Celebrate the Holidays with Alternatives to Alcohol

5 min read  |  November 29, 2023  | 

The holidays are a time to celebrate with friends and family — and these festivities are usually associated with alcohol. Cancer patients and survivors have to balance the knowledge that alcohol can be detrimental to their health and cancer treatments with the social desire to drink. Fortunately, you can use natural ingredients to create healthy, non-alcoholic party drinks for the holiday season. 

Alcohol can increase the risk of cancer.

“Alcohol use accounts for 6% of all cancers and 4% of all cancer deaths in the United States,” says Paola Rossi, M.D., M.S., director of clinical operations for lifestyle medicine in cancer control at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“There is clear evidence that drinking alcohol increases the risk of at least seven cancer types, including cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus cancers, as well as liver, stomach and breast cancers.”

While Dr. Rossi recommends abstaining from alcohol during cancer treatment or survivorship, she says there are still many benefits to reducing consumption. She recognizes that it is often difficult to modify behaviors and suggests changing your mindset.

“Instead of focusing on the alcoholic drink you can’t have, think about how rewarding it is to have a delicious mocktail that is also good for your health,” says Dr. Rossi. “It is one small way to take control of your life during a difficult time.”

Mocktails can be fun and flavorful and have cancer-fighting properties.

Gone are the days when a mocktail simply meant mixing grenadine and soda. Today, they usually include many of the same ingredients as traditional cocktails and have names like the cranberry shrub mocktail, ginger pumpkin juice, and apple cider with a twist. (Read on to learn how to make these yummy drinks.)

Many of the drink recipes incorporate fruits, vegetables and spices that have cancer-fighting properties. They provide important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals in addition to hydrating water and, in some cases, probiotics. 

  • Enjoy the healing benefits of using holiday spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
  • Find a recipe that includes fresh apples or pumpkin.
  • Substitute ingredients with green tea or hibiscus tea.
  • Replicate the taste of alcohol with a shrub that mixes infused vinegar, fruit and sugar with soda water. 

How do I deal with the peer pressure?

You must also be ready for any social pressures that might occur at a gathering. 

“Drinking alcohol is a choice,” says Dr. Rossi. “If you explain that you are choosing to take care of yourself, you will probably not get much pushback. In fact, you might find it empowering.”

She offers the following tips: 

  • Bring your own. If you want the non-alcoholic version of the drink you like, purchase it from the store and bring it to the event. 
  • Call ahead. Call a restaurant in advance to inquire about the mocktail menu.
  • Share your recipes. If you are hosting, introduce your guests to some of your favorite alcohol-free recipes. 
  • Use the same cups. To alleviate peer pressure, sip your non-alcoholic drink from the same cup or glass as the other guests.

Dr. Rossi always reminds her patients that their cancer journey is a marathon, not a sprint.

“Any step towards reducing your alcohol consumption and focusing on better health is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated,” says Dr. Rossi. 

Debby Teich is a contributing writer for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Delicious Alternatives to Alcohol

Cranberry Shrub Mocktail

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/4 cups fresh cranberries
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 cloves (optional)
  • 1 orange peel
  • 2/3 cup vinegar
  • Sparkling water 


  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, cranberries, sugar, cloves, and orange peel to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook at a very gentle simmer until the cranberries are completely soft, which should take about 8 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and let it cool.
  3. Muddle together the cranberries with vinegar and transfer the shrub into a bottle or jar, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 days before use. 
  4. Prepare your mocktail by filling your cup halfway with ice, adding about 2 tablespoons of the shrub, and topping the rest of the glass off with sparkling water.

Ginger Pumpkin Juice

 For the syrup:

  •  1/4 cup water
  •  1/4 cup thinly sliced ginger

 For the pumpkin juice: 

 For the fizz:

  • 1 cup sparkling water


Add the maple syrup, water, and ginger slices to a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Once boiling, turn off the heat and let the ginger infuse the syrup for at least 30 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the pumpkin juice by blending the pumpkin purée with the water. Set aside.

Discard the ginger slices from the syrup and divide the syrup between two glasses (about 3 tbsp per glass). Pour about 1/4 cup of the pumpkin juice into each glass and stir to combine.

Finish by pouring about 1/2 cup of cold sparkling water into each glass and serve.

Apple Cider With a Twist

  • 1 cup fresh sweet apple cider (choose apple cider that has only 1 ingredient: apples)
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh turmeric
  • 1 strip (1/2-inch by 1/2-inch) lemon peel, white part included
  • Dash cinnamon, optional

Makes 1 serving (1 cup). 
Double up for two.


In a small saucepan, combine cider, ginger, turmeric and lemon peel. Over medium-high heat, heat until the ring of bubbles appears around the edge of the pan, 3 minutes.

Cover the pan and set aside to steep for 5 minutes.

Pour hot-spiced cider through a fine tea strainer into a mug and add a dash of cinnamon if using. Serve immediately.

TIP: If you want to reduce the amount of sugar this recipe contains, prepare unsweetened green tea and serve ½ cup of apple cider and 1/2 cup of green tea per drink. 

Learn more about Survivorship Services at Sylvester.

Tags: cancer prevention efforts, Dr. Paola Rossi, healthy beverage, limit alcohol

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