This is kind of a tough one, as the answer is yes and no. To fully explore this topic, we need to have a confirmed definition of what binge drinking is. Luckily, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides us with one.
According to the NIAAA, you are a binge drinker if you are a man who consumes more than four alcoholic drinks in one day or a total of 15 or more in one week or a woman who consumes more than three alcoholic drinks in one day or a total of eight or more in one week. The average binge drinker consumes eight alcoholic beverages per drinking session, regardless of gender. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily pounding back eight beers. It could alternatively be two long island iced teas, for example, since these cocktails contain four shots of hard alcohol apiece.
Over half of American college students admit to binge drinking, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, 70% of binge drinking occurs among adults older than 26. While some people do stop drinking heavily after college, it’s considered socially acceptable to binge drink well into your 20s and even early 30s. The problem is, the older you get, the more problems this type of behavior can cause. That’s when suspicions of alcoholism start to pop up.
There is no specific definition of chronic binge drinking, but it essentially means doing so for persistent or long time. It’s not hard to tell the difference between someone who binge drinks a couple times a year and someone who does so regularly. Most chronic binge drinkers do not meet the definition for alcoholism, but they can definitely toe the line. For example, these individuals will most likely develop a very high tolerance, finding themselves needing more and more alcohol to feel intoxicated. This puts them at risk for financial problems, legal problems and health problems, because even if someone doesn’t feel drunk, their brain is still impaired due to the alcohol’s effects.
Some binge drinkers are alcoholics, exhibiting cravings and withdrawal when they have no access to alcohol. These people blend in easily when hanging out with other binge drinkers, but their malaise is palatable when the crowd is taken away. Often, their alcohol dependency will only be recognized by their close family or friends. Other binge drinkers might just see them as fun and always up for a party, and this is a perfect setup to mask their drinking problem.
So, chronic binge drinking is not the same as alcoholism. Not all binge drinkers are alcoholics, though most alcoholics do fit the definition for binge drinking. However, this doesn’t mean that binge drinkers are out of the woods. All chronic binge drinkers fit the DSM criteria for alcohol abuse and should look at the reasons behind their binge drinking and evaluate the negative consequences this behavior may be causing in their lives.
Kathleen Esposito is a certified addictions counselor in the Pacific Northwest. She helps individuals recover from drug, alcohol and gambling dependencies through group and individual therapy and regularly speaks at treatment centers.