The grey area

Grey area drinking is the blurred space between end stage alcoholism and drinking occasionally. The term, first coined by health coach Jolene Park, is now a concept resonating with many Australians.

Even though someone’s drinking may not look problematic to friends and family, if they frequently feel shame and stress about their alcohol consumption they may be in the grey.  

Wine glasses clinking
Grey area drinking is more common than you think. Photo: Shutterstock.

Former grey area drinker Christie White has been sober for three and a half years, but said she struggled with moderating alcohol for almost a decade.

“I knew I wasn’t an alcoholic because my drinking never caused an issue with my job or family. Nor was anyone telling me it was bad enough that I had to give up. But I felt faulty and broken because I couldn’t moderate something it seems most people can,” Ms White said.

According to research company Roy Morgan, Australians are collectively drinking an average of 100 million glasses of alcohol every week. The drug has become an intrinsic and inseparable part of Australian culture, but there’s a destructive side to its sweet demeanour.

Another former grey area drinker Lesley Heidenreich said her wine o’clock habit was initially a solution for stress and anxiety, but instead severely heightened those emotions.  

“I remember feeling like I wanted to numb some of my feelings, so would drink a couple of glasses as soon as it hit 5pm. It was a way to buffer my feelings,” she said.

Not only was it all too easy for Ms Heidenreich to have a few at home, it had become seemingly impossible to catch up with friends without the presence of alcohol. She said that she was drinking at every celebration and commiseration, and had begun associating socialising with excessive drinking.

“Alcohol is a class one carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer, but we put it up on a pedestal to the point where we’re expected to consume it at every event and gathering,” she said.

If almost every adult is drinking at almost every event, how can you muster the strength to quit if you find your relationship with alcohol problematic?

National Drug Research Institute lead researcher Tanya Chikritzhs said: “If someone feels unsupported when trying to quit or reduce their alcohol use, it could make behaviour change much more difficult. If this is the case, consequences could be serious for both the individual and for others around them.”

Ms White said her family rolled their eyes when she told them she was attempting sobriety. Both them and Ms White were under the popular misconception that only serious alcoholics had to give up drinking entirely.

“What helped me make the decision was putting the shame and the judgement down, and instead picking up a curiosity to learn about the liquid I was consuming. What I uncovered was enough for me to go nope, I don’t want to consume that anymore.”

Once making the leap into sobriety, Health Line reports you can expect “pink cloud euphoria”. This describes the feelings of elation and extreme joy the body experiences as it adjusts to life without the meddling of a drug.

Woman on beach
Ms Heideneich enjoys her new life of sobriety by the beach. Photo: Supplied.

Ms Heidenreich said she experienced a surge of peace and happiness. She was able to manage her emotions more efficiently, and felt particularly connected to nature. Ms White reported a similar experience.

She said: “I want the narrative to change that sobriety isn’t deprivation, it’s actually quite the opposite. People don’t realise that it could actually be the key to everything they’ve been searching for in the bottle.”

Categories: Culture, Health

Tagged as: ,