Tim Hortons has announced it’s introducing non-alcoholic menu items flavoured with Irish cream liqueur, which is drawing mixed reaction from people who help treat alcoholism and encourage sobriety.
The international coffee chain says it will be offering Baileys-flavoured coffee drinks and a Baileys-flavoured Boston cream doughnut for a limited time this season.
Lee-Anne Richardson, who runs the Halifax-based peer support group, Sober City, says she’s been hearing a generally positive reaction from people who are working to stay sober, but some are concerned.
Richardson, who has been sober since 2014, said being reminded of alcoholic beverages, whether by logos, advertisements or other people drinking, can weigh heavily on people who have just quit drinking.
“It can start to be triggering and start to be like, ‘Oh, well, I remember what that was like,’ and [they] sort of think down along that path,” Richardson told CBC Radio’s Information Morning Halifax.
“So for a lot of people, in the very beginning, it can be really hard to be seeing these reminders everywhere.”
She said coffee shops, like Tim Hortons, are often considered safe places for people who are sober, as a place they can go to meet their sponsor or peer support. That may no longer be the case, she said.
“To have the possibility of being triggered in the — quote, unquote — safe space can be pretty scary for some people,” she said.
Richardson said she’s also heard some say the non-alcoholic drinks are “adding to our alcohol-obsessed culture.”
Heather Allen, the chief communications officer for the Canadian Alcohol Use Disorder Society, agrees that promoting alcohol everywhere may not be the right approach, but she appreciates non-alcoholic options.
“There is a movement for non-alcoholic beverages and making that a part of a culture shift to people being able to enjoy drinks, enjoy socializing, in a way that helps them not have to have alcohol in it, but still feel that they’re having fun,” Allen said.
“So I can understand that there might be some concerns for people who are struggling with cravings, but as part of a larger cultural shift of trying to rethink our drinking, I don’t see it as really a bad thing.”
Allen said there are also treatments available for alcohol cravings, including medication and counselling, that can help people working to stay sober.
“It’s not some sort of moral failing and people have to white knuckle and avoid anything that says alcohol on it … this is a health condition and that there’s lots of different ways to get your cravings under control so you can fully partake in society,” she said.
Can help people stay sober
Richardson said while some people avoid all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks entirely — out of concern of relapsing — it can have the opposite effect for others.
She said some people who are sober might miss the taste of a particular drink, like Baileys, or miss having a special beverage.
“It’s not necessarily the getting drunk part. You missed the routine of making a fancy drink — it’s like a little present for yourself,” she said.
So if you have a non-alcoholic product, you can still do that little present for yourself, you just don’t have the effects of alcohol, so that can help people stay sober as well.”
Information Morning – NS8:34Sober City weighs in on Tim Hortons new partnership with Baileys
But Richardson’s main concern is that children will be able to consume the Baileys-flavoured items. She called it another way for them “to make an early association with alcohol.”
“That bothers me because it’s everywhere, in almost everything, and it’s already ingrained in our society that you drink when you’re stressed … when we’re celebrating or when we’re socializing,”
“So to add in another element of, ‘Hey, here’s this alcohol,’ even though it’s not alcohol — it’s the programming that’s happening so since there’s no control around what can be purchased at places like Tim Hortons, we just leave it up to the discretion of the parents.”
CBC News contacted Tim Hortons for comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.