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What is Gray Area Drinking?

What is Gray Area Drinking?

According to Google: “Realistically, gray area drinking can be seen as any level of drinking that affects your personal or work life, your health or the health of others around you in a negative way.” According to Jolene Park (a sought after speaker and the leading authority in GAD, she is also a nutritionist and health coach amongst MANY other accomplishments) she describes the term “gray area drinking” as the kind of drinking where there's no rock bottom, but you drink as a way to manage anxiety and then regret how much and how often you drink. The space between the extremes of rock bottom and every-now-and-again drinking: this is the gray area which can negatively impact lives.

Alcohol is a depressant and unfortunately people do not necessarily realize that drinking to “soothe anxiety” develops a very unhealthy coping mechanism. Alcohol is ethanol, a Group 1 cancer causing carcinogen (right up there with tobacco and asbestos). By drinking to “soothe” anxiety, neural pathways are created and because it is an addictive substance, it can be very easy to get caught in a cycle. Yes, maybe that cycle isn’t causing you to lose your licence or your job (it is negatively impacting your health though), but is it allowing you to be fully present in your day to day life? For the record, it may temporarily numb the senses, but ultimately your anxiety comes back, and worse, much worse.

In my post “You Don’t Need to Wait for a Rock Bottom to Quit Drinking” I mentioned how I find labels to be damaging, and I do. I don’t believe Gray Area Drinking is a label, it is more of an all encompassing term. There is too much stigma associated with the outdated term “alcoholic.” I don’t feel like it is a proper metric system on which you base your choice about whether or not you think you should re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol.

Labels are overrated. Labels are damaging. Labels can keep people scared, full of shame, and stuck.

Did you know if you google “Am I an alcoholic?” about 416,000,000 results will come up. Do we ever stop to consider that we are asking the wrong question? I believe Laura McKowen mentions this, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves if alcohol is improving our lives? Or is alcohol serving us in any way? We could ask ourselves, when negative things seem to be happening in our lives, is alcohol typically a common denominator? Am I truly living up to my potential? Am I being the best parent, spouse or friend? More and more lately I see people questioning their drinking but because it doesn’t look like the stereotypical “alcoholic” or “rock bottom drinker'', the behaviour continues. Here are things I have often hear: - “Well they aren’t waking up and drinking, so they aren’t a true alcoholic.” - “They still have a job so they don’t have an actual problem.” - “I don’t drink every single day, but when I do drink, I almost always black out and I cannot control it, does that make me an alcoholic?” *this one is an anxiety inducer, not knowing “where you stand” when it comes to your “problem”*

- “I don’t drink as much as (insert name here), so I’m not that bad.” - “I will cut back after (holiday, event, birthday).” The list goes on and on. Again, I will reference my previous post and I think it is important to remind everyone that there does not need to be a “rock bottom” moment to quit drinking. I might as well add that rock bottoms don’t necessarily equate to giving up alcohol, it is a lot more complicated than that. I understand you might ask “but how is it complicated after a rock bottom?” and all I can say is that addiction/AUD itself is complicated, if it were simple there wouldn’t be so many recovery options. That is a discussion for another day.

I want to introduce Gray Area Drinking because I am not entirely sure how familiar everyone is with it, but I do feel like it is a term a lot of people can relate to. I think it comes with a lot less stigma and opens up space for a lot more curiousity. When it comes down to it, if your intuition is telling you that perhaps it is time to take a break, you do not need to fit into ANY category to do so. Instead of asking “Am I an alcoholic?” or “do I have a problem?” Instead maybe ask yourself “is alcohol actually benefiting my life in any way?” (Sidenote- if anyone believes it benefits their social life, I assure you that you can still have a social life without drinking.) Instead of allowing yourself to continue down the same path while you disregard the red flags (p.s. It is progressive) would you consider taking a break and seeing how it feels? I am always very careful not to preach or push my choices on anyone else, but I did read something recently that really stuck with me. Someone mentioned that when we struggle with alcohol and come out the other side stronger, it can leave us with an awareness that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. So if I get the feeling someone is uncomfortable or uncertain about their drinking, my instinct is to tell them to lean into their intuition and instinct. I would never tell anyone what to do, but the one exception to that is that I would suggest you listen to yourself. Am I saying you have to quit forever? Hell no. Am I saying you have to make rules for yourself? Also heck to the no. I’m just saying maybe it isn’t the worst idea to listen to yourself and give yourself that space. Open yourself up to curiosity without judgement.

Alcohol dependence is sneaky and progressive. Our ego tells us “that will never happen to me” or “I’ll never be like my mom” and do you know who else said that? Most likely every single person who has ever struggled with alcohol. And by the way, that is A LOT of people.

Would you ever try 30 days without it and see how you feel? Have you tried that before and found it challenging? If you aren’t ready to talk to someone, I totally get that too but I have a lot of resources I’d love to recommend. I think it is important to note that anonymity is the name of the game and I have confidentiality agreements in place, and even if we didn’t work together it is entirely unethical to breach trust and I would not cross that line.

Maybe some extra support would help you on this journey - if that is the case you can head over and book a free discovery call today!

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Great article here! One one level it's just a word, that horrible "a" word. Some people find empowerment by admitting their problem that way. But oh my it has caused so much damage. For me the question is can I physically moderate? If the answer is no, that will not change (see the science on that). I feel like a grey area drinker MAY be a person who can moderate, or may not. Excellent idea to take a 30 day challenge. My experience is that people know where they are on the moderation question after that. Thanks for your wisdom!

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Isn't it interesting - the "a"word can be empowering or evoke an entirely different response. I found the term "powerless" was the same thing. I have found many people hate the term, whereas I found power in embracing the term powerless in my own way. It was all part of acceptance. I completely agree a gray area drinker may or may not be able to moderate. Moderation is such a large topic and it is so unique to each individual. A 30 day challenge can just open your mind to new information and possibilties, why not give it a try, right? Thank you so much for your thought provoking feedback! You've got my wheels turning! :)

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