“Let’s get drunk!” As a young adult, an elder, a college student, a long-time alcoholic, a recovering alcoholic, a first-time drinker, or even someone who normally abstains from alcohol use, have you ever said this? It is highly unlikely that you haven’t at least heard these words – or something similar – uttered at some point in your life. Are you an alcoholic if you were the one doing the talking?
Binge drinking is definitely an indication of an alcohol abuse problem, but it is possible for someone to not be an alcoholic and to binge drink. Unfortunately, college in America is almost synonymous with drinking, especially binging.
The College Years
Let’s say Jamie, a college student, is academic, but also engaged in the social culture of being a student – basically, she gets drunk. Jamie is not all about getting partying, but when she does, she parties hard. Sometimes she drinks so much that she can’t remember half of the night. This sometimes resulted in Jamie getting sick, and having severe hangovers, but she would avoid drinking for a week or two before the next party.
Jamie is most likely not an alcoholic, as she can go long periods without it, and does not depend on it. However, Jamie is indeed a binge drinker.
Now, let’s look at Brian. To Brian, college is nothing but drinking at parties and/or bars, and continuing to drink until either the bars closed or his credit card did. And then it’s rinse and repeat – consistently – on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Sometimes he drinks every day of the week. However, Brian drinks relatively slowly, ensuring a buzz the whole time but never getting outrageously drunk.
Brian may not be a binge drinker, but he is most certainly an alcoholic.
Many students act the same as either Jamie or Brian. And as we all know, binge drinking, especially during college and in our younger years, is normalized. Most don’t think twice about the scary consequences binge drinking can result in. Although everyone doesn’t drink, alcohol is without question a huge aspect of the social lives of all early 20-somethings. In fact, Jamie and Brian might remind you of your own experiences during your college-aged years – whether as a participant or a bystander.
This raises a new question: does binge drinking lead to alcoholism? According to an article published by Elite Daily, “while binge drinking can lead to alcoholism, you are not inherently an alcoholic…” Therefore, while not all binge drinkers are alcoholics, binge drinking is certainly a step along the way to alcoholism. So what are the real differences?
Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism
We must acknowledge that alcohol abuse takes many forms, and if there comes a point when the compulsion to drink overrides the internal alerts to stop, it’s time for help. Knowing the difference between binge drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism is an important step in understanding the urges you or your loved ones may be experiencing.
Binge drinking is drinking a large amount of alcohol at one time. Generally speaking, this is consuming 5 or more drinks for men, or 4 or more drinks for women, in two hours or less time. In fact, most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent. However, long-term abuse of alcohol can turn into alcohol dependence, which by definition is considered alcohol addiction and alcoholism.
Basically, today’s binge drinkers are tomorrow’s alcoholics.
In general, the majority of binge drinkers do so as a personal means to enjoy a certain party or event, and usually during a certain time period of their lives (the “20-somethings” group). Most do NOT binge drink in order to cope with personal struggles. Alcoholics may occasionally binge drink, but this is simply a result of addiction. Some days are worse than others.
If you binge drink but are not alcohol-dependent, before you think you are in the clear and walk away thinking you don’t a problem and you have nothing to worry about – this is false.
Dangers of Binge Drinking
While to many of us binge drinking may not seem like a problem, especially when it comes to the young adult and college cultures, there are still many seriously dangers associated with binge drinking that should be brought to your attention. Most people do not realize that drinking excessively within a short time frame can actually damage the body.
There are several medical risks related to binge drinking – and let’s not forget that as with any alcohol abuse there is always a serious risk of one’s life and the lives of others.
Some health problems associated with binge drinking are:
- Unintentional injuries
- This includes injuries related to car crashes, falls, burns, etc. Remember while intoxicated our judgement and ability to function become impaired. We are not capable of making sound decisions and getting behind the wheel could result in death.
- Intentional injuries
- This includes injuries that may result from the use of firearms, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. Have you or someone you love been a victim of sexual assault or other injuries related to the use of alcohol. Unfortunately, we have all heard stories of violence related to alcohol and it is a serious issue that needs to be considered when making the choice to drink or get help.
- Alcohol poisoning
- While most of us are not concerned with alcohol poisoning at a social event and are trying to get drunk to have fun, you must monitor the number of drinks you have as fun can turn to a life or death situation. Most importantly, alcohol poisoning can be avoided if you practice drinking in moderation and when consumed at a slow pace – which means drinking to get drunk should not be the goal.
- Sexually transmitted diseases and Unintended pregnancy
- As previously mentioned, we are not capable of making sound decisions while under the influence of alcohol. This also means that we are not immune to the consequences of our choices which may result in contracting diseases and unintended pregnancy.
- Children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
- Please remember that alcohol abuse does not only affect the person consuming the alcohol but it also affects everyone surrounding them. It is an unfortunate reality that poor innocent babies are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders – something which can be prevented by making better individual choices.
- Let’s not forget the list of long term brain disorders and diseases that you are subjecting yourself to:
- High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
- Liver disease
- Neurological damage
- Sexual dysfunction, and
- Poor control of diabetes.
Binge drinking may also be particularly harmful to the younger population, such as teens, whose bodies are more susceptible to the after-effects of alcohol abuse. It is important to acknowledge the dangers associated with binge drinking as it has become an all too common habit and it can have serious implications since the intake of alcohol at such a rate could result in dependence to alcohol if not properly monitored.
And while there are many binge drinkers who don’t go on to become alcoholics and grow out of the binge drinking phase, there are still a significant number of binge drinkers who do not grow out of it and as a result become emotionally, mentally, and physically dependent on alcohol.
Assessing the Problem and How to Stop
If you are still unsure as to whether or not you have crossed the fine line between binge drinking and alcoholism there are many resources available to you to help assess the problem at home and then make the decision to get help. Below are a few assessment quizzes available to you which you may consider taking before you take the next steps toward treatment. Please note, while this may be an obvious statement, you must be completely honest with yourself and your answers in order for these tests to be effective.
- NCADD Assessment Quiz
- The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offer a self-assessment quiz to determine whether or not you may be an alcoholic based on your responses. They also provide additional information regarding treatment and ways to find help.
- AUDIT Alcohol Assessment Quiz
- This alcohol assessment was created by the World Health Organization and consists of 10 multiple-choice questions of which each choice holds a certain numeric value. Based on your total, if it is greater than the recommended cut-off, it may be time to seek help.
- CAGE Alcohol Assessment Quiz
- This alcohol assessment quiz is an extremely short self-assessment with only four questions. It can identify alcohol problems over the lifetime and two positive responses are considered a positive test which indicate further assessment and help may be warranted.
These screening tests are just a few free resources available to help you better understand your drinking habit. It is important to acknowledge that drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your everyday life – such as your relationships, education, social activities, getting and/or maintaining a job or your emotional state. If you are concerned that either you or someone in your family might have a drinking problem, these tests might be the push needed to get help.
So to answer the question, does binge drinking make me an alcoholic – the simple answer is no. However, as demonstrated above, there still are many dangers associated with binge drinking. In addition, although to some, binge drinking may seem fairly harmless and fun at the time, if this type of drinking is not controlled, it can lead to alcoholism and long-term abuse. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has an online program named “Rethinking Drinking” which is targeted towards young professionals and can help them to assess their drinking and even set goals to cut back on their drinking. This may be a valuable resource is assessing whether or not it is time to seek help.
Should you discover that you or someone you love is facing an alcohol problem there are many resources available for help. Get the facts about alcohol addiction and treatment here.