If you are considering changing your relationship with alcohol, explore 6 warning signs that you may be a gray area drinker and how to get help with the Coleman Institute.

What Is Gray Area Drinking?

As we begin to think about Substance Use Disorders (SUD) in new ways, one thing that has changed is thinking about alcohol consumption. In the past, if you had a “drinking problem,” you were an “alcoholic.” However, it is now recognized that patterns around alcohol consumption differ vastly, and the problems can come in many forms. One such area is a zone recently dubbed “Gray Area Drinking.”

Just as it sounds, gray area drinking is when your drinking habits are in a zone that is hard to define. Not black, not white. Is it a problem or not? Am I drinking too much, or is that “normal?”

Gray Area Drinking Guidelines

We can start by looking at the guidelines as set forth by the NIAAA:

“Moderate Drinking is defined as limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which conducts the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), defines binge drinking as:

“5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.”

More like this: Alcohol Use Disorder: Easy to Meet Criteria

Even within these guidelines, there is ambiguity. It can come down to taking a cold hard look in the mirror.

So how do you know if you have a problem? How do you know if you need help? How do you know if you need an alcohol detox?


Gray Area Drinking: 6 Warning Signs

Here are some ways that one can try and better understand if there is an issue:

  1. Start by looking inside. What is your gut telling you? What would you hear if you were to be completely honest with yourself? Deep down, do you feel you have a problem with alcohol?
  2. What would you see if you were a loved one and looked at yourself? What would you tell your loved one?
  3. Ask your spouse or best friend, or adult children. Scary, I know! But do they feel that drinking is a problem for you?
  4. Speak with your primary care doctor.
  5. Read! There are some fantastic books that can help you understand yourself and your relationship to and with alcohol.
  6. Consider attending a peer support meeting to see if other people’s stories resonate with you.

More like this: The Myth of the ‘Functioning Alcoholic’


Here’s the thing: gray area drinking can easily be overlooked and justified as “normal” when it is affecting your life in many negative ways. Giving up alcohol can be difficult because it has become a ubiquitous part of our lives and cultures. Usually, we are forced to look into our problems by someone at home or work or come to our own realization. There can be a tremendous amount of denial which needs to be faced.

Either way, we at the Coleman Institute have helped thousands of patients safely, effectively, and successfully cease drinking and be inducted into long-acting Naltrexone. Either an implant or Vivitrol®. If you have questions, we would be glad to speak confidentially. Together we can see whether the Coleman Method may be just the program you need to stop the cycle of drinking.

Deborah Reich, MD