ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Many people tend to find just about any excuse to drink during the week, and when excessive alcohol consumption becomes normalized in social groups, it’s not always easy to distinguish between acceptable moderate drinking and a diagnosable alcohol use disorder. The area between the two extremes is considered “gray area drinking.”

Although not an official diagnosis, those who drink within this area may use alcohol in emotional or excessive ways, which can lead to mental health problems, relationship issues, and work disruptions. For the person drinking, however, it can be difficult to accept that their alcohol consumption patterns have had a negative impact on their daily life.

American Addiction Centers conducted a survey of 3,704 people aged 21 and over about their drinking habits to determine how many could be classified as “gray area drinkers.” The survey showed that a significant percentage—31%—of New Yorkers would fall into this category. That is around 3,268,000 people in New York who sometimes drink alcohol excessively or emotionally, even though they don’t have a severe alcohol use disorder.

The study also broke down results by age and found that, overall, those aged 25-34 had the highest percentage of gray area drinkers with nearly one-third meeting the criteria. The second-highest age group was those aged 35 to 44, in which one quarter would be classified as gray area drinkers based on their drinking habits.

Drinking habits among young adults and college students are particularly notable in settings such as frat parties and social gatherings where excessive consumption is normalized, if not encouraged. Nearly one-quarter of those aged 18-24 would be classified as gray area drinkers. These figures decrease as the age groups increased in years:

  • Age 45 – 54: 21% are gray area drinkers
  • Age 55 – 64: 19% are gray area drinkers
  • Age 65+: 11% are gray area drinkers

If you’re questioning your relationship with alcohol and don’t know if the number of drinks you’re having is a clear indicator of a problem, the following symptoms are warning signs of gray area drinking:

Often drinking more alcohol than you initially intended

Because the substance is addictive, those who are dependent on alcohol may find it very difficult to stop after just one or two drinks. This can lead to things like bad hangovers, an increased risk of alcohol poisoning, and an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.

You question your relationship with alcohol

If you are ashamed or feel guilty about the amount you drink, or wonder whether those around you consume the same amount, this could be an indicator of gray area drinking/ If you question whether or not you have a dependency, in any way, this is cause for concern.

Your drinking habits don’t appear problematic to those around you, even though you might be questioning them

You might even know people who often drink more than you, justifying your behaviors in comparison. On the outside, it may look like your drinking habits don’t impact your daily life, but it could just be that those around you are engaged in similar patterns and you don’t view them as problematic either.

You’re unable to stop drinking and give in when you try to cut down

This could be a sign of a much deeper and alarming issue. If not addressed or understood, it could lead to a more severe alcohol use disorder.

Drinking every day, and not being able to skip a day without alcohol

If you have a hard time cutting down on your intake, it could be a sign of a more serious dependency. This goes hand-in-hand with the above point.

From the results of this American Addiction Centers survey, it’s possible to see that gray area drinking is a habit far more common than one may think. It also appears that a significant amount of people question their relationship with drinking. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol consumption, contact the American Addiction Centers for help at (866) 456-8167.