Worried, you might be a Grey Area drinker? If you find yourself nodding along to these 4 signs, it’s time to reconsider your drinking habits.
The BBC recently issued a report about the rise in deaths relating to alcohol consumption during lockdown. The data is frightening and clearly shows the impact of lockdown on peoples mental health and drinking habits. In the first 9 months of 2020, there were 5640 alcohol-related deaths, a rise of 16% from 2019.
You only have to scroll through your social media feed to spot the relationship between lockdown and drinking. Photos of stressed-out parents home-schooling, a large glass of wine in their hands, references to ‘Beer O’Clock’ and memes using Disney characters singing “Do you wanna drink on Facetime?” emerged everywhere in 2020. Society glamourised lockdown drinking, something that’s now starting to have far-reaching consequences.
The creators of such memes meant no offence. But the statistics are no joke to the families affected. 5640 isn’t just a number to them; it consists of mums, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, colleagues and neighbours. People who didn’t become addicted to alcohol overnight but gradually found themselves sliding from grey area drinker to full-blown dependency.
What is grey area drinking?
The NCHC states somebody who drinks less than 3 drinks a week on average over 12 months is considered a light drinker. So, what’s a heavy drinker in comparison? If you’re female and consume more than 7 drinks a week (14 for men) on average over a year, you’ve achieved heavy drinker status. In the UK, the NHS recommends no more than 14 units a week for both men and women. Easy to exceed when you’re knocking back a couple of bottles a wine a week.
Where does grey area drinking fit? Grey area drinking is the vast space between now and again social drinking and hitting rock bottom dependency. Alcohol creeps up on you gradually, like poison ivy suffocating a beautiful garden. You start off enjoying a drink now and then. You like the feeling of relaxation or confidence it gives you. The occasional drink turns into a daily glass of wine whilst cooking dinner. Your tolerance levels to alcohol rise, and a glass turns into a bottle. And before you know it, you’ve fallen into the grey zone.
Grey area drinking is a dangerous place to be. On the surface, everything looks fine. Alcohol hasn’t taken away your home or your job. But the silent ninja of dependency lurks just around the corner.
The grey area spectrum is huge. So how do you know if you’re a grey area drinker? If you relate to any of these points, it’s time to reset your relationship with alcohol.
You worry about your drinking and feel guilty, but you keep it to yourself
Deep down, you question your drinking habits and wonder if you’re drinking too much. Perhaps you have a glass of wine most evenings, or you binge-drink at the weekends. There’s a little voice inside your head telling you to cut back. You find yourself googling “How much alcohol is too much?” and “Am I an alcoholic?”.
But when you look at your friends, they all drink the same amount as you. So you tell yourself it’s ok, you’re just like everyone else. You eat healthily, you exercise. You’re still holding down a job and able to look after the kids. On the outside, you’re fine. But inside, you’re dealing with hangxiety, wasted weekends after binge-drinking and the constant battle of drink or not drink that goes on in your mind.
You’re a ‘Piggy-in-the-Middle’ drinker
You have a glass of wine or two each evening, but you don’t drink excessively during the week. Perhaps at weekends, you indulge a little more, and you often relate alcohol to emotion. If you’ve had a bad day, you’ll have a drink to unwind. If you’ve had a good day, you’ll drink to celebrate. Drinking becomes part of everyday life. Cooking, relaxing, watching a movie. There’s always an excuse to pour a glass of wine. You’re not a take-it-or-leave-it kind of drinker, but you’re not sitting on a park bench drinking out of a paper bag either. You’re in the middle – a grey area drinker.
You’ve stopped drinking for short bouts but always gone back to it
You prove to yourself every so often that you’re not addicted. Be it Dry January, Sober October, or a new fitness regime, you’ve shown you can abstain without any issues. Yet, when the challenge is over, you resort back to drinking. You give in to your friends’ persuasion to have “just the one”. Or you turn to the wine after a stressful day. Very soon, you’ve slipped back into old habits and are back on the alcohol merry-go-round.
You don’t fit the problem drinker profile
Although you might be concerned about your drinking, others say you’re fine. You know a few people who drink way more than you, and they don’t have an issue. Friends and family tell you to stop worrying about it, relax and live a little. Everything in moderation becomes your go-to phrase as you pour another glass of wine. You haven’t had any health problems from drinking. Ok, you’ve noticed hangovers getting worse, and you’ve wasted a few weekends due to overindulging, but so do all your mates. You have a laugh and a joke about who was the drunkest. But you’re constantly battling with your conscience and can’t shake off the feeling that enough is enough.
How to escape the Grey Area hamster wheel
You can put a stop to your grey area drinking habits. It takes willpower and determination, but you can get out of the grey zone.
Get to know yourself
Start feeling the feels instead of turning to alcohol. Sober life is great, but it isn’t all a bed of roses and pink clouds. You’ll still get frustrated, stressed, tired and emotional. But cut out alcohol, and you’ll learn to spot the signs to help you figure out what you really need. It might be more restful sleep. Or a fitness regime? Focus on self-care and put your needs first for a change instead of pushing them to one side and reaching for the wine. The pull of booze will lessen as you figure out other ways to deal with life’s ups and downs.
Do something new
Ditch old habits and form new ones. If going to pubs is too tempting to start with, avoid them. Ask your friends to go for a walk instead or meet for a coffee. Start a new hobby, perhaps you’ve always fancied taking up gardening, or maybe you’re more of an adventure seeker. Whatever takes your fancy, if it doesn’t involve drinking, do it. Take inspiration from your kids and engage your imagination again. Learn how to have fun and laugh sober. We only live once. Don’t let alcohol rob you of genuine and memorable life experiences.
Find some Grey Area sober support
When alcohol has become ingrained in your life as a habit, it can be tricky to break away. If it’s too difficult to do on your own, find some support. Find your tribe, and they’ll help you break away from alcohol’s false promises. I belong to a members only FB group called ‘The Fish Followers Society’ which is the creation of Sober Fish herself! There are regular sober challenges which I co-facilitate and these are ideal for anyone looking for long term sobriety. The group’s a friendly bunch who embrace everything about getting sober, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a small group, so the interaction between members is genuine and 100% supportive. If this sounds like your kind of informal sober tribe, check out the details here.
Or, if you’d rather some 1:1 advice, chat with me. I was a typical grey area drinker and I totally understand what you’re going through. The older I got, the harder it was to break free. But here I am, 7 years sober and counting Keeping on keeping on. Why not book a free call with me and chat through your next steps with someone who gets you.
The grey area drinking zone is an enormous and common problem that can make it tricky to spot and acknowledge. Are you a grey area drinker? Take this quiz and find out for yourself. It’s time to stop defending your reasons for drinking and stand up for your right to live a sober and joyful life. Take back control today and abSOULutely start living the life you deserve.