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Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism: Key Differences

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to different patterns of alcohol consumption.

April 4, 2023

Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism

Alcohol is a widely used substance that has been around for centuries. While some people drink moderately and responsibly, others struggle with excessive drinking that can lead to serious health problems.

Two terms commonly used to describe problematic drinking are binge drinking and alcoholism. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to different patterns of alcohol consumption.

people having a toast

Is A Binge Drinker The Same As An Alcoholic?

While binge drinking and alcoholism share some similarities, they are not the same thing. Binge drinking is defined as consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, typically with the intention of becoming intoxicated. This pattern of drinking can lead to serious health consequences such as alcohol poisoning and accidents.

On the other hand, alcoholism is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use despite negative consequences. People with alcoholism may have difficulty controlling their drinking, experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking, and prioritize alcohol over other aspects of their life.

It's important to note that while binge drinking does not necessarily indicate an addiction to alcohol, it can still be dangerous and harmful. Furthermore, repeated episodes of binge drinking can increase the risk of developing alcoholism later on.

Is Binge Drinking Worse Than Being An Alcoholic?

It's difficult to compare the severity of binge drinking and alcoholism as they both have their own set of risks and consequences.

Binge drinking, while not necessarily a sign of alcohol addiction, can still lead to acute health problems such as alcohol poisoning, accidents, and injuries. It can also have negative effects on mental health and relationships.

On the other hand, alcoholism is a chronic disease that can have devastating effects on all aspects of a person's life.

Not only can it cause physical health problems such as liver damage and heart disease, but it can also lead to financial instability, legal issues, and strained relationships with loved ones.

It's important to recognize that both binge drinking and alcoholism are serious issues that require attention and treatment. Seeking help from medical professionals or support groups can be an important step towards recovery for those struggling with problematic drinking patterns.

What's Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is defined as consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. For men, binge drinking is typically defined as having five or more drinks in two hours, while for women, it's four or more drinks in two hours.

Binge drinking is often associated with social events, such as parties or sporting events, and is more common among young adults.

While binge drinking can have negative consequences, such as impaired judgment and increased risk of accidents, it doesn't necessarily mean that a person has an alcohol use disorder. Many people who binge drink do so infrequently and are able to control their drinking in other situations.

Risks Of Binge Drinking

While binge drinking may not necessarily indicate an alcohol use disorder, it can still pose serious risks to one's health. In addition to impaired judgment and increased risk of accidents, the short-term effects of binge drinking can include nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.

four clear stemless glasses

Moreover, repeated episodes of binge drinking can lead to long-term health problems such as liver disease, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Binge drinking has also been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer such as breast cancer.

It's important to note that the risks associated with binge drinking can vary depending on factors such as age, gender, weight, and overall health status. Therefore, it's always a good idea to drink responsibly and in moderation.

Treatment For Binge Drinking

If you or someone you know struggles with binge drinking, there are several treatment options available. The first step is often to seek help from a healthcare professional, who can assess the severity of the problem and recommend appropriate treatment.

One common form of treatment for binge drinking is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of talk therapy that aims to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can help individuals develop coping strategies to deal with triggers that may lead to binge drinking.

Another effective treatment for binge drinking is medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

MAT involves the use of medications such as naltrexone or acamprosate, which can reduce cravings for alcohol and help prevent relapse.

In addition to these treatments, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can also be helpful for individuals struggling with binge drinking. AA provides a supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and receive encouragement and guidance from others who have gone through similar struggles.

It's important to remember that recovery from binge drinking is possible with the right treatment and support. If you or someone you know needs help, don't hesitate to reach out for assistance.

What's Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is a chronic disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, an inability to control drinking, and continued use despite negative consequences.

Alcoholism is a serious condition that can have a profound impact on a person's physical and mental health, as well as their relationships and career.

Alcoholism is diagnosed based on a set of criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). These criteria include:

  • Drinking more or for longer than intended
  • Being unable to cut down or stop drinking
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Craving alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences, such as health problems or relationship issues
  • Giving up important activities or responsibilities in order to drink
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol, meaning that more is needed to achieve the desired effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking

Alcoholism is a complex condition that can have a variety of causes, including genetics, environment, and mental health issues. Treatment for alcoholism typically involves a combination of medication, therapy, and support groups.

Risks Of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, can have numerous negative consequences on a person's health and well-being. The risks associated with this condition can be both short-term and long-term.

Short-term risks of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Increased risk of accidents, such as falls or car crashes
  • Impaired judgment, leading to poor decision-making
  • Increased likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex or drug use
  • Blackouts or memory loss
  • Nausea, vomiting, and dehydration

Long-term risks of alcohol use disorder are even more serious and can lead to chronic health problems that can be life-threatening. These include:

  • Liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer
  • High blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased risk of certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer

In addition to physical health risks, alcohol use disorder can also have a significant impact on a person's mental health. It can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. It can also increase the risk of suicide.

It's important for individuals who struggle with alcohol use disorder to seek treatment as soon as possible in order to reduce the risks associated with this condition. Treatment may involve therapy, medication-assisted treatment, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or a combination thereof.

Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder

Treatment for alcohol use disorder can be complex and may involve a range of approaches tailored to the individual's needs. The first step in treating alcohol use disorder is often detoxification, which involves withdrawing from alcohol under medical supervision. This process can be dangerous and should only be done under the care of a healthcare professional.

Once detoxification is complete, the next step is typically to engage in therapy to address the underlying causes of alcohol use disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common approach that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors related to drinking.

Other types of therapy, such as motivational interviewing or family therapy, may also be helpful.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can also be an effective way to treat alcohol use disorder. Medications such as naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making it easier for individuals to stay sober.

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery can also play an important role in recovery from alcohol use disorder.

people cheering while holding mugs

These groups provide a sense of community and support that can help individuals stay motivated and committed to sobriety.

Ultimately, successful treatment for alcohol use disorder requires ongoing support and commitment from the individual as well as their loved ones. With the right treatment plan in place, however, recovery from alcohol use disorder is possible.


While binge drinking and alcoholism are both forms of problematic drinking, they are not the same thing.

Binge drinking refers to consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, while alcoholism is a chronic disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol and an inability to control drinking.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use, it's important to seek help from a healthcare professional.

Dr. Elizabeth Drew
Medical Director

Medical Director Dr. Elizabeth Drew graduated from Hahnemann University School of Medicine and completed her family practice residency at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown PA. In 2005, she opened her family medicine office in Doylestown, and in 2008 she treated her first patient for opiate addiction.

Since then Dr. Drew has attained her board certification in Addiction Medicine, treated more than a thousand patients for addiction to opiates and alcohol, participated in programs to educate the community, traveled to Washington DC to educate our legislators, and served as Medical Director at some of the best addiction treatment programs in Pennsylvania.

She understands that addiction is a chronic disease that no one would choose to have, and her treatment philosophy is based on respect, compassion, and empowerment. She is excited to be the Medical Director of MPower Wellness and work to provide superior addiction treatment in Chester County.

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