in the gray: what is gray area drinking?

I wondered – what qualifies as “gray area drinking”? More appropriately, since the gray area is difficult to measure or define, what type of experiences would be considered “gray area drinking” experiences? What does that look like?


I want to start talking about more real issues on my blog. Besides travel guides, fashion tips, and coverage of cool happenings in DC, I want this blog to be a place to delve into real stuff as well.

Last week I was home at my parents’ house with a terrible cold. While I was hanging out with my mom she mentioned a segment on the Megyn Kelly show about the troubling relationships some women have with alcohol. The segment featured three women who shared their drinking troubles, including writer Aidan Donnelley Rowley. Aidan opened up about her trouble with “gray area drinking”.

I checked out Aidan’s Instagram (@drybeclub) and listened to the clip on the Megyn Kelly show on her blog and I was really intrigued by this conversation, which honestly, seems long overdue. Aidan classifies herself as a “former gray area drinker.” She mentioned that she is not interested in labels, but in her own experience and the drinking experiences of people around her.


So, what is “gray area drinking”?

More appropriately, since the gray area is difficult to measure or define, what type of experiences would be considered “gray area drinking” experiences? What does that look like?

I can imagine and I’m sure I have witnessed countless scenarios where people, myself included, have exhibited questionable, borderline relationships with alcohol. Whether used as a crutch for awkwardness or discomfort, the glue to a social event or group of people, or simply an enhancer, something we’re told is *supposed to* make a party, gathering, or night out *better* or more exciting, examples of this behavior are all around us.

Yet somehow, in these moments, people (and again, myself included) are oblivious to the role that alcohol is playing. Maybe because it isn’t always a clear problem, or because we’re so used to it, or because we are afraid of what might happen if we did think about it.


This post is not mean to judge, or generalize; I’m writing to talk about my own experience.

For the past six months, I have substantially cut back on my drinking. It wasn’t part of an effort to live a completely sober life, or because I drank excessively (though excess can be a relative term). I’m a lightweight when it comes to drinking, I wouldn’t meet the official standards for “heavy” drinking. My choice to cut back was mainly for health reasons, and because I felt that I was drinking less because I actually wanted to and more because I felt like I had to.

In Aidan’s podcast, EDIT: editing our drinking and our lives, she speaks about anxiety as the main driver for her drinking patterns that were questionable, “in the gray”, and ultimately harmful to her.


I wondered if it had to be narrowed down to one main factor, what is it that has driven me to drink more than I’ve wanted to or was comfortable with?

The answer, I think, is social pressure. I rarely noticed myself going into a gathering or drinking situation feeling so awkward or nervous to the point that drinking felt needed. Nor did I see drinking or “getting drunk” as a way to make a weekend or a night so much better either, but these are the stories we’re constantly being told. Whether from other people, from marketing and ads, from social media, or wherever else, we’re being bombarded with messages about how alcohol will improve our lives.

Oftentimes, the pressure we face is very explicit.

People, friends, and acquaintances have asked me on many a night out “why aren’t you drinking?”, “why aren’t you getting drunk?”, “aren’t you having fun?”.  It’s frustrating to hear these comments in the moment. After reflecting on it I think – what are we saying about ourselves as a society when these are the questions we’re asking?

Other times, the social pressure is not as overt.

The implicit messages that come from alcohol being woven so deeply into our culture also drive us to drink. Even when there’s not direct pressure, it feels like there are many events in town where the alcohol is freely flowing, lots of people are drinking heavily, and drinking is *almost* required. It takes self-awareness and presence to step back in these moments and really consider: is having a glass of wine or two at this art museum event, or poetry class, or book club, or whatever, worth it? Do actually feel like drinking right now?


I’m new to this conversation, but I think it’s an important one to be having so I wanted to speak about it on this platform. I don’t have all the answers and I probably don’t know all the questions surrounding this issue of “gray area drinking” either, but my interest has been piqued. It’s enlightening to have stumbled upon this community of questioners who are taking a careful look at the role of alcohol in our modern culture.

To learn more about this topic check out @tellbetterstories2018 on Instagram. It’s a really cool account about the messaging women receive about alcohol. I plan to keep following this conversation and hopefully add to it more soon.

Do you ever find yourself in settings where you drink more than you want to or had planned? I would love to hear your stories.


– la fille americaine


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