I am a black and white kind of person: yes or no, wrong or right, left or right, up or down, cold or hot. Then I heard about grey area drinking.
I decided to investigate. It turns out that drinking is not only about being sober or being an alcoholic. There is a grey area in between these two extremes.
I mean, who wants to be called an alcoholic? Not me! And I stopped drinking mainly because my mother is an alcoholic, and I did not want her life. Having read lots now about grey area drinking, I can say that I was bordering on that colour at one stage – and plenty of people I know are still in that grey area.
Luckily, I have a rosy life now full of rainbows and golden rays of light and plenty of brightness.
So, what is grey area drinking?
- You are not sober, and you are not an alcoholic BUT you cannot stop thinking about alcohol and your next drink
- You drink alcohol once or twice or maybe every day of the week and you spend most of your day thinking about drinking
- Grey area drinking can lead to alcohol use disorder. This is when your body is physically dependent on alcohol, and you have gone past the grey area.
So that grey area of drinking has been defined just because it is such a grey area. Think of the colour grey: vague, intangible, indescribable, dull. If you are caught in the grey area of drinking, your life can be dull, colourless – your mind is consumed with drinking when in fact you could be hiking, creating, learning or teaching!
You may only drink on the weekends but you spend every day of the week building up to Friday and that first beer. Ahhhhh. So, it removes pleasure from your life in other ways. You become moody and frustrated all week because you are being good, and you must wait for Friday and that first beer… ahhhhhh.
In an article in the Times of India, the writer notes that “it is not necessarily the number of drinks that places you in this category, but how you view alcohol. For instance, if you are drinking 2 nights a week, but you are thinking about that night every day, and are eagerly waiting for the other day when you can drink again, it’s actually occupying your thoughts and distracting you. In such cases, you are not drinking much, but your drinking habits are more disordered.”
What colour is your drinking?
Have you ever thought about your drinking in colours? Red being danger point, go back, you are drinking too much? And white being you are OK; you only have a glass here and there? Well, you may be in the grey zone where you think that your one glass a day is fine. But you think about that glass all day until you get the wine out of the fridge.
The thought of drinking is what drives the dopamine! So, you feel great all day just knowing that you can have a glass of wine at 5pm!
Crystal Raypole sums up the role of dopamine in our brains. She notes that “when you experience a positive sensation and dopamine is released into the pathways of the reward center, your brain takes note of:
- What triggered the sensation: Was it a substance? A behavior? A type of food?
- Any cues from your environment that can help you find it again. Did you experience it at night? What else were you doing? Were you with a certain person?
When you’re exposed to those environmental cues, you’ll begin to feel the same drive to seek out that same pleasure. This drive can be incredibly powerful, creating an urge that’s hard to control.
She adds that not only addictive substances can cause this effect, but so too can sex, delicious foods, sport and creative activities. Usually when people drink, they are with good friends and relaxing after a busy day and it is all in the context of a feel-good, stress-free vibe. But quitting drinking can open doors in our lives to doing more of the things we love that also boost dopamine.
What happens when suddenly one day, that one drink is not enough. And the effect is not enough. You need more than one drink. And slowly, you step over the threshold of grey area drinking into the realm of alcohol misuse disorder.
How will you know that you have left the safe area of drinking and stepped into the red zone? How will you know that you are in the grey area of drinking already?
Alarm bells around that grey area of drinking:
- You have started to feel uncomfortable about your drinking and you are questioning how much you drink
- You have tried to cut back on your alcohol consumption, but you just cannot.
- Your thoughts are full of having that drink when you do allow it: once or twice or every day of the week.
What can you do?
- Talk to a friend or a medical expert about it.
- Start doing something else with that time when you would have had a drink: do exercise, read a book, journal, start a new hobby, chat to a friend online, join a creative club…
Articles point out that grey area drinking has been on the rise globally since the Covid 19 Pandemic and people generally drink to cope with stress. Drinking is so entrenched in our culture and so many people drink that it is difficult to find out if you are indeed a grey area drinker.
The grey area of drinking embraces about half of all the drinkers in the world! When you are not a downright alcoholic, and you are not sober. You just drink. But what does this mean?
A Grey Area Drinker can be described like this:
“Typically, a gray area drinker has not experienced a “rock bottom” or a major life-altering impact. It is someone that appears to be living a very normal life from the outside, but internally, a gray area drinker might be experiencing shame, guilt, and embarrassment for their habits.”
Grey area drinkers can tend to binge at times. Binge drinking means consuming more than 4 to 5 drinks in less than 2 hours. If a person binges about 5 months a month, they can fall down the slippery slope into heavy alcohol consumption.
Check out Tribe Sober Membership if you need to step off the slippery slope – we can help – you can watch Janet’s video on the subject HERE.
Let’s look at the graph of drinkers and you can see where you fall in:
- Sober kid on the block – you don’t drink or just gave up
- Social imbiber – you have a glass at a wedding, a funeral, a braai and a dinner but you are not that interested, really
- The grey area drinker – you drink during the week, one to two days or most days, a few glasses of alcohol but you think about it a lot
- The heavy drinker, alcoholic – you are physically and mentally dependent on alcohol.
Book a Discovery Call with Tribe Sober if you are worried about your drinking. If you are sober, well done and keep it up!