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Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism: How to Tell if Your Drinking Has Gotten Out of Control

binge drinking and alcoholism

The majority of adults in the United States consume alcohol on a somewhat regular basis. From backyard BBQs to after-work happy hours, our lives are full of opportunities to have a drink. Drinking can make social events more enjoyable and can help people relax after a long day. While many people can maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol, there are others who struggle to stay in control of their drinking. Millions of people struggle with addiction to alcohol–often called alcoholism.

A variety of factors can contribute to someone’s likelihood of becoming addicted to alcohol. These include family history, mental health issues, a history of addiction, or certain environmental factors. However, it is impossible to predict with any certainty who will develop an addiction and who will not.

Certain behaviors are more likely to lead someone to develop an addiction, regardless of their risk factors. These include using alcohol to self-medicate and binge drinking. Binge drinking is a form of problematic drinking that involves consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Research suggests that binge drinking is fairly common in the United States. In 2019, the National Institute of Health (NIH) reported that 28% of young adults reported engaging in binge drinking in the previous two weeks. The study also showed that binge drinking was becoming more common among older adults and women.[1]

With all the information about binge drinking available, many people may question their own habits. If you find yourself wondering if your drinking habits are binge drinking or alcoholism, it is important to learn the difference between the two issues to determine if you may need alcohol rehab.

What Counts as Binge Drinking?

Imagine this: You are enjoying a night out with friends. You start at a restaurant where you enjoy two glasses of wine with your meal around 8 PM. Your friends order an after-dinner cocktail and you decide to join them. After dinner, you go to the bar next door to listen to a band. You order a beer and join your friends when they decide to do a tequila shot at 10 PM.

Is this binge drinking? According to the NIH, it is. Binge drinking is defined as having 4 or more alcoholic beverages (for women) or 5 or more (for men) in a 2-hour period. The definition of a drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of 5% beer, or 0.6 ounces of a spirit like vodka, whiskey, or rum.[2]

While someone can engage in binge drinking without developing alcoholism, binge drinking can lead to alcoholism, especially in people who have addiction risk factors.

Recognizing Signs of Problematic Drinking

For people with a healthy relationship with alcohol, drinking is associated with social events, relaxation, and does not cause problems or consequences. Binge drinking can be one sign that you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Some signs of problematic drinking include:

  • Suffering health consequences due to drinking
  • Legal issues due to drinking
  • Injuries or accidents when drinking
  • Loved ones have expressed concern about your drinking
  • Missed work or school because of drinking
  • Feelings of regret or embarrassment after drinking
Developing symptoms of addiction can be another clear sign that your drinking has become problematic.

How to Tell if You Are Dealing With Binge Drinking or Alcoholism

Determining whether your alcohol consumption is a pattern of binge drinking or alcoholism can be tricky. It is important to understand the signs of alcoholism and see if any of them are true for you. Some common signs of alcoholism or alcohol addiction include:[3]
  • Drinking more often or consuming larger amounts of alcohol
  • Needing more alcohol to get the same effects
  • Drinking so much that you blackout
  • Feeling like you want to stop but can’t
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to reduce or stop drinking
  • Having cravings for alcohol
  • Falling behind at home, work, or school
  • Lying about your drinking
  • Hiding alcohol or empty containers

Binge drinking may be limited to certain times or occasions, while alcoholism is a constant, chronic condition. Binge drinking can lead to alcoholism, so it is important to stay aware of the symptoms of addiction and be honest with yourself about your experience.

If you want to reduce your alcohol consumption or stop drinking but do not feel able to do so, it is crucial that you get support and treatment. Losing control of your drinking puts you at risk for certain health risks, injuries, legal trouble, and difficulty in maintaining good relationships. Whether you struggle with binge drinking or alcoholism, there is help and support available to help you live a healthy, sober lifestyle.

binge drinking vs alcoholism cta

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Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment is a leader in the addiction treatment field, with proven success in facilitating long-term recovery. Our team of top clinical & medical experts specializes in treating addiction coupled with mental illness, ensuring that each person receives individualized care. Call us – we’re available 24/day, 7 days/week.

Find Help for Binge Drinking and Alcoholism Today

If you or someone you love requires support and treatment to overcome addiction to alcohol or other substances, reach out to the staff at Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment. We offer comprehensive alcohol rehab programs to help people overcome their problematic drinking and get the skills they need to live fulfilling healthy lives. Don’t wait another day for the treatment you deserve. Call today to speak to an admissions counselor.


Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC
Clinical Director

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