ingredients?

Spirit’s Livener elixir uses guayusa, guava leaf and schisandra berries to create a mood-enhancing effect. This non-alcoholic and vegan tipple uses high-quality and ethically sourced ingredients. Schisandra berries were one of the first-documented adaptogens, offering energy and balance, while guayusa provides a slow release of clean caffeine and mood-elevating chlorogenic acid.

 

How does it feel?

After two Livener and tonics, I felt a mild giddiness similar to arriving at the wedding of a loved one and spotting old friends sitting in the sunshine. Perfect for supporting my sober curious adventure. While it doesn’t provide the same effects as alcohol, it definitely doesn’t do nothing. I was energised and ready to don a fun outfit, go out and do something exciting.

£24.99 for 16.9fl oz 

Sober curious beverages: Sentia
Sober curious beverages: Sentia
Sentia Red, Sentia Spirits

How does it taste?

Bursting with tart fruits and florals, Sentia Red features blackberry, rose flower, hawthorn berry and agave syrup — liquorice and rhodiola root balance out the sweetness with peppery overtones. A blend of herbs including ashwagandha root, magnolia bark and damiana leaf ground this wonderfully complex flavour. Tastes great neat but also works well with tonic water or as the base in a passionfruit martini.

 

What are the active ingredients?

Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a naturally occurring substance in the brain that produces a calming effect in humans. GABA inhibits certain brain signals and decreases activity in your nervous system, reducing feelings of anxiety, stress and fear.

 

How does it feel?

After a couple of Sentia Red and tonics, I felt that warm, hazy sensation of relaxing in good company on a cosy winter evening, where lights get a little more twinkly and there’s an open fire crackling away somewhere. I was relaxed and soothed.

£29.50 for 50cl 

Read more: Top tipples and non-alcoholic drinks to serve or gift this season
Sober curious beverages: Mycologic Mind Flow Drops
Sober curious beverages: Mycologic Mind Flow Drops
Mind Flow Drops, Mycologic

How does it taste?

On its own, it’s tangy with an undercurrent of berries — I prefer to add it to a soda or tonic water. The hand dropper tool has measurements to help keep track, and the droplet format means this elixir can be added to soft drinks with ease.

 

What are the active ingredients?

Made using organic lion’s mane mushroom, organic ariona berries and ashwagandha root cuts, Mycologic’s Mind Flow Drops offer a splash of fog-busting magic for those looking to boost brain function. Mycologic use a dual extraction process for the fruiting bodies of lion’s mane to ensure the mushroom’s core qualities are densely packed into the formula. Lion’s mane is said to feature anti-inflammatory compounds and can stimulate nerve growth factors, which contribute to enhanced cognitive performance. Ashwagandha reportedly offers users a sense of clarity, while the aronia berry is a superfood loaded with antioxidants.

 

How does it feel?

Offering a slow burn, these drops are great for boosting focus and clarity. Up to 2ml can be consumed a day, as and when required. After a week of using the drops, I more frequently found myself in that juicy flow state you sometimes get during a good yoga class or while reading a particularly gripping novel. I added them to soft drinks while having dinner with friends, and it became easier to shake the brain fog and follow the thread of everyone’s conversations.

£34.99 for 50ml

Read more: Freeze your beans & shake your pods: how to make the perfect coffee at home

Sober curious beverages: OTO CBD Cocktail Bitters
Sober curious beverages: OTO CBD Cocktail Bitters
CBD Cocktail Bitters, OTO

How does it taste?

A pleasant blend of sweet, earthy and zingy, the taste is subtle but delicious — I added it to a plain tonic water, but I can see its citrusy flavour working as an addition to almost any beverage. A bonus is the format — it can be tucked into your handbag and used to subtly enhance your soft drinks on a night out.

 

What are the active ingredients?

CBD, now widely available in numerous non-illegal formats, is known for its soothing effects. The OTO CBD Bitters also contain lemongrass to help serotonin release, cacao for its anti-inflammatory properties, and liquorice, which can function as an antiviral and antimicrobial.

 

How does it feel?

I felt laid back — the sensation of a Sunday morning with no plans other than relaxing on the sofa and maybe going on a dog walk, but probably not. Though I sampled this one at home, I can see how it would aid in the drinking ritual while out with friends, without actually ordering alcohol.

£69 for 75ml

 

The hard truth to face is that there’s nothing quite like alcohol, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing. These products can absolutely offer a soothing effect without the negatives of heavy boozing. They also provide flexibility if you’re merely opting for Warrington’s sober curious approach — if total sobriety seems daunting, you can opt for a single glass of wine (rather than three… or four) then follow up with these tasty alternatives to keep the evening from spiralling into bedlam.

And while things may be slowly changing, the UK drinking culture is not going to disappear overnight — no matter how much we may wish we could replace the traditional office drinks with a cute spa day. Having ‘grown-up’, alcohol-free options, some of which can fit into your make-up bag, might just bridge the gap, allowing you to not only attend, but actually enjoy nights out as the only sober person.

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