The Distinction Between Binge Drinking and Alcoholism

two friends binge drinking alcoholMost people know that alcohol issues develop when people lose control over how much or how eagerly they drink. That lack of control defines and outlines an alcohol disorder.

But there can be subtle distinctions between problems relating to alcohol. For example, there are differences in habits and dangers among people who binge drink and people who have alcoholism. This article will outline and define what makes these two alcohol use disorders different from one another.

Binge Drinking Definition

Infographic of binge drinking number of drinks consumedBinge drinking involves taking in a specific amount of alcohol during a short timespan. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), men who take in five drinks in about two hours are binge drinking, as are women who take in four drinks in about two hours.

Drinking like this raises the concentration of alcohol in the blood, as the body’s vital organs are unable to clear out that much alcohol in such a short timespan. Put another way, people who drink like this are drinking in order to get drunk.

Some people who binge drink do so often, but even one episode of drinking to get drunk qualifies as a binge.


Alcoholism Definition

Hand holding a glass of alcohol next to empty alcohol bottleThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines alcoholism as dependency on alcohol. People with alcoholism have a strong craving for alcohol, and they continue to drink even when doing so causes them physical or social problems. People like this may try to limit or stop drinking, but they may be unable to do so due to the cravings they feel and the drinking habits they have.

Someone with alcoholism typically drinks every single day. This is a pattern of behavior that people find difficult or impossible to amend. Someone cannot drink just once and qualify for an alcoholism diagnosis. The behaviors must be repeated in order for the diagnosis to be made.


Man passed out due to binge drinking beersDangers of Binge Drinking

People who drink to excess have a high risk of experiencing:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Unintentional injuries
  • Unintended pregnancies

People who binge drink are also at an increased risk for automobile accidents. In fact, the CDC says people who binge drink are 14 times more likely to admit to alcohol-impaired driving, when compared to people who do not binge drink.


Dangers of Alcoholism

Doctor checking patients' pulse with stethoscopeIt has long been known that alcoholism comes with very severe health risks. In fact, in an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors report that alcoholism is a disease that is progressive, and it often takes the lives of people who have it.

Alcoholism-related deaths could be caused by:

  • Liver disease
  • Neurological damage
  • Cancer
  • Malnutrition
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

Long-term alcoholism can also spark underlying mental illnesses, including depression. When that happens, people can feel so low and sad that they

Binge Drinking Treatment

People who binge drink may find it hard to amend the way in which they consume alcohol. According to NIAAA, brief interventions can help.

In a brief intervention, someone with an alcohol issue meets for several short, one-on-one sessions with a qualified counselor. Together, they discuss how the person drinks and why that drinking pattern seems comfortable to the person. Then, they develop a step-by-step plan the person can use in order to change drinking habits.

This type of intervention is ideal for someone who drinks in an abusive manner, NIAAA says. If these conversations do not change the way in which the person drinks, another type of follow-up counseling may be better suited. Some people with a binge drinking issue need to enroll in a formal rehab program that blends counseling and support group work in order to recover.


Alcoholism Treatment

People with alcoholism face very serious health risks if they attempt to get sober alone. Long-term alcohol abuse can change chemical signaling in the brain, and without alcohol, people with alcoholism can experience seizures. Medical detox teams can use medications to soothe those worries, so people can get sober without feeling ill.

That medical detox work must be followed by a formal rehab program in which people work with counselors, social workers, lifestyle coaches, and peers in order to develop a very targeted set of skills. When the rehab program is over, these people should have a good understanding of:

  • How alcoholism develops
  • What situations spark the need to drink
  • How to avoid those situations
  • How to deal with those situations if they cannot be avoided
  • How to structure a life that is fulfilling, without drinking

There are many lessons to be learned here, and as a result, most programs last for weeks or even months. Then, people with alcoholism continue the work in their communities by attending support group meetings. They may also attend alumni meetings held by the treatment facility. This work might continue for the rest of life.

How To Diagnose Alcoholism

Therapist taking notes on patient's binge drinking and alcoholismUnderstanding the nuances in an alcoholism diagnosis is important, as different disorders need different types of treatment. Families that read up on the basics can develop a deep knowledge base they can draw on as they seek out solutions for the people they love. However, it is important to remember that only a trained professional is qualified to make a diagnosis.

People with alcohol use disorders should have the opportunity to meet with a therapist, counselor, social worker, or other mental health professional. They should be encouraged to describe what is happening now, what has happened in the past, and what should happen in the future. In this assessment, medical professionals can determine what sort of alcohol use disorder the person has and what treatment would be best.

Families that know alcohol is an issue should schedule this chat as soon as possible. It is the best way to get the person help that is needed in order to keep an alcohol issue from growing worse with time.