The Dangers Of Gray Area Drinking
What Is Gray Area Drinking?
America’s long-standing drinking problem has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. As overdose rates climbed, so did rates of alcohol abuse, with statistics showing that alcohol consumption rose 14 percent since spring of last year, with alcohol sales having increased by 54 percent in March and other data suggesting that Americans purchased more alcohol during most months of 2020 than they did during the previous 3 years.
Surveys have also shown that women in particular have increased their heavy drinking days by a whopping 41 percent, with heavy drinking defined as having had two heavy drinking days in a single week at least twice in the previous 30 days.
The pandemic created a dangerous combination of stress and boredom that fostered this kind of overindulgence, which was also found to be more common among people under strict stay at home orders. Even more worryingly, rates of alcohol related deaths and hospital admissions have also increased. But most of the people abusing this alcohol are not those who meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder as defined by the DSM-V.
And while drinkers who have a severe alcohol use disorder generally have problems that are obvious to themselves or others, there exists a “gray area” which as many as fifty percent of alcohol users may be in. While this “gray area” is not an official medical diagnosis, it is increasingly recognized as a discrete category that lies between an alcohol use disorder and a “normal” relationship with alcohol.
Gray area drinkers are typically able to live mostly normal lives rather than invoking consequences like job loss because of their alcohol use. They are also usually more able than alcoholics to cut back when they put their mind to it, and will sometimes stop for a extended periods to prove that they can before jumping back in and repeating the cycle.
However, they do have trouble controlling how much and how often they drink, to the extent that the way they drink interferes with their quality of life and creates risks to their health and safety. These people may be reluctant to admit to their difficulties or seek help because they may be wary of the stigma of a label like alcoholic, or may not identify with a characterization of alcoholics as completely out of control and spiraling towards rock bottom.
Some signs of gray area drinking include:
- Drinking at times you hadn’t planned or in situations where you wouldn’t normally drink, especially if this begins to happen regularly rather than occasionally
- Regularly suffering impaired work performance, impaired ability to take care of your family or household, or personal relationships because of your drinking
- Feeling ashamed, guilty, or conflicted about how much you drink
- Worrying about how much you drink
- Being inordinately preoccupied with drinking
The struggles faced by gray area drinkers attests to the fact that someone does not have to reach the full criteria for alcoholism or be physically addicted to alcohol for the substance to interfere with your quality of life, or for it to hamper you from reaching your full potential. For instance, you might still experience uncomfortable productivity impairing symptoms like frequent hangovers and blackouts even if you only binge drink occasionally. Even moderate drinking can also increase your risk of various negative physical and mental health consequences, including liver problems, heart disease, cancer, and suicide.
How To Deal With Gray Area Drinking
While some gray area drinkers eventually find full sobriety the best solution, others are eventually able to mindfully cut back without cutting alcohol out entirely. Whatever you decide is right for you, there’s no shame in struggling to manage your intake, and some strategies experts suggest for cutting out alcohol are:
- Making an effort to understand the reasons you drink and substituting the habit with alternate coping methods
- Clarify the negative effect alcohol is having on your life and your reasons for wanting to cut back
- Trying to wait alcohol cravings out to see if they pass rather than acting on them automatically
- Substituting alcohol for fun mocktails that may give the same sense of sparkle and ritual as your alcoholic beverage might but without the intoxicating effect
- Trying to figure out what in your life you may be missing or craving—what void you may have been using alcohol to fill—and try to figure out healthier and more fulfilling ways that you address those needs
You can also check out Rethinking Drinking, a government website that offers information and guidance for people worried about their drinking habits. And if you do find yourself having a harder time than expected in cutting back on your drinking, there always exists the option of professional help, whether that be with an option like individual therapy or counseling or a more intensive outpatient program like the one associated with the Reco Institute.
With a new year just around the corner, there’s no better time to take back control of your drinking and of your health. To learn more about sober living at the Reco Institute, feel free to call us anytime at 561-665-5925.