What’s the Difference Between Binge Drinking and Alcoholism?

Symptoms and Signs of Alcoholism

Each year, an estimated 95,000 Americans die from excessive alcohol use. That amounts to 261 deaths every single day. There is a difference between binge drinking and alcoholism. However, they’re both harmful and can both lead to otherwise preventable deaths. 

Research states that excessive drinking cost the US $249 billion dollars in 2010. On an individual level, people spend countless dollars on too much alcohol and the costs that come with it. Excessive drinking can lead to DUIs, hospital visits from alcohol poisoning, and overall negative consequences. It’s better to explore binge drinking treatment options than suffer the consequences. 

What’s the Difference Between Binge Drinking and Alcoholism? 

There is a fine line between binge drinking and alcoholism. It’s easy to suffer from either, especially with societal pressures. Movies, music, and television shows romanticize alcohol. But, the unfortunate truth is that both binge drinking and alcoholism can lead to unpleasant long-term effects. 

Knowing the difference between the two might save someone from a hospital visit—or even death. Media portrayal may not show the dangers of alcohol. But Harmony Ridge knows that alcohol abuse can turn into alcoholism in a short span of time. 

What Is Binge Drinking? 

Excessive alcohol use can quickly turn from a bad habit into alcoholism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is a preventable but deadly pattern of alcohol use. It’s very common in the United States and is costly in terms of the alcohol people consume and the medical expenses that come with it. Binge drinking is when a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 g/dl or more after drinking alcohol. 

For women, this typically happens when they consume four or more drinks in the span of two hours. For men, it usually happens in the span of two hours after consuming five or more drinks. In the US, around one in six American adults binge drink four times a month. It happens the most in Americans aged 18-34. Though, data shows it happens from high schoolers to the elderly. 

What Is Alcoholism? 

Most people who binge drink don’t suffer from severe alcoholism. However, binge drinking can fall under alcoholism. Alcoholism, or an alcohol use disorder, is uncontrolled drinking despite harmful consequences. It’s a common health disorder in the US. About 18 million American adults suffer from alcoholism. 

This medical condition is often masked by the fact that drinking is legal and many Americans engage in binge drinking frequently. But there is a difference between the two that comes down to how much a person drinks and if they can’t stop. It’s characterized by loss of control, intense cravings, and feeling negative without drinking.

Symptoms and Signs of Alcoholism 

  • Unintentionally drinking more or longer than expected 
  • Inability to stop drinking even after trying 
  • Spending the majority of time drinking or craving it 
  • Drinking interferes with a person’s life 
  • Giving up on enjoyable activities to drink instead 
  • Engaging in risky behavior after drinking (ie: driving and unprotected sex) 
  • Drinking despite feeling anxious or depressed 
  • Drinking because of feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Building a tolerance to alcohol and needing to drink more to feel the same effect 
  • Withdrawal symptoms after not drinking 

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol 

Binge drinking and alcohol use disorder can result in negative long-term effects. Constant drinking puts stress on the body’s systems, especially the liver. It’s because the liver acts as the body’s filter. Overall, constant drinking can hurt basically every bodily system. 

There isn’t a big difference between binge drinking and alcoholism when it comes to long-term effects: 

  • Unintentional injury from impaired cognitive and motor function 
  • Increased risk to engage in criminal activity 
  • Loss of productivity at work 
  • Lost relationships with friends, family, and significant others 
  • Alcohol poisoning 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Stroke 
  • Heart-related diseases 
  • Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) 
  • Nerve damage 
  • Malnutrition 
  • Brain damage 
  • Multiple kinds of cancer

The list above is the condensed version of all the long-term effects of regular alcohol abuse. Malnutrition and ulcers are common among people who drink heavily and often. Alcohol in itself isn’t “bad”. Yet, it’s addictive and can cause a lot more harm than good. 

Social Drinking vs. Alcoholism: When to Seek Binge Drinking Treatment Options 

What Is Alcoholism

Social drinking is when a person drinks alcohol in social settings. A good example is when a person drinks a glass of champagne at a wedding or a couple of beers among friends. When it comes to social drinking vs. alcoholism, there’s a clear distinction. People who drink with others and can stop when they want are just drinking socially. 

Alcoholism is when a person drinks among friends but can’t stop. They might drink alone or have a few drinks after their friends have gone home. However, alcoholics often drink in a social setting. More than that, social drinking can become alcoholism without paying attention to drinking habits. Constantly binge drinking in a social setting is a great segway to alcoholism. 

What Are Binge Drinking Treatment Options? 

Again, severe binge drinking can be classified as alcoholism. Even if a person isn’t addicted to alcohol per se, it can still end up in jail time or health complications. That’s why it’s essential to look into binge treatment options before it becomes a severe case of addiction. 

Blacking out multiple times or getting a DUI is enough of a reason to seek out binge drinking treatment options. There are different program options and levels of care depending on the severity of a person’s binge drinking.  

Outpatient Programs 

This might be the best option for those who find themselves constantly binge drinking. Outpatient programs include binge drinking treatment options where a person doesn’t live at a facility. They can continue to go to work or school while getting the help that they need. Though, someone may want to attend a program with more of a commitment. There are several levels of outpatient care. 

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) 

This is an intense form of outpatient care. At a minimum, IOPs require a minimum of nine hours of treatment a week. This usually happens over three sessions a week. However, a person who has a severe binge drinking problem may spend more time a week in an IOP. This kind of program typically lasts up to 4 months. 

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) 

PHPs are another form of intense care. Patients typically spend a large portion of the day most of the week at a recovery center. At a minimum, patients may attend treatment three days a week for 4 hours each time. This is an effective solution for people suffering from a severe binge drinking problem. 

General Outpatient Programs (OPs) 

Sometimes a person’s level of binge drinking isn’t so severe. In that case, a general outpatient program might be best. OPs require the least amount of time but can still help someone stop binge drinking significantly. Someone in an OP may attend treatment as little as one time per week. 

What To Expect From Outpatient Programs

What To Expect From Inpatient Programs

An outpatient program can look different depending upon a patient’s preference and medical recommendation. Therapy is a powerful way to overcome constant binge drinking. Some options include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Each focuses on how thoughts and behaviors can turn into alcohol abuse, like severe cases of binge drinking. 

There are various programs that make up an outpatient care plan for binge drinking: 

When people have extremely severe binge drinking problems, they may choose to forgo outpatient care and choose an inpatient program. An inpatient program involves the same types of activities but the patient will live at the recovery facility. This might be a better option if a person is dealing with another health complication on top of binge drinking. It’s common for people to mask physical or emotional pain with excessive drinking.  

Inpatient Programs 

Living at a facility might be the best option for some individuals. Although binge drinking doesn’t mean that a person is suffering from an alcohol use disorder, it could be indicative of one. In a case such as this, an inpatient program might be best. People concerned about if their binge drinking habits are more than that should ask themselves whether or not they can stop drinking or cut down on it. If the answer is no, then they might be dealing with an alcohol use disorder. 

Inpatient programs allow those suffering from an alcohol use disorder the ability to be constantly surrounded by peers. This can help them build a strong support network when they are feeling like they can’t overcome their addiction. Also, constant care around the clock offers another safety net when a patient is going through a rough time. On top of this, inpatient programs let patients fully grasp the recovery skills they will need outside of treatment to make it stick. 

What To Expect From Inpatient Programs 

A standard inpatient program is very structured. Patients who are a part of a program such as this will not be allowed certain liberties to help them focus on recovery. On the other hand, residential treatment is a form of inpatient treatment that is less intense. However, patients will still live at the facility. 

Standard inpatient programs are the most intense level of care. Patients are typically monitored 24/7 most likely because they have a severe addiction. Patients in a residential program will be monitored frequently, but not to the extent of a standard inpatient program. 

How To Choose Between Binge Drinking Treatment Options

The best way to choose between binge drinking treatment options is to determine what’s important. That includes goals and important responsibilities. People that need to hold down a job or go to school might opt for a general outpatient program or an intensive outpatient program. If they can commit 100% of their time to recovery, they may choose a partial hospitalization program or an inpatient program. 

Another factor is insurance. Every insurance policy is different, although most cover alcohol use disorder treatment. Since severe binge drinking can be classified as an alcohol use disorder, an insurance policy should cover some form of treatment. Yet, they might not cover a certain kind of program in full or partially. We’re experts at interpreting insurance policies and can recommend the best binge drinking treatment option. 

Harmony Ridge Offers Binge Drinking Treatment Options

Harmony Ridge offers an escape from the clutches of severe binge drinking. Our variety of binge drinking treatment options makes our facility a great starting point on the road to recovery. Our team of addiction treatment specialists can craft a personalized plan best fit to get over binge drinking and alcoholism. Contact us now to find out the best plan for you or a loved one. 


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