top of page

Gray Area Drinking: A New Way of Thinking

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

Every year a few new words and phrases make their way into our lexicon. Selfie, adulting, twerk. These words are in the dictionary now.

Two new phrases you may have heard recently are Gray Area Drinking and Sober Curious. Though not quite as mainstream yet as new words (or abbreviations) like contactless, PPE or WFH, Gray Area Drinking and Sober Curious are becoming more widely used and recognized.

Gray Area Drinking refers to drinking alcohol in a way that falls between the extremes of heavy, risky, or alcoholic drinking and drinking “moderately,” which is very little, or not at all. Most people who drink fall into this gray area.

The CDC defines moderate drinking as one drink or less in a day for women and two drinks or less in a day for men.

The problem with gray area drinking, besides the fact that alcohol, even in small amounts, has been found to increase risk for cancer and some forms of heart disease, is that it can look “normal.” But let’s think for a moment about what we, as a society, consider “normal.” Alcohol, sugar, processed food, social media, even opioids for god’s sake (although docs now know that opioids are not, in fact, not addictive as Purdue Pharma had them believing in the early 2000s) are all accepted as a way of life in America. (I don’t mean to get controversial here; there are reams of research out there that prove the harm done by these things we accept as “normal,” so let’s not argue).

The good news is that some people are waking up to the fact that the world of drinking isn’t as black and white as we once thought. It used to be that you were either an alcoholic or not and practically the only reason a person would live an alcohol-free lifestyle was because they couldn’t control their drinking. There was no talk of the gray area that most drinkers fall into. If you had a problem with alcohol, you went to detox, treatment, or maybe AA. If those interventions weren’t appropriate for you, well then, try quitting or cutting down on your own and good luck!

These days, you don’t have to be an alcoholic to live a sober lifestyle (not that you ever *had* to be an alcoholic to live alcohol-free, but you know what I mean). More and more people have become Sober Curious in recent years and are looking at the role alcohol plays in their life.

Coined by author Ruby Warrington, the term Sober Curious means “To question, or get curious about, every impulse, invitation, and expectation to drink, versus mindlessly going along with the dominant drinking culture.” Halleluiah.

Because, let’s face it, there are so many reasons to cut down on or quit drinking. People are recognizing that the benefits of drinking may not be worth the trouble it causes, both in the short- and long-term.

I’m happy about this new way of thinking. I love the idea that people can choose not to drink because they want better health and real connections with others and the chance to fully experience their emotions, despite the status quo. In a world that promotes so much that is bad for you, I champion the recognition that drinking isn’t a black-and-white issue and I support those who choose to live an alcohol-free life.

About Hurley Health: Hurley Health specializes in working with sober curious, gray area drinkers who are interested in cutting down on or eliminating alcohol from their lives.

About Nell Hurley: Nell Hurley has lived a sober lifestyle for 24 years. A certified personal trainer and recovery coach, Nell Hurley combines fitness and recovery support to help people overcome substance use challenges.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page