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'Gray area' drinking: Pandemic has some questioning their alcohol habits

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Posted at 10:15 AM, Jun 08, 2021

We've talked repeatedly about the mental and substance abuse issues arising from the pandemic, but there's a whole other group of people who may just be questioning an issue.

“So, if you've been at home and you're at risk for drinking and you are stressed, or you are concerned, you're worried as we all naturally have been, but if you're a little bit more worried than most of us, then you might actually develop ‘gray area’ drinking,” said Dr. Bankole Johnson, a neuroscientist with Adial Pharmaceuticals.

Johnson is an addiction expert working on a drug to treat alcohol use disorder. He says "gray area" drinking usually starts out as stress relief drinking that gradually increases in frequency.

"Gray area" drinkers tend to suffer a lot of morning-after effects and may eventually develop full-blown alcohol use disorder.

“But the jump from normal drinking to abnormal drinking to excessive drinking can take weeks and for some people, that can take days,” said Johnson.

Johnson says this is particularly a problem in women right now because they've been subject to higher amounts of stress and responsibility during the pandemic. And they may be more secretive drinkers.

“And so it's like that gray area almost got even more gray where people who were asking those questions again, like I don't have any place to go and everyone else seems to be drinking a lot, too,” said Emily Lynn Paulson, founder of Sober Mom Squad.

Sober Mom Squad is a community for women who are not drinking to support each other.

Paulson says the pandemic has some women questioning their drinking that never have before.

“I don't blame anyone really. Nobody was offering moms any sort of relief or help or anything, except alcohol companies. And if your choice is to be stressed out and the girlfriends are getting on Zoom and you can drink together and like have camaraderie, like no wonder, no wonder, it became more of a problem for some people,” said Paulson.

Alcohol use disorder is identified through a series of questions developed by the World Health Organization. The Sober Mom Squad meets over Zoom and has a Facebook group.