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  • Jen Clements

Are You a Grey-Area Drinker? Find Out Now


Do you drink more than you planned and then feel guilty about it?


Do you make rules for yourself to moderate?


Do you intentionally take breaks from alcohol, only to convince yourself you’ve been too extreme?


Are you quietly concerned about your drinking even though no one else is?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be a grey-area drinker, a term coined by Jolene Park in her TEDx Talk Gray-Area Drinking.


So, what exactly is a grey-area drinker?


There’s a common misconception that drinkers fall into two camps only: normal drinkers and alcoholics. White and Black. But the reality isn’t black and white. The reality is that there is a spectrum with a vast grey-area between those two extremes. To paraphrase Jolene Park, a grey-area drinker is someone in between the every-now-and-again drinker and the drinker at rock-bottom.


The Alcohol Use Disorder Spectrum


The formal diagnosis for someone with a drinking problem is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). This is the diagnosis found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the publication used by clinicians for the assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders. ‘Alcoholic’ is not a diagnosis. These days, it’s more of a slang-term for someone with a severe AUD. Which brings me to the spectrum point. The AUD diagnosis consists of three sub-classifications: mild, moderate, and severe, which means that there truly is a spectrum along which all types of problem-drinkers sit. From the weekend binge-drinker who struggles with her off switch, to the working mum whose nightly glass or two often turns into a bottle.


Grey-area drinkers tend to qualify for an AUD, but on the mild to moderate side of the AUD spectrum. To be diagnosed with an AUD, individuals must meet the criteria set out in the DSM-5 (the latest edition) which provides that a person meeting any two of the 11 criteria during the same 12-month period qualifies for the diagnosis.


Want to find out if you have an AUD?!


It’s simple really. All you have to do is answer the following questions (which is the diagnostic tool found in the DSM-5 for AUD) and keep track of how many you answer ‘yes’ to:

In the past year, have you:


1. Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?

2. More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?

3. Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other after effects?

4. Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?

5. Found that drinking - or being sick from drinking - often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?

6. Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?

7. Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?

8. More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?

9. Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?

10. Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?

11. Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?


The presence of at least 2 of these symptoms indicates an Alcohol Use Disorder, and the severity of the AUD is defined as:


Mild: The presence of 2-3 symptoms

Moderate: The presence of 4-5 symptoms

Severe: The presence of 6 or more symptoms


Of course, no diagnostic tool is perfect. These questions are open to subjective interpretation and your answers may differ depending on the day and how you’re feeling. But hopefully they’ve given you some insight into the symptoms associated with problem drinking.


If you’ve found yourself on the mild to moderate side of the AUD spectrum, you’re not alone in the grey-area. I was there for a long time. Sometimes I was tightly controlling my drinking or taking a break from it completely. Other times I’d convince myself I was being too restrictive and drink every night because ‘there’s nothing wrong with having a glass or two of wine at night! Everyone else does it, so why can’t I?’. The problem was, my wine glasses looked more like fish bowls! And if I was going out for a big night, I would sometimes end up blacking out.


There are literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other women out there who have quiet concerns about their drinking, but who wouldn’t be caught dead at Alcoholics Anonymous.


So, where to from here?


I’m assuming you’re reading this because you want a healthier relationship with alcohol. Depending on where you are on your journey, your goal may be to cut down and drink more moderately, or it may be to give up completely.


For those wanting to moderate, our new program the 21-Day Reset Challenge is the perfect place to start. Practically all moderation programs require an initial AF period before reintroducing alcohol in a more mindful and moderate way. And we’re in the R&D phase of creating a Moderation course, so watch this space!


For those wanting to quit, you can’t go wrong with our Signature 8-Week Course.


And if you’re not ready to commit just yet, join our free private Facebook group which is full of hundreds of wonderful grey-area drinking women, just like you.

We can’t wait to support you.


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