The year 2020 was confusing, to say the least. Between social distancing and transitions into remote environments, it’s been hard to determine what’s “normal” during a pandemic. With numerous studies reporting an increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic, it has become evident that this sense of confusion has also extended to our relationship with alcohol. This has left many people wondering if their drinking has drifted into a gray area between moderate and excessive drinking.

How Much Alcohol Is OK to Drink?

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Alcohol misuse is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as anything more than moderate drinking. This involves more than one drink per day for women and more than two drinks a day for men. Alternatively, binge drinking and heavy drinking fall into the excessive drinking category.  

Gray area drinking, on the other hand, is the middle-of-the-road drinking that lives somewhere between moderate drinking and alcohol addiction. Gray area drinking is generally not healthy. However, the habit does not usually cause any major concerns like job loss, legal issues, or societal problems. 

Given the lack of firmly defined parameters, it is assumed that most drinkers fall into the gray area drinking category at some point in their lives, including those among the veteran population. 

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Veterans and Alcohol Abuse

Active and retired military personnel are exposed to stressful situations that the civilian population generally does not encounter. Deployment, combat, and difficulty rejoining civilian life all contribute to elevated stressors among the military population. Due to this, veterans are already predisposed to substance abuse at a slightly higher rate than the general population. 

In addition, the drinking culture is prevalent in the U.S. military, with heavy alcohol use for stress relief being the norm. It is not surprising, then, that alcohol continues to be one of the most popular substances used by veterans. This excess drinking in the military among the population further blurs the line of what’s considered healthy alcohol intake.

As a veteran, if you find that your drinking patterns feel normal in comparison to those around you but they are still causing problems in your life, it may be time to reevaluate how alcohol is contributing to your lifestyle.

How to Recognize Gray Area Drinking   

If you consider sobriety as one end of the alcohol use spectrum, and alcoholism the other, the progression of alcohol consumption goes something like this: 

Sobriety -> Moderate Drinking -> Gray area -> Alcohol Misuse -> Alcoholism 

The gray area drinker functions, but often questions their relationship with alcohol. They also question whether stopping would be in their best interests.

Relatively consistent indicators of gray area drinking include the following:

  • Drinking more often or more in a sitting than intended. 
  • Noticing alcohol is interfering with goals (fitness, professional, personal, etc.).
  • Wavering between restrictive drinking to drinking too much.
  • Using alcohol as a crutch for every emotion or occasion.
  • Questioning your relationship with alcohol, contemplating quitting,  

Ultimately, the margins defining this type of drinking are fuzzy. This adds to the confusion when attempting to recognize problem drinking. The bottom line is that if you’re questioning your level of alcohol consumption, you may be in a gray area. 

Addressing Risky Drinking Behaviors

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Regular observation of your relationship with alcohol will help you discover whether you’re using alcohol as you intended, or if drinking is starting to control your life. 

If you find that you are drinking too much, consider the following strategies:

  • Determine what you’re looking for when you’re drinking alcohol (alleviate boredom, to relax, etc.). Then, find another way to achieve this goal.
  • Find a hobby or sport that doesn’t focus on drinking alcohol. 
  • Replace drinking habits with new habits. For example, during happy hour, go to the gym. After a few weeks, a new habit will have formed. 

If alcohol use continues to be a concern, it may be time to consider alcohol treatment for gray area drinking. 

When It’s Time for Help with Gray Area Drinking

Given that there is generally not a rock bottom in gray area drinking, it is difficult to determine when help at an alcohol treatment facility is necessary, and what kind of addiction treatment would be the most beneficial. 

Gray area drinkers may not need to detox. They may also find inpatient drug rehab too involved for their personal substance use experience. In circumstances when the body is not physically dependent on alcohol but drug rehab would be beneficial, outpatient therapy could be the answer. 

Alcohol Treatment at Heroes’ Mile in Deland, Florida

At Heroes’ Mile, our veteran-specific addiction treatment facility offers intensive outpatient treatment for veterans who need support in addressing substance use but do not need medical detox or residential support. 

During our outpatient substance abuse treatment, patients come to our addiction treatment center for only a few hours each day. This allows them to retain their normal schedules while living at home. 

At Heroes’ Mile, the holistic treatment plans provide support for military-specific experiences that may be contributing to your desire to drink, including post-traumatic stress and military sexual trauma. If you are a veteran or would like to refer a veteran to our program, please call our admissions specialists today at 888-838-6692 or fill out our confidential online form.

Outpatient rehab allows for addiction treatment while a person is still living at home. This type of treatment addresses addiction in a treatment setting for several hours a day or week, allowing for the client to retain a regular schedule.

Yes, alcohol is both physically and mentally addictive. Simply put, alcohol can change the chemistry in the brain, leading to physical dependency.

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking and heavy drinking. Additionally, excessive drinking involves any drinking by pregnant women or those that are underage.

Gray area drinking refers to the level of drinking that is considered more than light to moderate consumption but not yet to the level of alcohol addiction. This type of drinker rarely hits a rock bottom. However, alcohol still may be a problem in these individuals’ lives. Many drinkers fall into the gray area category.

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