Many individuals think there’s no difference between alcoholism and binge drinking. This is because when most people think of someone with alcoholism, they picture the person consuming excessive amounts of alcohol daily. But, they’re two different conditions. Not all people who partake in binge drinking suffer from alcoholism and not all people suffering from alcoholism binge drink.

Chances are you have drunk heavily before or know somebody who binge drinks with their friends from time to time. But, is this binge drinking a sign of alcoholism? Or is it something that people do? After all, a little bit of heavy drinking at the bar or pub with friends is now socially acceptable. It’s not uncommon for a person who indulges in alcohol to receive a comment about the amount they drink. But should that type of comment cause you to become concerned about if your binge drinking is linked with alcoholism?

Almost one third of individuals in the U.S. engage in excessive drinking. Out of this number, 17% engage in binge drinking and 10% struggle with alcoholism. Most people who drink excessively (90%) don’t meet the alcohol dependence criteria.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is where you drink to get drunk or consume large amounts of alcohol within a short time period. This is eight units for men and six units for women. This can vary, of course. Not all people drink in the same way and the amount they can drink depends on various factors like:

  • Metabolism
  • Tolerance
  • Recently eaten

Unlike with alcoholism, when you binge drink, you do have a certain amount of control over your drinking and can go through long periods of time without alcohol with no issues.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a chronic condition. It’s where you:

  • Can’t control your drinking
  • Are preoccupied with alcohol
  • Have strong cravings
  • Continue to drink despite negative consequences

Unlike if you simply develop a bad drinking habit, being an alcoholic means you can’t stop once you start. You can’t regulate your consumption. Your only solution would be to stop drinking entirely. An alcoholic requires long-term sobriety. This typically means some type of in-patient treatment and/or Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Difference Between Binge Drinking and Alcoholism

To understand the various levels of problematic drinking, you’ll first need to know the difference between alcoholism and binge drinking.

The behavior of binge drinkers and alcoholics, on the surface, appears quite similar — inability to control their drinking and excessive drinking. Both types of drinkers seem to be the life of the party, despite there being different mechanisms underlying the drinking. Also, alcoholism and binge drinking come with similar short-term consequences, which include a higher risk of:

  • Injury
  • Accidents
  • Violence
  • Death

They also come with similar long-term consequences, like:

  • Greater risk of legal issues
  • Serious health problems
  • Damage to relationships

While they both can look similar, the two conditions have their own different features, including:

1. Ability to Stop/Physical Dependence

Alcoholics and binge drinkers differ in their physical dependency on alcohol. Alcoholics have an addiction to alcohol, which means they’re physically dependent on it and experience intense, ongoing cravings to drink. Binge drinkers, on the other hand, aren’t typically physically dependent. Along with this, binge drinking doesn’t necessarily mean there will be future alcoholism, though, according to some researchers, it can increase the risk.

Binge drinkers might find it easier to cut down on drinking, unlike people with alcoholism. Individuals who abuse alcohol tend to drink excessively on a regular basis. This abuse can be dangerous to others and self-destructive, but they can still set limits for themselves and gain certain control over their drinking.

With alcoholism, the person must drink in order to function. Unlike binge drinkers, alcoholics will experience:

  • Physical dependence
  • Uncontrollable drinking
  • Tolerance

Alcoholics can’t stop drinking despite serious psychological and physical consequences.

2. Alcohol Consumption Frequency

A person’s frequency of drinking is also looked at by behavioral health professionals in order to distinguish alcoholism from binge drinking. Many binge drinkers experience large gaps between their binges. Individuals with alcoholism, however, don’t typically experience gaps between their alcohol consumption. Actually, many high-functioning alcoholics (those with an alcohol-use disorder who can maintain relationships and jobs) have a routine drinking habit. Whether they drink in the late afternoon, before dinner or after work, they have a steady drinking habit which they work to maintain.

3. Environment While Consuming Alcohol

Paying attention to when and where a person drinks could also help determine whether they’re a binge drinker or struggling with alcoholism. Individuals with alcoholism often drink alone, in secret or in the morning. Binge drinkers typically drink in a totally different environment. They prefer drinking in the evening and almost always prefer a lively, social environment.

4. Type of Treatment

Another essential difference between alcoholism and binge drinking is in the treatment method used for each condition. Although some people who binge drink can change their drinking pattens successfully without outside intervention, many can find professional help beneficial. Binge drinking treatment typically involves things like:

  • Support groups
  • Sessions with an addiction treatment counselor
  • Complementary therapies

With alcoholism, a more structured treatment approach is needed. Alcoholism, over time, can cause marked changes in the body and brain. Trying to stop drinking without professional help through a supervised detox program could turn out to be dangerous and potentially deadly. A quality rehab program must follow the detox process where individuals with alcoholism begin:

  • Addressing the problems underlying their alcohol abuse
  • Managing triggers and situations that might lead to relapse
  • Learning required skills for navigating life without drinking

Alcoholism and binge drinking might look similar from the outside, but as you’ve just learned, they’re very different and knowing this difference between them can help you or someone you know obtain the best treatment possible. With a better understanding of the issue, it will be easier for you or your loved one to obtain the help needed to overcome alcohol abuse and make that fresh start.

Need Help With Binge Drinking?

If you or a loved one are struggling with an alcohol abuse disorder,  contact us here at Covenant Hills Treatment. Our caring staff of professionals will provide you with the most effective addiction treatment in Orange County for your personal situation. We empower and support you to eliminate substance abuse altogether and get you to where you’re living a healthy, sober life.