Alcohol is everywhere, it seems. This is especially true in American culture where drinking is common at nearly every type of event or celebration. It can be easy to think that consuming a lot of alcohol is fine when everyone else around you seems to be doing the same. However, it is important to know whether or not you are engaging in gray area drinking.
Drinking alcohol in excess is harmful to your overall health. While alcohol is legal and widely available, this does not mean that consuming alcohol is without risk. When considering your relationship with alcohol, you must assess whether your drinking can be considered casual drinking or if it branches into the more dangerous act of alcohol abuse.
If you are worried that you may be drinking too much, we are going to break down the difference between casual drinking, gray area drinking, and what constitutes an alcohol use disorder (AUD). We will also cover the signs and symptoms of gray area drinking, and why these habits are problematic.
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What is Gray Area Drinking?
Gray area drinking is a term used to describe alcohol consumption that falls somewhere between social drinking and alcoholism. This is the reality for most Americans, as many people fall into this gray area. A gray area is a place that exists between right and wrong, where it is difficult to judge a situation entirely.
Gray area drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that does not meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) but still causes distress or impairment. Gray area drinkers may not be physically addicted to alcohol, but they may still experience negative consequences as a result of their drinking.
Many people who drink in the gray area may not see their habits as problematic because they are still functioning in day-to-day life. They may be able to maintain their job, their relationships, and their hobbies, but there are usually underlying issues caused by alcohol consumption that is not being acknowledged.
The Different Types of Excessive Drinking
You may be surprised to learn that there are many classifications when it comes to excessive drinking. Gray area drinking can encompass several overconsumption practices surrounding alcohol. While the amount of alcohol abuse in each category differs, they all similarly blur the lines between moderate drinking and risky drinking.
The different types of excessive drinking include the following problematic drinking patterns, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Binge drinking: four or more drinks on one occasion for women, or five or more for men
- Chronic drinking: eight or more drinks per week for women, 15 or more drinks per week for men
- Heavy drinking: binge drinking five or more times within a month
While different types of problematic drinking exist, they all come with social, psychological, and physical risks. What separates problematic drinking from alcoholism or an AUD, however, is the lack of a serious and lasting impact on the drinker. They will not experience the loss of a job or relationship due to drinking and will likely engage in healthy behaviors to try and counteract the amount of drinking they do.
Signs of Gray Area Drinking
There are many signs of gray area drinking. While the issues that occur within gray area drinking do not become as serious as getting arrested or obtaining a DUI, they can quickly escalate over time. If you believe you fall into the category of gray area drinking, you may have experienced the following before:
- Frequently drinking more than you intend to drink
- Allowing alcohol to prevent you from achieving goals
- Experiencing negative consequences due to your alcohol use
- Ceasing drinking and then restarting
Another common sign of problematic gray area drinking is questioning the appropriateness of your alcohol intake. You may worry that you have a problem with alcohol and ask yourself a series of questions or find yourself researching these questions. These can include any of the following:
- Do I drink too much?
- Is it normal to drink alcohol every day?
- Am I an alcoholic?
- How much alcohol is too much?
- How often can I drink?
- What are the signs of alcoholism?
It is likely that if you are asking these questions, you may be engaging in problematic drinking. If you find yourself wondering about your alcohol consumption, it is important to reach out for help. There are many resources available to those struggling with alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous is one such resource and has meetings in almost every town and city across the country. There are also many treatment options available, including inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.
Signs of Problematic Drinking
Concerningly, gray area drinking can quickly lead to alcoholism. If you’re struggling with gray area drinking, you may want to consider getting help before your problem escalates. Some signs that your drinking has become problematic include:
You Drink to Fulfill a Need
If you drink because you feel that you must, you likely are a gray area drinker. This is highly problematic as you should not ever “need” alcohol to get by. Frequently, people drink as a sort of “social lubricant,” where they feel that alcohol lessens anxiety and makes socializing easier.
You Use Alcohol as a Sleep-Aid
In some cases, individuals may drink to help themselves to get to sleep. Unfortunately, while alcohol may help you fall asleep, it does not help get good quality sleep. This is because alcohol fragments sleep and disrupts normal sleep cycles.
You Self Medicate with Alcohol
Other individuals may use alcohol to cope with depression, trauma, or other difficult life circumstances. If you find that you frequently self-medicate with alcohol rather than seeking professional help, this is a sign that your drinking habits are problematic. With the help of a professional, the underlying reason for drinking can be addressed and resolved.
You Try to Hide Your Drinking
Do you frequently make excuses for why you’re drinking? Do you lie about how much you’re drinking? These are signs that your drinking is problematic. Hiding how much you drink or lying about it is a way to avoid facing the reality of your drinking habits.
Your Relationships Suffer
Do your drinking habits negatively impact your relationships? Are you afraid to let your friends or family see you drink? Do you find yourself arguing with loved ones about your drinking habits? If so, this is a sign that your drinking is problematic.
What to do if You Think You Are a Problematic Drinker
If you identify with any of the aforementioned signs of problematic drinking, there are things you can do. While attending addiction treatment may not be appropriate for your level of alcohol use, there are ways to monitor, cut back, or abstain from alcohol use before it spirals out of control.
If you are concerned about your drinking habits and want to leave the gray area, the following tactics can help:
- Analyze how alcohol is getting in the way of personal goals. If you notice that your progress is stifled by alcohol, see if cutting back allows you to achieve your goals.
- Explore why you are reaching for a drink. If it is to alleviate boredom or to help you relax, consider what you can do to obtain the same feeling. What can you do as an alternative to alcohol use?
- When you crave alcohol, try waiting around 15 minutes to see if the cravings pass. Going for a walk, having a meal, or engaging in one of your hobbies can help pass the time so the craving can pass.
Though you may not be suffering from consequences that are as serious as those that someone with an AUD may face, it is important to manage gray area drinking before it gets out of control. By ignoring the signs of gray area drinking and assuming you are fine, you may miss out on important indicators that you struggle with the amount you drink and why you drink.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder
If your drinking has gone beyond gray area drinking, there are many treatment options available. You must reach out for help as soon as possible to get started on your road to recovery. This is because AUD is a progressive disorder, meaning it will get worse over time if left untreated.
There are many different types of treatment available, including:
- Medical detox: During medical detox, you will be monitored around the clock by a team of medical professionals as you withdraw from alcohol. This is often done in a residential treatment setting where your physical and emotional state can be managed to ensure a successful detox.
- Inpatient or residential treatment programs: Residential alcohol addiction treatment requires you to live at the facility for the duration of your treatment program. This allows you to be fully immersed in your recovery and have 24/7 access to care and support.
- Dual diagnosis treatment: When an individual is struggling with both a substance use disorder and a mental health condition, they benefit from dual diagnosis treatment. This form of treatment focuses on addressing both conditions simultaneously.
The type of treatment that is right for you will depend on a variety of factors. However, it is important that the treatment you receive is evidence-based, individualized, and conducted by experienced professionals.
Beyond Gray Area Drinking: Seeking Support for an AUD
If you find yourself resonating with the signs of problematic drinking and believe that you may be struggling with alcohol addiction, you are not alone. Up to 7% of Americans struggle with this disorder. Therefore, millions of people are going through or have gone through what you are experiencing.
Options are also available to help you overcome this serious condition. Here at Intrepid, we offer detox and residential treatment to individuals who are ready to end the cycle of addiction. If you or something close to you would benefit from clinical addiction treatment, give us a call today.