Differences Between Alcoholism and Binge Drinking Addiction

There are many ways alcohol can become a problem for people, including alcohol addiction, binge drinking addiction and occasional alcohol abuse. If you’re concerned that you or someone you know may have a problem with alcohol, learn the differences between the various alcohol use disorders and seek help for alcohol abuse.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a chronic disease in which a person is dependent on alcohol. There are four specific criteria that indicate alcohol dependence:

  • A strong craving for alcohol
  • Not being able to control one’s drinking, either by slowing down or stopping drinking
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol so more alcohol is needed in order to get the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after not drinking for a period of time

Withdrawal is one of the most recognizable symptoms, even for individuals who may be in denial about their drinking. A person going through alcohol withdrawal will experience at least two of the following symptoms within a span of hours or days after the most recent drink of alcohol:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty controlling one’s movements or uncontrollable fidgeting
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Hand tremors
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Sweating or a resting pulse of more than 100 beats per minute
  • Visual, auditory or tactile (touch) hallucinations

Individuals who develop signs of alcohol dependence and who suffer from alcoholism have usually been abusing alcohol for several months or years. However, it’s entirely possible to abuse alcohol and develop another alcohol-related disorder without becoming physically dependent.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is another alcohol use disorder. However, unlike alcoholism, someone with a binge drinking disorder is not physically dependent on alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men — in about two hours.” In other words, binge drinking is consuming a large quantity of alcohol (four to five drinks) in a short amount of time (about two hours). A binge drinking disorder or binge drinking addiction develops when a person gets in the habit of drinking large quantities of alcohol on a regular basis. For many people, binge drinking occurs every or almost every weekend. Some people begin to feel that if they are going to drink at all, they might as well drink to get drunk. This can be a clear sign of a binge drinking addiction. If you or someone you care about may be abusing alcohol, get help right away. Alcohol abuse has a significant and compounding effect on several organs in the body. The sooner you get help, the easier it will be to reverse the damage and regain control of your life.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Alcohol and Public Health: Fact Sheets – Binge Drinking. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Drinking Levels Defined. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Binge Drinking: Terminology and Patterns of Use. https://www.samhsa.gov/capt/tools-learning-resources/binge-drinking-terminology-patterns U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. https://medlineplus.gov/alcoholismandalcoholabuse.html

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