743K New Jerseyans Are ‘Gray Area Drinkers’. Here’s What To Know

NEW JERSEY — Many people turn to alcohol as a way to cope. So, what about people who drink during weekend brunches, after-work, or during happy hour? They are “gray area drinkers.”

A relatively new term, “gray area drinkers” are a group of people who drink regularly, but don’t meet the clinical criteria for alcohol dependence. The “gray area” can be described as the space between moderate drinking and diagnosed alcohol use disorder.

The CDC says that a majority (90 percent) of those who drink excessively don’t actually meet the clinical criteria for severe alcohol use disorder, but these criteria are lower than many people realize. For women, guidelines state that anything over eight drinks a week is excessive drinking, and for men, it’s over 15 drinks per week.

The American Addiction Centers conducted a survey of 3,704 people aged 21 and over about their drinking habits. The survey revealed that a significant number of New Jerseyans would be considered ‘gray area drinkers.’ According to the survey, roughly 743,000 people in New Jersey sometimes drink alcohol excessively or emotionally, despite not having a severe alcohol use disorder.

The study also analyzed results broken down by age and discovered that, overall, people aged 25 – 34 had the highest percentage of gray area drinkers with nearly one-third (32 percent) meeting the criteria.

The second-highest percentage belonged to those aged 35 – 44, in which one-quarter (25 percent) 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 and oftentimes encouraged. Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of those aged 18 – 24 would be classified as gray area drinkers. These figures decreased as the age groups increased in years — 21 percent are gray area drinkers between ages 45 – 54; age 55 – 64 had 19 percent gray area drinkers and 11 percent of people aged 65+are gray area drinkers.

To check out the infographic on gray area drinking, click here.

It’s possible, based on the study, that gray area drinking is more common than one may think. A significant number of drinkers also question their relationship with drinking when it comes to experiencing shame or embarrassment about their consumption habits.

When asked if they experience any guilt, 16 percent of drinkers said they do feel guilty about their drinking habits. Even though so many drinkers admit to feeling this way, when it comes to gray area habits that are normalized, it might be difficult for them to cut down on alcohol.

If a social circle engages in similar habits, there’s no space to discuss feelings associated with shame or embarrassment. This could lead to some people struggling in silence with their relationship to drinking, American Addiction Centers said.

People in the gray area are also unaware of the health implications of increasing alcohol consumption. During the pandemic, many Americans turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety. Their consumption increased slowly but surely.

Any increase in alcohol consumption heightens the risk of alcohol poisoning, liver disease, heart disease, as well as decreased brain function.

If you feel you’ve been drinking too much and might fall in the “gray area”, here’s how to identify warning signs:

  • Drinking alcohol more often than you initially intended
  • You question your relationship with alcohol
  • Your drinking habits don’t appear problematic to those around you, even though you might be questioning them
  • You’re unable to stop drinking and keep giving in
  • Drinking every day and not being able to skip a day

Remember, cutting down on alcohol consumption might not be a bad idea, as it can make a noticeable difference to health, according to a study by BMJ Open.


If you or someone you know suffers from alcohol addiction, seek help and support at: www.samhsa.gov Another good resource is the Rethinking Drinking website by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).


Thank you for reading. Have a correction or news tip? Email sarah.salvadore@patch.com

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