When we talk about someone having an alcohol "problem," it does not necessarily mean they have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). A range of drinking habits can be harmful, including heavy drinking and binge drinking.
While not everyone who binges drink or drinks heavily on occasion will develop an alcohol use disorder, this type of risky drinking behavior does increase your risk of harmful consequences, including an AUD. Here's a look at some common risky drinking habits and how they can turn harmful.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is consuming four or more standard drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in about two hours.
Why is binge drinking considered harmful? One of the primary risks is that even one binge during the early weeks of pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol syndrome. Scientific research has also shown that alcohol consumption at that level can damage health. It is associated with:
Attention and memory problems
Increased risk of injuries (sexual assault, car accidents, falls, burns, alcohol poisoning)
High blood pressure
Cancer (breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon)
Therefore, if you engage in binge drinking—even occasionally—you have an alcohol problem. You may not have an alcohol use disorder, but your drinking is hazardous.
The greatest amount of research into binge drinking has revolved around drinking habits on college campuses, where it is a common practice among 18- to 21-year-olds. Research shows that students who binge drink are more likely to:
Have problems with law enforcement
Miss more classes
Experience more hangovers
Research indicates that students on campuses with higher binge drinking rates experience more physical assaults and unwanted sexual advances.
According to the CDC, heavy drinking is consuming eight or more drinks per week for a woman or 15 or more drinks per week for a man. If you're going out with friends each day of the weekend and having a few too many each time, you may be heavy drinking.
Suppose this habit begins to cause you social, legal, or personal problems in your life, and you continue to drink in spite of the negative consequences. In that case, it's likely time to examine your relationship with alcohol. Heavy drinking is considered alcohol abuse if you continue to drink despite the following reoccurring problems:
Poor performance at school or work
Neglect of your responsibilities
Trouble with the law
Drinking while driving
Because an alcohol use disorder is considered a progressive disease, you could be headed for much more severe issues if you do not get help for your risky drinking at this stage.
Diagnosing an Alcohol Use Disorder
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, there are 11 symptoms of alcohol use disorders:
Continuing to drink despite physical or psychological problems
Beginning to crave alcohol when not drinking
Developing a tolerance for the effects of alcohol
Having withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
Consuming more significant amounts of alcohol over a more extended period than intended
Difficulty or inability to reduce alcohol use
Spending large amounts of time obtaining, using, and recovering from alcohol use
Alcohol use interferes with life roles, including at home, work, and school
Giving up social, work, or recreational activities due to alcohol use
Using alcohol in situations where it is dangerous
Continuing to use alcohol even when it causes social and interpersonal problems
The designation of mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use disorders is used in official medical diagnoses.
Mild: If someone displays two or three of the symptoms
Moderate: If they exhibit four or five of the symptoms
Severe: If someone exhibits six or more symptoms
Could You Have an Alcohol Abuse Problem?
Once someone reaches the stage of a severe alcohol use disorder, it is much more difficult for them to get and stay sober because they have developed a physical addiction to and psychological dependence upon alcohol.
It is much easier to quit drinking before reaching that stage. Unfortunately, many drinkers do not reach out for help until their drinking causes overwhelming negative consequences, a phenomenon known as hitting bottom.
Since 1997, Another Solution has guided individuals and families toward treatment options customized to their evaluation and assessment. By successfully completing their plan and following up with aftercare, they can have an 80% chance of long-term recovery, and that's close to a miracle.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a problem with drugs or alcohol or attendant mental health issues, reach out. Another Solution can help. You may contact us at 972-685-8395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated on July 08, 2021
Medically reviewed by
John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE
Thanks to AVERYWELLMIND