What is “Grey Area” Drinking?

First, it’s not a clinical term, but it seems to be everywhere these days. And one thing I’ve learned is it doesn’t have to be in the DSM for it to be a “thing.”

So, what is “grey area” drinking? Grey area drinking is somewhere between what we think of as a “rock bottom alcoholic” (the word “alcoholic” isn’t an accurate term anymore – but you get the idea) and someone who doesn’t have to even think about their drinking – or try to moderate it.

By this definition, most drinkers are presumably “grey area drinkers.” Grey area drinkers are on a spectrum. They may find their alcohol consumption causes problems to their life and health (but perhaps not in disastrous ways yet). Still, they do not have a physical dependence or meet severe substance use disorder criteria.

Grey area drinkers can still be heavy drinkers who haven’t had anything “that bad” happen to them yet. It isn’t even that hard to fall within the “heavy drinking category.” According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, this is just more than 14 drinks per week for men – or more than 4 per any given day, and more than 3 drinks on any given day for women – not to exceed more than 7 drinks per week. Most female drinkers I know drink more than 7 drinks a week, and most male drinkers I know drink more than 14. 

It doesn’t escape me that that may have been my circle. 

Please note that the ‘healthy guidelines’ are constantly changing. For example, the World Health Organization now states there is no safe level of drinking that does not negatively affect health.

Grey area drinkers may not physically depend on alcohol, but the mental preoccupation with alcohol may still be there. While grey area drinkers CAN moderate, it often gets too hard to think about when, how, or how much all the time. They may find moderation not to be a good sustainable long-term solution. It reinforces the belief that one cannot truly enjoy life without alcohol. It is also understandably tricky to moderate an addictive substance.

Given there is no safe amount of alcohol consumption that does not affect health, grey area drinkers may ask, “why is alcohol something worth repeatedly trying to moderate?”

Since giving it up entirely, I can attest that there has been a huge difference in how I feel! Some benefits include no more mental gymnastics, better sleep, more energy during the day, fewer body aches, better gut health, weight loss (to the tune of 20 pounds!), increased mental clarity, easier/better workouts, more present relationships, more books read at night, less anxiety, and better clarity in all areas of life. Just to name a few. 🙂

If you’re already wondering if your life might be better without the booze, you may be a “grey area drinker.” It wouldn’t hurt to take some time off from drinking to assess how you feel. If you’re like me, you might decide to give it up entirely! Remember, we don’t need any labels to decide that we want to change.

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