The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours.”

Undoubtedly, binge drinking involves excessive alcohol consumption, but is it considered alcohol abuse or alcoholism?

Alcoholism Defined

Alcoholism or “alcohol use disorder” describes a condition where the person doesn’t know how or when to stop drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define alcohol use disorder as a chronic disease where the drinker has a severe dependence on alcohol. It often takes several years and maybe decades to develop. It may start with moderate consumption, later becoming habitual drinking for people who are particularly vulnerable.

People who suffer with alcoholism typically drink every day. When they are not drinking, they’re often thinking about it and counting the minutes until they can drink again. And when they do drink, they often lose control over how much they consume. Alcohol abuse creates serious problems at home and work, affecting their personal and professional relationships.

Some people who suffer from alcohol use disorder black out when they drink excessively and can’t remember chunks of time when they wake up. Those with a drinking problem may become irritable when there’s no alcohol available. They will hide alcohol, so they always have a supply within reach. Some people who abuse alcohol become so mentally and physically dependent on the substance that they feel nauseous and sweat and shake when they don’t drink.

Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism

While binge drinking involves the consumption of unhealthy amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time, it can’t be classified as alcoholism. Unlike binge drinking, alcoholism isn’t defined by a specific number of drinks or a timeframe.

However, although binge drinking may not be considered as alcoholism, it can still become a problem down the road. Heavy drinkers and binge drinkers are at a significantly higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder than moderate or social drinkers. Habitual binge drinking may ultimately develop into dependence on alcohol. At some point, binge drinkers may find it hard to change the way they consume alcohol and drink too much too fast each time they drink.

Binge drinkers may ignore the concerns of others or become defensive and rationalize their use of alcohol. They may reason that it’s fine to drink heavily since it’s a holiday, special event, or a weekend. Similar to alcoholism, binge drinkers may engage in risky behavior when they’re under the influence, suffer from memory lapses, and fail to fulfill obligations after a binge-drinking episode.

Are you worried that your or someone else’s binge drinking may lead to alcoholism? Let us guide you. The Right Way’s quiz will help you identify the signs and symptoms of substance abuse and determine your risk level. For those who identify that binge drinking has become a problem for themselves or for someone they care about, there are also treatment programs to help binge drinkers manage the way they drink or stop altogether.

Take the quiz.

If you still have doubts, the compassionate recovery professionals at The Right Way are here to provide guidance, coaching, and referrals to proven and pre-vetted programs.