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Ever wondered about the difference between binge drinking and alcohol use disorder?

As a therapist, I have had clients tell me about their patterns of Binge Drinking countless times. When questioned further about their habits, the following answers are almost always said in response: “I don’t have a problem” or “I am functioning, it’s just the weekends when I enjoy alcohol”. There always seems to be confusion amongst clients about Binge Drinking, and there is a lack of understanding that it is a form of an Alcohol Use Disorder. Of course, Binge Drinking is not Alcoholism, but it could be the precursor if these behaviors are not identified, addressed, and modified. The chances of Binge Drinking leading to Alcoholism are very high.

Q: What is Binge Drinking? 

A: According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Binge Drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent – or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter – or higher. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours.

Q: If I Binge Drink, does that mean that I have an addiction or am an alcoholic?

A: Binge Drinking is not considered an addiction and does not mean you’re an alcoholic…. yet. Binge Drinking is an unhealthy pattern of behavior in which one consumes an excessive amount of alcohol within a short period of time. Binge Drinking is considered an Alcohol Use Disorder.

Q: What makes me a binge drinker?

A: According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), binge drinking is consuming 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.

Q: I am not drinking alone, so is it really a problem?

A: Binge drinking is strongly associated with social anxiety as it is believed that binge drinking reduces feelings of anxiousness in social settings. So, even though you are not drinking alone, it doesn’t mean that you are not using it to avoid discomfort.

Q: What is the difference between heavy Drinking & Binge Drinking?

A: There is a difference between “Heavy Drinking” and Binge Drinking. Heavy drinking involves drinking a lot, but spread out over a period of days, not hours. 

Q: This seems like harmless fun “once in a while”, are there any risks to Binge Drinking?

A: Yes, Risks associated with Binge Drinking include accidents and injuries, alcohol poisoning, unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Q: Changing this behavior seems next to impossible. Can I really change?

A: Yes! The first thing that has to be done is to acknowledge and accept that this is something you’re struggling with. Change is never easy, but it is not impossible. You must think about what is important to you and prioritize it. Working with a mental health professional and/or attending some self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can be monumental to improving your patterns and health. 

This article is not meant to scare you, or make you feel like something is “wrong” with you. As society changes so rapidly and we begin to really consider our relationships with alcohol, it is important to know the facts. Being aware of your feelings and thoughts going into any situation is important. If you believe you or a loved one is struggling with binge drinking or any alcohol use disorder, contact our office at 201-661-8070.

Statistics and information for this post were gathered from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Silvermist.


To learn more about the side effects of binge drinking, check out this episode of the Banyan Podcast.