Wednesday 6 June 2018

Grey Area Drinking

As a society, we are very black and white about alcohol addiction. The accepted view is that people fall into one of two categories: 'normal drinker' or 'an alcoholic.'

The science doesn't support this. Alcohol addiction, like any other addiction, is progressive. It's a spectrum of shades of grey (or gray, if you're reading this from the USA).

Medical professionals have, for many years, been moving away from talking about 'alcoholism' to referring to 'alcohol use disorder' which is a sliding scale. And, finally, it looks as if society is starting to catch up.

I first came across the expression 'Grey Area Drinking' in the fabulous TEDx talk by Jolene Park, and yesterday I found an article which I posted on the SoberMummy Facebook page titled 'Am I an Almost Alcoholic?'

There is more and more talk on social media and in the press about those of us who fall somewhere in between the neat categories of 'normal' and 'rock bottom.'

This issue is way more important that just semantics about terminology.

Firstly, the black and white view stops many of us acknowledging that we have a problem.

In my TEDx talk: Making Sober Less Shameful, I tell the story of the evenings I spent Googling 'Am I an Alcoholic' and answering the resulting questionnaires. It would ask things like 'do you drink alone?' (no, I'm with the dog), and 'do you have blackouts?'

Some of those questions I'd answer 'yes' to, but many of them I'd answer 'no'. At which point I'd think 'phew, I'm okay then,' and carry on drinking, despite knowing, in my heart, that I had an issue.

The fear of being branded 'an alcoholic' stopped me from addressing my addiction for many years.

This black and white thinking perpetuates the shame of addiction. It enables the vast majority of people to think 'I'm alright, Jack,' and to look pityingly at those of us who aren't.

The reality is, however, that many, many people lie somewhere on that spectrum of dependency, even those who are only drinking one small glass of wine a day, if that glass is one they absolutely can't do without.

If we started seeing alcohol addiction as a spectrum of shades of grey, then more people would realise that they had a problem, and be encouraged to quit before they slid further down the slippery slope.

Because it is progressive. As with any other drug, your tolerance increases over time and your mind and body start to crave more and more.

The traditional view that you have to 'hit rock bottom' before you can quit is wrong and dangerous. The closer towards rock bottom you slide, the harder it is to stop.

By rock bottom, you're physically more dependant, your habits are more ingrained, and you feel more hopeless.

Once you've lost your job, your family and your home it's difficult to see what you have left to live for. Despair keeps you trapped in the downward spiral of addiction.

Instead of asking ourselves 'am I an alcoholic?' we should be asking questions like 'am I becoming dependant on booze? Is it having a negative impact on my life? Is it gradually becoming more of a problem?'

If your answer to those questions is 'yes', then climb off that slippery slide while it's still relatively easy to do so.

If you'd like to read the story of my first year without booze, The Sober Diaries, then click here (UK). The Kindle version is now back online in USA and Canada! Click here (USA), here (Canada or here (Australia).

There are still places available on the October workshop in London that I'm hosting with World Without Wine. For more information click here.

Love to you all!

SM x


  1. Spot on Clare!! As always you have nailed the 'point'. Like yourself I spent years knowing that I was not alcoholic, at the same time also knowing I had a problem, but escaping the truth as I could also say 'Phew' when answering the questions.
    So I was sitting in the grey area (metaphorically as well) The black and white of not drinking is indeed so much easier and enjoyable to live:-)) I would encourage anyone dithering in the grey to give giving up a positive try ... You will be amazed :-))

  2. I bought and read in entirety the kindle edition of your book last night. Today is my day one. Again. I hate the idea that until my first target of 100 days there will be no booze fueled laughs with friends. It is the hardest part of the year for me too. My bestie from Japan I see once a year will be here. I will be holidaying with my sis from Oz in Cornwall for a week and a cousin is getting married and I have chosen now to stop. But my size, sluggishness, worsening depression and that lard like corset of flab around my middle have all got to be dealt with. I hope to make it and next 100 and the next.
    Thank you for you book. I loved it.

  3. Totally get this article. Well done Clare. I was no alcoholic but certainly too dependent. Have cut back, done dry Jan, midweek restrictions, the lot. Always back to the slippery slope. I am now 49 days AF and last night could so easily have hit the wine. What stopped me was that fortunately I recognised that I was not fooling myself into thinking that I wanted the "Lovely Glass of Wine" - you know, the one in the sunshine with laughter, all in soft focus, all sophisticated and with delicate moderation - but knew that I was stressed and just wanted to drink to try and release that (which it would not have done). I didn't just want one. And that's the problem. It really does feel like a nasty itch sometimes....

    1. Thats a great realisation. I too had to realise that perfect glass of wine exists only our heads, and in advertising. The real glass is a bottle or two. Alone probably. And it is tied by an un-breakable cable to the next morning with its shame and self-loathing.

      It sounds like you're doing great, hang in there, it gets easier. I'm into year 2, and have lost nearly 20kg so far.



  4. Well done. Why do we "shame" those among us who quit at an early phase of the disorder, before we began to have a more serious problem? Quitting while we are still high functioning, and while many around us are also drinking just as much as us, takes its own form of courage and determination. The more we get the word out about the nature of the slippery slope, the more folks will rescue themselves earlier. Yes!

  5. I've just started your book (I'm at the stage of reading about a sober life I can get my hands on) your book is like reading the contents of my head. Going out with some girlfriends this evening. First night out since stopping two weeks ago. I've told them I'm taking the month off so I feel great for my Summer holiday and I'm already getting the comments about putting bets on when I'm going to crack this evening and have a glass of wine - so very encouraging! Not one of them thinks they may have a problem too! Thank you, again, for your wonderful book and blog. It's really helping me through the freaking out stage!

    1. Hi Unknown, I'm at 2 weeks to and have just finished reading the Sober Diaries! Loved it! Couldn't put it down (thank you Clare!) I gave up for 3 months last year but got complacent and the 1 every now and then soon returned to regular wine time... hence I was back at Day 1 two weeks ago... Sticking with it this time! Embrace the Sober! Hope last night went well, and wine free xx

    2. Thanks for your message! Even in the last couple of booze free weeks, I've gone from thinking I HAVE to completely stop, to then thinking it might be ok to have a couple when I'm out. I've got a hen night in August with some of my oldest friends who I literally learned to drink with. I'm dreading it and had thought maybe I can allow myself a boozy night, but you're so right. I just know I'll be back to square one - drinking way too much every weekend and lying to my husband about how much I've had. You'll be pleased to hear I didn't drink on my night out last week and even made sobriety seem quite cool (maybe!?) Here's to many more booze free nights outs and wonderful hangover free mornings for us! We've got this! Xxx

    3. Well done you! So glad you didnt drink :-) Celebrate the sober successes!!! I had a freak out moment the other day when the realisation hit me, "I have committed to no wine... forever....REALLY ?!?!! What am I doing???!!!" Glad to say I'm back to feeling super upbeat about the whole sober thing now... its just better sober! And those lovely fresh mornings!! They are the best! I did have my first 'explaining sober' moment the other day, for which I had prepared... "Just a lifestyle choice" :-) Try not to overthink August... it's a wee way away and by then we will be a lot more used to the whole not drinking thing;-) All the best xx
      ps. I did join up to which I finding amazing, I think Clare mentions it in her book too, great supportive online community, should check it out if your interested xx

  6. Fab article and again so true! People still say to me, oooh i didn’t realise you were THAT bad????!!! And you know what compared to people who are further down the line of addiction or a darker shade of grey, then no I wasn’t. But I knew it was getting worse and I was feeling horrendous most weekends. I was moving in the wrong direction! I think if your googling or even thinking “do I drink too much” you already know the answer and you probably are. And a lot of people are inexactly the same position!! To anyone starting out just do it, you will not regret it I promise you. Let’s make the spectrum of sobriety as bright as we can!!!!! �������� Thanks SM big hugs xxxxxx

    1. "Moving in the wrong direction". I like that. Thank you. Will use it in explaining - which unfortunately us non drinkers seem to have to do, but there you go.
      61 days - 2 months since I drank. It is a very interesting journey, I have to say.

    2. 61 days that’s fab!!!! It does just keep getting better and better. I’m nearly 19months and celebrated my daughters Holy communion yesterday, a full day of entertaining and people drinking and I didn’t miss it for one second and no one even mentions that I am not drinking now which makes life so much easier! A lovely day and although I’m so tired I’m hangover free today! Your doing amazing xxxxx

  7. I too hate the assumption that you are either a 'normal drinker' (what is normal anyhow??) or an alcoholic. I detest the word alcoholic and I refuse to label myself as a recovering alcoholic. Once upon a time I was dependent on alcohol and now I haven't been for 335 days.

  8. All your comments are SO true - I could be writing them and identify myself completely with them. I am currently missing that 20 minute buzz that wine gives me. I have a drink and suddenly I am full of energy, creativity, confidence- I could put the world to rights! However, I know these feelings will be short-lived, and I know that the euphoria will be followed by blackout and all the consequences and self-loathing that go with it. How do I get that feeling of euphoria without alcohol? I am open to any suggestions!

    1. all I know is what has worked for me and I have focused on exercise, and pushing myself to be the fittest I have ever been! Plus online shopping and coffee!!! 😂😂😂 I’ve also set up an insta page of your on there, plus a blog. It all helps!! xxx

  9. Hi Clare
    Following the most horrendous hangover lasting well over a week I decided to give drinking a break. I was somewhere on that spectrum you are discussing and just had enough.
    I stumbled accross your book which led me to Jason Vale and to joining Soberistas. I am now 47 days AF and feel like I have seen the light. Thank you for your honesty and for just being so real!

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  11. on John MacArthur preached a number of years ago about alcohol in the life of the Christian. I heard this sermon on his radio program. In this sermon, he asks eight questions of his listeners in order for them to examine their own lives in light of the bible's teachings about alcohol. I've decided to answer these questions here.

  12. Just saw this now. I'm turning 29 in a weeks time and i want to be a better person than this. Professionally i'm there but my relationship with Alcohol need to change