In many ways, Kava and Alcohol are similar substances. Both are drinks that produce a euphoric sensation, enhance sociability, and encourage relaxation. But there are many differences between Kava and Alcohol, as well. In this article, I’ll look at kava vs alcohol, and compare and contrast these two substances.
Kava Vs Alcohol
I’ll put kava head to head with alcohol on a variety of qualities, and in conclusion, will pick the winner of each category. Among the categories I’ll consider are taste, buzz qualities, social impacts, health effects, health risks, hangovers, and abuse potential.
Mixing Kava and Alcohol
Before we dive in too deep, I want to emphasize that it’s generally not a good idea to combine alcohol and kava. Most knowledgeable kava users suggest that kava and alcohol should not be mixed. Both tax the liver in different ways, and it’s best to choose one or the other.
The general consensus is that users should wait about 24 hours before you switch from one to the other.
It is true that throughout the south pacific, users will cap off a kava session with a single lite beer “washdown” to keep the buzz going. But they’re not drinking those delicious double-IPAs or having any significant amount of alcohol. And many find that combining alcohol and kava ramps up the nausea and headaches, without really improving the quality of the buzz.
Ultimately, it’s best to alcohol and kava separate.
This one is by far the easiest. Kava tastes like mud that’s been mixed with that dry black pepper that comes in the little box, while alcohol has a million different exciting taste options.
Alcohol wins hands down when it comes to taste, at least in most of the common formats. Beer, wine, and cocktails all are incredibly flavorful substances, and many would drink these drinks for taste alone, even if there was no buzz to be found.
The huge variety of flavors, options, and types of alcoholic drinks is dizzying and is perhaps the strongest point in favor of alcohol.
Kava, on the other hand, doesn’t have much variation in taste. Yes, some people add juices chocolate to kava in order to mask the taste, but most users simply down the kava as quickly as possible and move on.
Alcohol in small amounts can produce a pleasant buzz that can improve socialization and mood. Most people like to stay in this range. The goal is to get an occasional mild buzz from a glass or two of wine over dinner with friends, maybe go dancing or for a night out on the town, made easier by the loss of inhibition produced by a mild alcohol buzz.
The problem is that while many people aim for that pleasant buzz, it’s easy to miss the mark. Once they start drinking, they keep going until they have consumed alcohol in excess, and things start to go wrong!
In excess, alcohol can produce fits of violence, recklessness, poor decision-making, and other negative emotions and feelings. It can produce blackouts, regretful incidents, destroyed relationships, and huge problems all around.
This is a huge problem with alcohol, and is one of the chief reasons many people seek to limit their alcohol consumption.
Kava in certain ways has a similar buzz profile to alcohol, though it is somewhat different. Kava reduces stress, removes anxiety, and dulls pain. The mind stays pretty clear while buzzing on kava, but the body feels pleasant sensations, and mood is improved. There are certain differences in the effects of kava. Often this depends on the chemotype of the kava you choose to consume. Some are “headier” and produce more cerebral effects, while others provide a “body” buzz that works to relax muscles and make you physically feel good.
Like alcohol, kava can ease social interactions and make a fun night out with friends even more fun. But it may not be the best choice for an energetic night out dancing.
Unlike alcohol, though, if you drink a large amount of kava, you tend to just get particularly numb and tired. Kava doesn’t produce the “sloppy drunk” effects that alcohol produces, and the blackouts and misery associated with excess alcohol consumption are not present with kava, even if you drink a large amount.
Alcohol has been consumed throughout much of the world for thousands of years. Kava has been consumed throughout the South Pacific islands for thousands of years as well, though Kava was not taken to the wider world until the last 20 or so years.
For this reason, alcohol is woven into the cultural fabric of life in most of the world much more strongly than kava is. Chefs have found ways to optimize food recipes to pair perfectly with certain types and flavors of alcohol, and bars and clubs use alcohol as a social lubricant to lower inhibitions and get people to open themselves up to new experiences and events.
For every kava bar, there have got to be 1,000 alcohol bars. When you add in the fact that most every non-fast-food restaurant in the US, Europe, and much of Asia serves alcohol as well, the prevalence of alcohol in most people’s lives is just overwhelming compared to kava.
Going to a kava bar is a pretty unusual event for most people, and those of us who really enjoy kava often don’t know many other kava enthusiasts in our area.
Alcohol has significant health impacts on the body when consumed in significant amounts over a long period of time.
Those who don’t drink alcohol to the level of abuse won’t likely get a lot of negative health issues due to alcohol consumption. But the risk is always there. Many, many users slowly increase their reliance on alcohol, and their alcohol use consumes everything else. If this occurs, the health impacts of alcohol use can become a huge problem.
A great deal depends on how much alcohol is consumed and over how long a time period that consumption lasts for. Those who only drink small amounts typically don’t face much in terms of adverse health effects from alcohol beyond an occasional hangover (more on that later).
But for those who drink too much, alcohol’s health effects are profound. The CDC reports that perhaps 88,000 deaths per year in the US are connected to alcohol use.
That number is staggering, and jaw-dropping in scale. Alcohol is known to wreck family relationships and cause lasting misery when abused. Alcohol can cause massive liver damage on top of all of the emotional and familial issues that come along with alcohol abuse.
Kava has some potential negative health effects of its own, mainly the potential for liver damage from kava. Several years ago, multiple people consumed substances containing kava and proceeded to have liver failure due to these substances. Some people died due to liver failures.
This liver damage issue cannot be taken lightly. However, the long and short of it is this: those substances that seemed to cause the deaths were supplements produced using parts of the kava plant not normally consumed. Additionally, many of those who passed away were consuming other substances as well, including alcohol. The Verge did an outstanding article discussing the potential risks and health effects of kava.
I don’t want to minimize the potential health issues associated with kava, but compared to alcohol, even when it comes to liver damage, kava is incredibly safe.
The bottom line is that kava, when traditionally prepared, is quite safe, especially when compared to the risks of consuming alcohol. When a small number of people have had severe health effects from ingesting bad kava, there was massive uproar. But the death toll from alcohol is orders of magnitude higher, and have been for decades. And there is no real outcry regarding alcohol use.
Virtually everyone who experiments with alcohol eventually consumes too much and ends up waking up with a hangover. Ugh. It’s simply a hazard associated with drinking alcohol, and in many ways is the first sign that users need to pair back their alcohol consumption a bit.
Hangovers are generally quite annoying and unpleasant, but the good news is that they’re usually fairly short-lived. They’re also a good reminder to alcohol users that alcohol does have negative consequences, especially when used in significant quantities.
Long before a user reaches the point of significant negative health effects due to alcohol consumption, that user will have experienced tons of hangovers.
Each hangover is an ideal time to reassess your alcohol consumption and your relationship with alcohol.
Kava typically doesn’t produce hangovers, and most users will wake up feeling clear-headed and well-rested after an evening of kava consumption. However, some users experience kava hangovers. These hangovers can be caused by users not drinking enough water after consuming kava, or perhaps consuming the lower-quality Tudei Kava as opposed to Noble kava.
The vast majority of people who use alcohol don’t abuse it. Most people live their lives drinking responsibly, having wine with dinner, and perhaps a little more at celebrations, weddings, and the like. Most of the time, alcohol doesn’t produce any bad health impacts or social impacts.
Of course, all it takes is one poor decision to drive when more buzzed than you realize, and the lives of you and others can be destroyed.
Fortunately, these events are quite rare for those who use alcohol responsibly.
And of course, for those who find their alcohol use steadily increasing and taking over their lives, the abuse potential is huge. Alcohol is physically addictive, and some people simply can’t stop. There are large negative consequences to alcohol abuse, both for the person drinking and the loved ones who are associated with that person.
When it comes to Kava, there is very little abuse potential. Kava is not physically addictive. In fact, many experience a reverse tolerance effect from kava. The more they drink kava, the less they need to consume in order to get an effect.
Kava has very little history of abuse, and due to the fact that it doesn’t cloud the thinking in the way that alcohol does, is unlikely to become all-consuming the way alcohol can.
Ease of Access
Alcohol is available in bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and supermarkets all around the world. It is really easy to acquire alcohol in most places, and many are even able to get alcohol delivered to their door.
Quality Kava, on the other hand, is only available in a few kava bars scattered throughout the US and Polynesia, and online. Some low-quality kavas like Yogi Kava Tea (reviewed here) and Natrol Kava Tablets (reviewed here) can be purchased in some grocery stores like Whole Foods, but they’re not really worth purchasing.
Both kava and alcohol have a lot going for them. Both, when used responsibly, can be rewarding, spirit-lifting, and perhaps even healthy. And both have some risks associated with them.
The risks of alcohol are generally much higher than those of kava, and if you’re one of those people who have a hard time stopping something once you start it, you should certainly stay away from alcohol. Kava may be a better choice for you.
And whether you’re kava curious or a full-blown kava freak, the disgusting-but-really-pleasant drink can bring lots of enjoyment at little risk.
No matter what you choose, be responsible with your consumption of either, and take care of your mind and body.
Happy drinking and safe drinking, whatever beverage you choose.