Why It’s Harder To Quit Drinking As A Grey-Area Drinker
Updated: Jun 24
I consume a lot of alcohol recovery material. I read all the Quit Lit, I listen to a tonne of recovery podcasts, and I watch every alcohol and addiction documentary I can get my hands on. And while I’m thrilled that there is so much recovery content out there, what frustrates me is that most of it deals with late or end stage alcohol addiction.
Now, I get that stories of dramatic rock bottoms make for gripping material. But by representing alcohol addiction by lives that have spiralled out of control, people who get the shakes, and who drink in the morning, I believe it perpetuates the hopeless alcoholic stereotype. A stereotype which grey-area drinkers simply can’t relate to.
Grey-area drinkers are those people in the earlier stages of problem drinking. They are the ones abusing alcohol (by binge drinking or leaning on alcohol too heavily during a rough patch), or those in the earlier stages of alcohol addiction. Often, their loved ones aren’t concerned about their drinking. They are high functioning individuals who are meeting all their responsibilities. They excel at work, take their kids to soccer practice, hit the gym, and host book club. They haven’t noticeably lost anything due to their drinking. But in those moments of stillness, they are quietly concerned about it.
Below are four reasons why it’s harder for grey-area drinkers to quit drinking for good.
1. You don’t know if you have a ‘real’ problem
As a grey-area drinker, when you compare your experiences to those depicted in the average recovery memoir, podcast or documentary, you’re essentially being told that that (the low bottom experience) is what a drinking problem looks like. Your experience doesn’t look anything like that, and using this logic, you conclude that you can’t have a drinking problem. Or at least not a real problem.
So when that quiet internal voice tells you that you need to quit drinking, you’re not entirely convinced. Because you only quit drinking if you need to, and you only need to if you have a problem... Right?
Well, no. That’s not at all right, but it’s a common misconception that many drinkers have.
Thinking that you need to have a real drinking problem to justify quitting makes it very difficult for grey-area drinkers to make the decision to quit. You feel like quitting completely is too extreme, and your best option is to moderate. But what you might not know is that often, trying to moderate can be harder than quitting.
Another thing you may not be aware of is that Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), the clinical diagnosis given to problem drinkers, consists of a spectrum ranging from mild to severe. A spectrum along which many grey-area drinkers sit.
The truth is, you don’t need to have a drinking problem for alcohol to have become a problem for you. You don’t need to consider yourself an alcoholic. You don’t need to have been diagnosed with an AUD. Sobriety is available to anyone whose drinking isn’t serving them.
2. It’s hard to stay stopped because you convince yourself that your drinking wasn’t that bad - and you may be right
If someone has been to jail, or lost their job, or their relationship, or custody of their kids due to their drinking, these painful experiences can be really helpful for maintaining sobriety.
When you quit drinking as a grey-area drinker, you often don’t have dramatic rock bottom experiences fuelling your motivation to remain sober. You’re not on thin ice with your employer or the law. Your kids are still in your custody. Your marriage may still be intact. Your life often appears completely normal.
So when you’ve been off the booze for a few days or weeks, it’s easy to convince yourself that your drinking wasn’t ‘that bad’ and that you should drink again. And maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe you didn’t drink every night. Maybe you never drank to blackout. And maybe the only person concerned about your drinking is you.
When these things are true, it’s easy to fall for the trap of thinking: ‘I've been too extreme in quitting completely. Everyone drinks. It’s normal to have wine at night! So ‘n so drinks waaay more than I do.’ And this thinking leads you back to drinking.
But what if you shifted your thinking? What if you stopped focusing on whether your drinking was bad enough to justify quitting, and instead focused on whether your life, with alcohol in it, was good enough to continue as it was?
Surely, if you were happy with your life as it was, you wouldn’t have made the decision that booze needed to go?
3. People aren’t supportive of your decision
When someone who has burnt their life to the ground through drinking quits alcohol, their loved ones are generally supportive of their choice. They understand it. They recognise that quitting was necessary, so they don’t give that person any shit about their decision to be sober.
A grey-area drinker’s decision to quit is often met with the opposite response. ‘But you don’t have a problem!’, ‘That’s extreme, why don’t you just cut back a bit?’, ‘Ah, come on, you can have one, can’t you?’, ‘Go on, live a little’, ‘Don’t be boring’ and so on.
This lack of support can make it difficult to maintain your sobriety. If you’re not completely committed to sobriety, it’s likely that your arm will be twisted at some point.
This is why it’s essential that you make a rock-solid decision to quit, even if you don’t plan on being alcohol-free forever. This way, you’ve made up your mind and there’s none of the ‘will I, won’t I?’ debate.
4. You don’t think you need support
Arguably, drinkers with low rock bottom stories are more likely to recognise that they have a real problem and need help to overcome it. They generally go to rehab, and often continue to receive support through recovery meetings.
As a grey-area drinker, you’re more likely to think that you don’t need support. Why would you need support for something that isn’t much of a problem? Rehab seems way too extreme and you wouldn’t be caught dead at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. So you soldier on, believing that you can make this massive lifestyle change on your own.
Sobriety is a journey made much easier through support and connection with like-minded people. You don’t have to go to rehab or AA if those options don’t resonate with you. Besides Thrivalist, there are tonnes of communities out there waiting to support your alcohol-free journey. From private Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, other sobriety and mindful drinking programs, to traditional recovery meetings, and sober meet-ups, your tribe is out there!
While being a grey-area drinker makes quitting harder in some ways, it also makes it a lot easier in others. AUD is a spectrum and addiction is progressive. This means that the earlier in your drinking journey you choose to get off the slippery slope, the milder the negative consequences and the easier it is from a physical and emotional perspective.
If that quiet but persistent voice inside you is encouraging you to quit, don’t be afraid of stepping away from the herd to honour yourself. Even if your drinking isn’t that bad!