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What Is Gray Area Drinking?

December 26, 2022
What Is Gray Area Drinking?

Since the 2019 pandemic began, people have reported drinking more than ever. Consumers purchased more alcohol in most of 2020 than in the previous three years. The frequency of alcohol use has also increased by 14% compared to the period before the pandemic. 

People attribute their increased drinking to the stress of the pandemic and the lack of social life because they are stuck at home. Since the pandemic began, several pressures have combined to force many individuals into the "gray area drinker" group.

You may wonder what that is or whether you have it or not. You never know, so keep reading to find out!

What is Gray Area Drinking?

Gray area drinkers may self-identify as social drinkers but may also drink at home alone or in other non-social circumstances. While they may not be physiologically dependent on alcohol, their drinking habits and volume may place them in the category of heavy drinkers.

A gray area drinker may have a drinking problem but not a severe alcohol use disorder. Those in the gray area may use alcohol excessively or as a means to control their emotions.

GABA (the natural anti-anxiety neurotransmitter), serotonin (the natural antidepressant neurotransmitter), and dopamine (the pleasure neurotransmitter responsible for motivation and attention) are involved in the brain chemistry of a gray area drinker. People with deficiencies in any of these neurotransmitters may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Individuals with low GABA often report drinking to unwind. People with low serotonin levels frequently claim that they drink to have fun. In addition, those with low dopamine levels commonly report consuming as a means of social connection and engagement. People with a mix of low neurotransmitters may drink for all three reasons, leading to overconsumption.

The loss of a dream, relationship, marriage, child, parent, profession, etc can lead to these behaviors. Unfortunately, no one is immune to these hazards; these are typical life experiences. Thus, the challenge is self-regulation instead of self-medicating in times of stress and difficulty.

Possible Causes of Gray Area Drinking

While it may be simple to identify an alcohol use problem, it is more difficult to determine the harmful effects of gray area drinking. This is why it might remain unnoticed for an extended period.

Here are four indicators that you or someone you know may be drinking in the gray area:

You Drink Between Two Extremes

While you use alcohol more regularly than on special occasions, you do not drink to the point of intoxication. Regularly drinking between these two extremes may classify you as a gray area drinker.

People Barely Know How Much You Drink

drinking with friends

People may not realize you've had more than you should while drinking since you don't seem drunk. You continue to behave normally, as your drinking does not attract attention. In actuality, you have consumed excessive alcohol and are called a heavy drinker.

You can stop drinking for brief periods, but it's difficult to abstain from alcohol permanently. You may have stayed away from alcohol for weeks or even months, but you find it challenging to remain sober. Eventually, you rejoin the drinking train and resume exactly where you left off.

You have Worries or Regrets

What may begin as an after-work drink with a buddy rapidly becomes a "what did I do last night?" type of morning. This form of remorse may suggest that you have a drinking problem and are a gray area drinker, even if you have not yet reached rock bottom. You may be concerned about your drinking, but no one is aware since you are functioning normally.

If you recognize yourself in any of these situations, you may be a gray area drinker who might benefit from alcohol therapy.

Signs Of Gray Area Drinking

Gray area drinking might be difficult to recognize, but there are a few indicators to watch for:

  • You can quit drinking but finds it challenging to remain sober or prevent cravings
  •  Is aware that alcohol is negatively impacting your life and wants to stop drinking but are unable to do so 
  • Frequently drinks more than intended
  • Alcohol use has detrimental, but not life-altering, effects on your capacity to achieve certain goals.
  • Intends to have a glass of wine but may consume the whole bottle to deal with emotions or relieve tension

Dangers of Gray Area Drinking

Despite the fact that gray area drinking is not a diagnosable illness and may not pose the same risks as severe AUD, it may nonetheless be harmful. Anybody who consumes excessive amounts of alcohol is in danger, but individuals experiencing chronic stress or social isolation are more vulnerable.

The risks of drinking in gray areas might include:

  • A negative effect on your profession or career
  • A detrimental influence on your family and connections
  • Prone to chronic liver cirrhosis
  • Infractions of the law, such as driving while impaired.
  • Mental health issues associated with alcohol use
  • Broken relationships with loved ones

Alcohol contributes to 30% of suicides, 40% of motor accidents, 50% of drownings and murders, and 60% of injury-causing falls. In addition to these risks associated with gray area drinking, there is also the possibility that this level of consumption might lead to a more severe alcohol use problem. 

The use of alcohol may be progressive, and what may begin as a minor issue might escalate into a significant drinking problem with increasingly severe risks and consequences. If you want to be happy again in life, it's time to put a stop to alcohol.

Treatment Strategy for Gray Area Drinking


Most people may believe that treatment programs are just for individuals with severe alcohol problems; however, they may also be for those with drinking problems that fall within a gray area.


Inpatient treatment or outpatient care may provide counseling, a detox program, and strategies for living an alcohol-free life.


Finding a therapist or counselor who specializes in drug addiction or alcohol use disorder might be helpful if you do not choose to participate in inpatient or outpatient treatment.

They may help you alter the negative beliefs that contributed to the undesirable behavior in the first place and enhance your mental health as a whole.

Support Groups

Support organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous may also help you with a gray area drinking issue. The same advice, concepts, and encouragement for individuals with severe alcohol problems are equally as effective for those with less severe alcohol issues.

Bottom Line

So, what is gray area drinking? It's a term used to describe the murky space between social and heavy drinking. People who engage in gray area drinking often don't see themselves as problem drinkers, but their alcohol consumption can have serious consequences.

If you think you or someone you know may be engaging in gray area drinking, it's essential to be aware of the danger and seek help if needed. Feel free to share your own experiences with gray area drinking in the comments below.

* All the information and content in this blog post are intended for informational purposes only. It should not be a substitute for professional or medical advice. You should always speak with a licensed professional before you follow anything you read in this blog post.

The information is provided by By Hilda Wong. While we try to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the post for any purpose.

Dr. Hilda Wong, MD

My name is Dr. Hilda Wong, MD, graduated from Avalon University School of Medicine. I have over 5 years of medical externship experience and a published researcher on PubMed. I'm also a health and nutrition enthusiast and have written several blogs and magazines in these areas. Forgot to mention that I own a Toy Australian Shepherd and a Betta Fish, and have an amazing zest for life, fashion, health, nutrition, and pets.

Dr. Hilda Wong, MD