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  • There is a space between moderate drinking and alcohol addiction that some call the gray area, or gray area drinking

    It’s where someone doesn’t drink enough to be considered an alcoholic or alcohol dependent, but they still struggle with alcohol use and think about alcohol regularly.

    Alcohol may be harming their lives, but the amount they drink might not look like what most would call alcohol abuse.

    Gray Area Drinking

    Gray area drinking refers to the space between moderate, now-and-again drinking and rock bottom alcoholism. 

    It may not look like problematic drinking to most people, but it is for the person dealing with it. Their drinking habits may seem controlled, but to a gray area drinker, alcohol makes their life worse beneath the surface.

    Jolene Park

    The term gray area drinking was first coined by Jolene Park, a functional nutritionist and health coach. She stopped drinking in 2014 and first talked about the term in a TEDx Talk. 

    She went on to form the Nourish Online Membership Community for Former Gray Area Drinkers and is the creator of the Gray Area Drinking Recovery Hub that provides resources for people who are looking for help with gray area drinking.

    Signs Of Gray Area Drinking

    Gray area drinking can be difficult to see in yourself or others but there are some signs you can look out for:

    • quitely worries or regrets drinking
    • can stop drinking but finds it hard to stay sober or avoid cravings
    • knows alcohol is harming their life and wants to stop drinking but are unable to follow through
    • commonly drinks more than intended
    • questions the level of alcohol intake
    • alcohol affects ability to reach goals
    • experiences negative, but not life changing, consequences from alcohol consumption 
    • intends to have a glass of wine but may finish the whole bottle instead
    • drinks to deal with emotions or cope with stress

    Treating Gray Area Drinking

    While gray area drinking may not be as dangerous as heavy drinking or continuous binge drinking, it can certainly escalate to that point if you’re not careful. That’s why treating gray area drinking while it’s at that stage can be so important. There are several ways you can get help.

    Treatment Program

    Most people may think of treatment programs as only for those who have more extreme alcohol issues, but they can also be for those with gray area drinking problems. 

    Staying at an inpatient treatment center or going to outpatient care can provide you with therapy, a detox program if necessary, and tips and strategies to live an alcohol-free life.


    If you don’t want to go to inpatient or outpatient treatment, finding a therapist or a counselor who specializes in substance abuse or alcohol use disorder can also help. 

    They can help you change the negative thoughts that led to the unwanted behavior to begin with and improve your overall mental health.

    Support Groups

    Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can also help those who have a problem with gray area drinking. The same tips, principles, and encouragement that work for people with severe alcohol problems can also work for those with more moderate alcohol issues.

    If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use, call our helpline to find the best program for you.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol
    Gray Area Drinking Recovery Hub - Jolene Park
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - The “Gray Area” of Consumption Between Moderate and Risk Drinking

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on August 25, 2022
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