Drinking alcohol is a popular pastime in the U.S. Some prefer to get together with others for happy hours, celebrations, parties, wine and cheese functions, barbeques, and even Zoom cocktail hours to share in libations together, while others prefer to drink alone.
According to a 2019 study, over 85% of people age 18 and older in the U.S. say they’ve drunk alcohol at some point in their lives. And about 70% of those say they’ve consumed it in the past year.
(Think about what a new study, post-quarantine, would reveal….)
And what’s even more eye-opening is the number of U.S. adults who report regular binge drinking. A recent study performed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that one in six U.S. adults admit to binge drinking four times per month.
Hmm, there are often four weekends in a month. Coincidence? Perhaps.
And let’s go a step further and talk about alcohol use disorder (AUD), or alcoholism in the U.S.
According to the aforementioned 2019 study, an estimated 14.5 million people ages 12 and older had AUD.
Okay (well, not really), but does binge drinking make you an alcoholic? Are they the same? Well, you might think so, and they are both hazardous to your health, but no. They’re not the same thing.
Let’s unpack binge drinking vs. alcoholism.
What is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is just what it sounds like: consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time.
To get more technical, binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that raises your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. (That’s the legal driving limit.)
But what is binge drinking for women versus men?
Well, that depends on your age, size, and how strong the drinks are. But typically, binge drinking is identified as women drinking four or more drinks and men having five or more drinks within two hours.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD), otherwise known as alcoholism, means you strongly depend on alcohol. You typically can’t get through a day without it, and the thought of doing such a thing is, well, unthinkable.
Alcoholism is a chronic condition and requires the help of a professional to overcome. An inability to control your drinking, increased tolerance to alcohol, withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, and continued drinking despite adverse consequences are all signs you might have alcoholism.
Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism
So binge drinking and AUD aren’t the same things. But does binge drinking make you an alcoholic? And if you have signs of alcoholism, does that mean you are a binge drinker?
No, and no.
In other words, just because you binge drink, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have an alcohol addiction. And if you have AUD, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a binge drinker.
Let’s clarify the differences a little further.
When comparing binge drinking vs. alcoholism, there are three main areas of distinction.
*With that said, if you think you may have a drinking problem, want to cut down, or have AUD, it’s critical you see a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible to help you!
Related Post: What Are The Dangers Of Blackout Drinking?
When determining if you are a binge drinker or alcoholic, you should first consider how often you’re drinking. For example, binge drinkers may consume a lot in a short amount of time, but they likely won’t do this every day. Many binge drinkers can actually go for weeks in between binges. Although, there are also binge drinkers who binge drink several times a month.
If you have AUD, however, you drink alcohol more regularly. Most likely, you’re drinking alcohol most days, and you’re consuming for the buzz or using it as a coping mechanism. And if you are high-functioning, you likely have a drinking ritual. For example, you pour yourself a drink when you get home from work or after the kids go to bed. And you rarely miss a day doing so, if ever.
2. Physical Dependence
Binge drinkers don’t feel an ongoing craving to drink alcohol all the time. They can go days, weeks, or maybe even months between binges. In contrast, if you have AUD, you feel the urge to drink all the time. In fact, you may find it nearly impossible to function “normally” without alcohol.
If you feel physically dependent like this, you have AUD, and it’s a good idea to seek professional guidance to help you overcome your addiction.
3. Drinking Environment
This one is a little tougher to pinpoint because those with AUD could also be seen binge drinking in public. But a significant differentiating factor between binge drinking and alcoholism is where you drink.
Binge drinkers often drink in public places or at get-togethers. They consume large quantities in a short period without the desire to hide it. And typically, binge drinkers drink during more socially “acceptable” times of day, meaning not the morning.
On the flip side, if you struggle with alcoholism, you likely drink in secret, by yourself, and at any time throughout the day.
Related Post: How to Know if You Need Alcohol Treatment
Getting Treatment for Binge Drinking and Alcoholism
While there are clear differences in binge drinking vs. alcoholism, they are both dangerous and can severely negatively impact your health. And if you feel you struggle with binge drinking, you’re at a greater risk of developing AUD.
If you identify with either of these disorders, getting treatment to help you quit or even cut down can have tremendously positive impacts on your health and your life. Here at BOLD Health in San Diego, we offer both outpatient detox and intensive outpatient treatment programs (IOPs) to help you break the chains of addiction.
Related Post: What Happens in an IOP?
The BOLD Difference
Getting help for alcohol addiction can be a challenging but crucial step toward wellness in your life. And while we know you have choices in the San Diego area, when you choose to get the help you need at BOLD Health, you’ll experience our compassionate, holistic, and evidence-based approach to treating addiction and mental illness.
At BOLD Health, we don’t see you as your addiction. We see you as the wonderfully complex human you are. Before beginning treatment, we take your whole self – biological, genetic, psychological, and medical self – into consideration. And with our BOLD approach, you’re more likely to come through alcohol addiction treatment successfully.
Don’t wait to get the help you need. Feeling more like yourself without depending on alcohol is just a button push away.