For many people, there may not appear to be much of a difference between binge drinking and alcoholism. It’s common to picture a person with alcoholism as a person who consumes excessive amounts of alcohol every day.
However, the two conditions aren’t the same. Not all who suffer from alcoholism engage in binge drinking, and not all binge drinkers suffer from alcoholism. In this article, we’ll explore the difference between binge drinking and alcoholism and discuss the appropriate treatment methods for both conditions.
Knowing the Difference between Binge Drinking and Alcoholism
Alcoholism is classified as a substance use disorder, and binge drinking can fall under the same category. There are certain distinctions between a substance use disorder and binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as the consumption of enough alcohol in a short time span to raise the drinker’s blood alcohol content to .08 or higher. This averages out to four drinks over the course of two hours for women and five drinks for men.1
Alcoholism, on the other hand, isn’t defined by a particular number of drinks. Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes alcoholism as a chronic condition. The characteristics of alcoholism include an inability to control drinking, an increased tolerance to alcohol and continued drinking in spite of negative consequences.2
While some binge drinkers may develop a dependence on alcohol, not all do. In fact, some binge drinkers may consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol on the weekends but can easily get through the week without drinking.
Understanding the Consequences
Both alcoholism and binge drinking are considered alcohol use disorders, and both pose serious risks. Binge drinkers put themselves at risk for:
- Accidents and injuries
- Alcohol poisoning
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Sexually transmitted infections
Alcoholism also comes with a set of serious risks. Not only can it damage relationships and destroy careers, but it can lead to a number of health problems, including:
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Neurological problems
Another key difference between binge drinking and alcoholism involves the preferred treatment method for each condition. While some binge drinkers can successfully change their drinking patterns without any outside intervention, many benefit from professional help. Treatment for binge drinking usually involves sessions with an addiction treatment counselor, as well as support groups and complementary therapies.
Alcoholism requires a structured approach to treatment. Over time, alcoholism causes marked changes in the brain and body—attempting to stop drinking without the help of a supervised detox program can be dangerous and even deadly. The detox process must be followed by a quality rehab program where people with alcoholism can address the issues underlying the initial substance abuse, learn the skills needed to navigate life without drinking and manage situations and triggers that could lead to relapse.
While there are clear differences between alcoholism and binge drinking, both conditions involve destructive behavior that can wreak havoc on a person’s health, finances and relationships. If you or someone you love is struggling with an alcohol problem, understanding the difference between binge drinking and alcoholism can help. With a clearer idea of the problem, it’s easier to get your loved one the help they need to overcome their substance abuse and make a fresh start.