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  • Writer's pictureChristine Coulson

What makes a Grey Area Drinker?

Updated: Jan 22

When I tell people I was a 'Grey Area Drinker', the next question is inevitably the same. "What's that?!" It's a fair question, it's not a commonly used term in the 'real world' and one that I hadn't heard of before I realised I was one.

The phrase was first coined by Jolene Park in her TED talk from 2017; and for a lot of people - me included - hearing about the concept of Grey Area Drinking made the penny drop so loudly I'm pretty sure my ears are still ringing.

A lot of people think drinkers fall into two categories; the 'normal' drinker or the alcoholic. In actual fact, this falls far from the reality. I was not dependent on alcohol, but I was not a 'normal' drinker. Grey Area Drinkers are those of us who sit in the middle; sometimes happily, sometimes not.

Grey Area Drinkers don't necessarily drink every day; they may even sail through Dry January. They're unlikely to have lost friends, partners or jobs over their drinking. In short, their life hasn't fallen apart, they haven't hit a 'rock bottom' and they aren't (openly) spiralling out of control.

But they don't have a healthy relationship with alcohol either; they definitely can't 'take it or leave it'. Chances are they've tried (and failed) to moderate their drinking, and deep down, they know that their relationship with alcohol isn't as healthy as it could be.

Grey Area Drinkers will often be the instigator of further drinking when in social situations. Secretly, they may plan weekends and arrangements to include dedicated 'hangover time'; they may even book annual leave to correspond with situations they know are going to get particularly messy.

They're often known as 'a good drinker' at work or within friendship groups. They'll always be there to celebrate an achievement; or commiserate a loss. They're unlikely to go to bed if there's still wine in the bottle, and will probably know what they're going to drink on any occasion. If you're a Grey Area Drinker, it's very likely that your birthday presents tend to have alcohol as a theme. If you know a Grey Area Drinker, you probably rejoice in the fact they're easy to buy for when Christmas comes around.

So do the stats back this theory up? Well, yes. Drinkaware report that within the UK, 20% of adults don't drink at all, and 56% drink within Government guidelines. This leaves 24% of adults who drink more than is recommended, but in England, approximately 600,000 people are believed to be dependent on alcohol (Alcohol Change UK) - just 1% of the population. By my calculation, that leaves around 23% of the population who drink more than is advised but aren't dependent, and who potentially fall into the 'Grey Area Drinker' category.

So what does this mean? Well, if you've read this and this has made some sort of sense to that feeling you've had that you're drinking too much - well, welcome to the world of Grey Area Drinking. You're not alone, but that doesn't make it right. Drinking excessively isn't healthy, and although you're functioning, it's very likely you know that positive changes need to be made.

You can read my blog on how to look at your relationship with alcohol here; but if you'd like to chat to me, please reach out. Changing your drinking can be one of the most daunting things you can do, but change is possible. And I know this is true, because I've done it.


Person in floral dress with glass of wine considering if they drink too much


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