SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Studies show that the pandemic fueled alcoholism overall across the country, but now it has also given rise to a new category of people who depend on alcohol called "gray area drinkers."
These are folks who don’t see themselves as alcoholics but have difficulty abstaining from alcohol.
In short, this group is at risk of alcohol-related health problems as well as tipping over to becoming alcoholics.
Gwendolyn Bammel has maintained sobriety for 24 years. And with her job at Ascension East Wood Recovery Center, the 43-year-old understands how risky gray area drinking can be.
"It is a very thin line. It is so easy to cross it and you don’t know you’ve crossed it until you are on the other side looking back. And even then, denial is really strong," said Bammel, who is a clinical supervisor at the recovery center.
Gray area drinking is a space between two extreme behaviors: acceptable moderate drinking and a diagnosed alcohol use disorder.
"We often don't recognize it because we are surrounding ourselves with other people who are also in that gray area or people who are drinking more than we are," Bammel said.
According to the latest survey by AmericanAddictionCenters.org, over 1.3 million Michiganders are gray area drinkers, of which, 25- to 34-year-olds are the biggest gray area drinking group.
"They are realizing it’s a very easy way effective way to cope with feeling isolated or dealing with some of the stressors that have happened over the last couple of years," Bamme said.
Dr. Madeline McMall says excessive alcohol consumption has harmful effects on mental health and the body, including liver disease, heart disease and various types of cancers, as well as decreased brain function.
"For women, one drink every day of the week, so an average seven drinks in a week. And for men, more than two drinks a day for a week is considered moderate to heavy. If you need another drink to keep going, that’s a big red flag," said McMall, a family medicine physician at Ascension Medical Group.
Commitment issues, skipping responsibilities and social activities revolving around drinking are some of the other signs to look out for.
"I don’t think we ever intend to cross that line, it just sometimes happens, and then sometimes we need help to get our life back," Bammel said.
Both Gwendolyn and McMall say if you or someone you know is showing signs of alcohol dependency, seek professional help either by seeing a physician or reaching out to a recovery center.