What is Grey Area Drinking?
The one thing that stopped me from doing something about my drinking sooner was the fact that I didn’t feel like an alcoholic. I still don’t and never will. I knew that something wasn’t quite right with regard to my drinking but because my friends and my husband had similar drinking behaviours, I thought that I was a normal drinker. Yet, deep down I knew that something wasn’t quite right.
It wasn’t until I quit that I discovered that far from the typical black and white view of alcohol consumption which says that you are either normal or an alcoholic there is a whole spectrum of drinking behaviour out there. In other words, the huge middle part between black and white is what is known as Grey Area Drinking.
I would like to explain what Grey Area Drinking is, share some common signs of Grey Area Drinking and the problems we face when we find ourselves within this spectrum. If you feel that you might be a Grey Area Drinker, then I will also offer some help and advice on how to get off the slippery slope before your drinking slides further down the scale to alcohol dependency.
Where Exactly is the ‘Grey’ Area?
Looking more closely at my past drinking behaviours, I was firmly in the grey area drinking section, perhaps slowly sliding into the black. But, what exactly is Grey Area Drinking? I first heard the term after watching a TEDex Talk by Jolene Park on YouTube during my early sobriety. I spent many hours reading books and blogs and watching videos looking for inspiration, help and advice. According to Jolene, Grey Area Drinking is ‘the space between the extremes of rock-bottom drinking and every-now-and-again drinking’
This can be a dangerous place to be in the sense that if you haven’t lost your job, your home, been arrested or done something terrible, then everything must be okay, right? Not so. I was in that space and in fact, many people I know and most of my clients are in that space.
It can be a miserable, confusing and very difficult place to be because although you might not be physically dependent on alcohol, you frequently use it to help you achieve a state of mind such as relaxation or joy. This is where the problem lies as you come to rely on alcohol more and more to get to the place you want to be.
5 signs you might be a grey area drinker
1. You don’t get drunk regularly but are still drinking more days in the week than not.
I never drank to get drunk but sometimes I did, especially if it was a Friday or Saturday evening (Saturday afternoons too sometimes) You might find yourself maybe not drinking on Sunday or Monday evenings but come Tuesday, you turn to the wine again or you might have ‘just the one’ with dinner and before you know it, the bottle has gone. Before I stopped, I was drinking every day, even if it was just a can of beer or one glass of wine, it was still every day.
2. You worry about your drinking yet at the same time believe it’s okay because everyone around you is drinking the same.
I knew something wasn’t right. That small voice and feelings of worry and guilt would keep me awake and I would promise myself that tomorrow would be different – it never was. At the same time though, I would tell myself that it was fine, I wasn’t hurting myself or anyone, I liked it, I was only a social drinker, just like everyone else I knew. People might tell you that you’re okay, you’re not that bad and just a few won’t hurt but deep down you have that little niggle that maybe everything is not okay.
People might tell you that you’re okay, you’re not that bad and
just a few won’t hurt but deep down you have that little niggle
3. You notice that you turn to alcohol habitually like to relax in the evening or to enjoy socializing with friends.
You always have alcohol in the house and usually, without thinking, open a bottle when cooking or crack open a beer when sitting in the garden or with a film. When people come round you always get the drinks out and would never go to a bar or out for a meal without drinking something alcoholic. This was me for many years, almost subconsciously I would always reach for a drink – whatever the occasion.
4. You have times when you don’t drink or have stopped for periods but always end up going back to it.
You might have done Dry January or stopped drinking for a while to lose weight or because of health reasons or like me, during pregnancy. But then, there doesn’t seem a real reason why not to drink so you have the odd one, then another one and end up back in the same cycle as before and not feeling happy with yourself.
5. You can’t imagine life without alcohol and not drinking in situations when you usually would.
You use alcohol as a treat, a reward, to relax to unwind, to cope with stress or to lift you up. I used alcohol for all of those things. I was a home drinker which I talk about here, and it was easy for me to turn to alcohol whenever I wanted. I couldn’t imagine a Friday evening (or any evening for that matter) without a beer or few after my kids had gone to bed. Get togethers with friends without a drink – no way! Stressful week and no wine to celebrate and relax with – out of the question.
What causes grey area drinking?
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when a person goes from having the odd drink here and there, perhaps only once or twice a week, to being somewhere within the grey area drinking spectrum because each of us is different and so are our drinking behaviours.
However, going from a social drinker or moderate drinker, which according to the World Health Organization is one to two drinks consumed over a week for women, to a Grey Area Drinker is unfortunately quite easy to do because, as we have seen, alcohol is a drug, it’s addictive and the longer you spend in this grey area drinking area, the higher the likelihood is that you will develop a dependence on alcohol – this was certainly what happened to me and it is so easy to do because it just creeps up on us, slowly, over time.
If you identify with the points above or are worried that your drinking is getting a bit out of hand, then there are some things that you can do now before things get worse.
How to combat grey area drinking?
Be honest with yourself and ask yourself some questions. Don’t rely on the thoughts of your friends and family because only you really know what is going on. I find these questions helpful:
What do you want?
Start by working out what it is you are really craving. How do you want to feel? Are you using alcohol to escape, to relax, to become more sociable? I used alcohol for all of the above, I thought it helped, I thought I wanted to be a cool, outgoing mum who enjoyed a party, but in reality I didn’t and I turned to alcohol to make me somebody I wasn’t. I had become to rely on a few beers or some wine to switch form Mum to me, to wind down, to relax and de-stress. Once I realized that I was craving some space, some peace or just a chance to sit down for a few minutes, it became clear that it wasn’t the alcohol I was craving.
Make small changes to your day.
Find other, more healthy ways to achieve the feelings you desire. For example instead of turning to wine to relax, have a bath or go for a walk. If you are stressed, try some deep breathing or journaling. If you enjoy the ritual of drinking and sipping something grown up, then experiment with fancy teas, posh coffee or other fabulous non alcoholic drinks.
***I wrote about ten things that helped me quit drinking in this post – perhaps you will find some ideas for yourself!
Look after yourself.
As a mum, I know what it’s like to be always busy, endless to-do lists and forever running around. There is a tendency to put ourselves last and turn to wine in order to soldier on and block out the feelings. However, to be there for our families we have to be there for ourselves first. Always make sure you eat properly, rest when you need to and take time out when necessary, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
I know it is difficult to do without feeling guilty, but it is important. This is why I created Get Past Your Drinking Triggers which is a course to help you connect with yourself, understand your needs and learn how to put yourself first without the guilt and without alcohol in the mix.
Try something new.
Remember when you had the energy and passion to try new things or have you stopped doing some activities because your drinking has got in the way? Make a list of all the things you want to do or the things you used to enjoy but no longer seem to have the time or energy to do and begin by doing one new thing a week. It could be as simple as sitting in the garden with a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon, going to bed early with a book, taking your kids to the park or rejoining the class that you stopped going to.
Above all, be honest
Ask yourself if you are coming to rely on alcohol perhaps a bit too much. Ask yourself if your drinking is making you unhappy deep down and would you be happier and feel better having a proper break?
It is important to understand that you don’t have to hit rock bottom in order to have a problem. Alcohol is a drug, it’s addictive and your tolerance will only go up. If you only have a glass or two in the evening but those glasses are vital to you then perhaps it is time to do something about it before those glasses turn into bottles. It can happen quickly, it creeps up on us without us even noticing. I used to have the odd beer or a glass of wine once or twice a week, never giving it a thought. But before I realized it had come to the stage where there was always alcohol in the house and if I didn’t drink for whatever reason then I felt that something was off.
Don’t be worried, like I was of stigma and stereotypes. More and more people are choosing to have an alcohol free lifestyle for whatever reason. Nothing bad has to happen for you to stop drinking. You don’t have to have a reason to choose to stop drinking other than you want to.
If you are worried about your drinking and would like some help then the Sober Bliss Program can help you reframe your drinking, change your mindset and show you that there is a better way and that an alcohol free lifestyle is wonderful, enjoyable and the best thing you can do for yourself.
Check out the full course details