Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects more than 14.5 million people in the United States. However, certain alcohol-related behaviors such as binge drinking have become so commonplace that the lines become easily blurred between drinking alcohol and developing a problem with it. 

We’ve all seen the American preoccupation with excuses to binge drink. Whether it’s a college initiation rite or a wild night out on the town with friends, binge drinking has become so woven into the fabric of our society that it’s acceptable and even something to brag about. 

But what starts out as a fun activity could end up costing more than you’d bargained for, especially if AUD develops. Let’s look at the difference between binge drinking vs. alcoholism and how they can work together to cause serious long-term health issues.  

What Is Binge Drinking?

According to the CDC, binge drinking is the most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the country. It’s defined as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion for men, or four or more drinks for women.  

Binge drinking happens more than most people realize, with one in six U.S. adults admitting to binge drinking at some point in their lives. Of that number, 25% are binge drinking weekly, and it’s seen most commonly among adults who have household incomes of $75,000 or more and are non-Hispanic or white. 

The consequences of binge drinking include everything from chronic issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease to unintentional injuries and alcohol poisoning. As a common rite of passage for young people, among high school students who binge drink, 44% consumed eight or more drinks in a row. 

If you’re engaging in binge drinking on a regular basis, you’re at a very high risk of developing severe alcohol use disorder. Developing a tolerance to alcohol can happen quickly, requiring you to drink more and more to feel the same effects after extended binge drinking episodes. 

Some of the first signs of excessive binge drinking include being sick (“hungover”) on the days following the binge drinking episode. Since alcohol lowers inhibition and causes cognitive distortion, bingeing it regularly also leads to poor decision-making and life-altering decisions, such as having unprotected sex or driving while inebriated. 

Binge drinking is also a leading cause of hospital visits due to alcohol intoxication or poisoning. Since everyone processes alcohol differently, blood alcohol content can quickly rise. This creates life-threatening situations, especially if the person drinking is predisposed to high blood pressure or has a low tolerance. 

High-Intensity Drinking 

High-intensity drinking is becoming more widespread and is defined as drinking alcohol at levels that are double or even triple the gender-specific thresholds. This type of extreme binge drinking can make you 70 times more likely to have an alcohol-related hospital visit, and 93 times more likely to have to visit the ER. 

People who participate in this kind of drinking are at risk of severe alcohol poisoning that can be life-threatening. If you or someone you know has multiple episodes of high-intensity binge drinking, you should seek help now. 

The difference between binge drinking and high-intensity drinking is often unclear in certain social settings. In these situations, when alcohol is combined with other substances, including many prescription medications, the effects can be intensified. 

What Is Alcoholism?

With nearly 15 million people in the United States diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, there’s no question that it’s a serious epidemic. In fact, it’s estimated that 95,000 people die annually from alcohol-related causes. This makes it the third-leading preventable cause of death in the country. 

While some research shows a tendency toward alcoholism is genetic, it can affect anyone who consumes alcohol regularly, putting them at risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Once your body becomes addicted, your relationship with alcohol changes into something you no longer control — rather, it controls you. Your tolerance will increase, requiring you to consume increasing amounts just to achieve the same effect. 

Alcoholism is a disease that affects people across all economic spectrums and personal histories, causing significant havoc in their lives, relationships and health. Once the cycle of alcohol use disorder begins, it can be very difficult (and even dangerous) to stop drinking, despite the devastating effects it has on your life. 

Some of the warning signs that a loved one has developed alcohol use disorder may be noticed by friends and family members. These include:

  • Significant binge-drinking episodes
  • Blacking out
  • Smelling like alcohol
  • Weight loss due to not eating
  • Increased disinterest in things that once brought fulfillment 
  • Driving while inebriated
  • Long periods of “not feeling well” due to daily hangovers

A heavy drinker will also develop dry skin and appear older due to dehydration. Since alcohol affects your brain’s chemistry, extended and excessive alcohol abuse creates a negative cycle that you must feed in order to feel “normal.” This requires consistent intake of alcohol in order to function and often leads to the alcoholic hiding the extent of their alcohol use from others. 

Help Is Available 

Although binge drinking might not have the same stigma as alcoholism, it’s a dangerous activity that quickly leads to alcohol use disorder. What might start as a fun activity and great memories made with friends and family can quickly turn into a chronic disease. 

If alcohol use disorder is affecting your life or you think you may be at risk, help is available. Working with medical professionals who can help you safely detox and start a path toward finding sobriety is absolutely crucial if you want to fix the problem. 

Reach out today by calling Sunlight Recovery at (888) 402-3647. We have a team of recovery specialists and counselors standing by to answer all your questions and help you find the resources you need.  We’re all dedicated to helping anyone struggling with alcohol abuse disorder find the pathway to recovery.