Many of us have engaged in heavy drinking or know someone who enjoys an occasional binge-drinking session with their friends.
There are many categories of alcohol use, ranging from light/moderate drinking to alcohol dependencies.
While binge drinking can be a sign of alcoholism, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a person has an addiction. But you should also be aware that it may be a symptom of addiction – and even if it is not, there are numerous risks associated with binge drinking.
Binge Drinking, Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism
To understand the different levels of (problematic) drinking, you should first understand the difference between binge drinking, alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Binge drinking, alcohol abuse and alcoholism are all different.
Aside from definitions, this is shown in statistics.
“The global status report on alcohol and health found that 39 per cent of all Irish people aged 15 and over had engaged in binge drinking.” – Ireland has the second-highest rate of binge drinking in the world.
Whilst it was recorded in 2013 that “Among Irish drinkers aged 18–75 years, 6.9% scored positive for dependence. This indicates that there were somewhere between 149,300 and 203,897 dependent drinkers aged 18–75 years in Ireland in 2013.” – Source.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming excessive amounts of alcohol within a short period or drinking to get drunk. This is defined as 6 units for women and 8 units for men.
Of course, this can vary. Not everyone drinks the same way, and how much they can drink is determined by a number of factors, such as tolerance, metabolism, or even if they’re recently eaten.
Unlike alcoholics, binge drinkers have some control over their drinking, and can often go through extended periods of no alcohol without any problem.
Alcohol abuse (or alcohol use disorder) is also not necessarily alcoholism.
Binge drinking can fall under the category of alcohol abuse.
Someone who abuses alcohol most likely has a problem, but with the right motivation or treatment, they may be able to go back to drinking in moderation.
Alcoholism, or alcohol addiction, is a chronic illness.
It is defined by the inability to control one’s drinking, strong cravings, preoccupation with alcohol, and continuing to drink despite negative consequences.
Unlike someone who has simply developed a bad drinking habit, alcoholics cannot stop once they start. They cannot regulate their consumption.
The only solution for them is to stop drinking altogether.
Unlike someone with an alcohol abuse disorder, alcoholics need to find long-term sobriety.
Binge drinking is a problem
Alcohol is a poison.
Binge drinking or not, heavy or chronic alcohol consumption does take a toll on one’s mental and physical well-being.
Of course, binge drinking can lead to alcoholism, but it can also lead to a number of other issues such as:
1. Accidents and bad decisions
Alcohol impairs your judgement and can lead you to make a number of poor decisions, which can also lead to other problems.
This can range from engaging in unprotected sex to aggressive behaviour, to drink driving.
Alcohol also causes balance and coordination issues, which can lead to falls or other accidents.
2. Brain damage
Excessive drinking, especially in the long term, damages the brain. Over time, a person will be likely to develop memory and/or concentration issues.
This can affect their day-to-day functioning and productivity.
Studies have shown that chronic alcohol abuse can lead to brain shrinkage, cell death, early-onset dementia, liver failure, and can be fatal.
Brain damage can also aggravate already-present mental health issues, such as depression.
3. Other health problems
Heavy drinking damages other parts of the body as well. Some of the problems associated with long-term alcohol use include liver damage, diabetes and cardiovascular issues.
At some point, a binge may lead to a blackout, and if alcohol blood levels rise high enough, an overdose. An alcohol overdose may cause a person to fall into a coma or stop their heart altogether. Alcohol also can depress one’s breathing, so if a person passes out, they may suffocate.
When should I seek help?
If you’re a regular binge-drinker or heavy consumer, you should watch out for signs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism, so you can get help as soon as possible.
Addiction is best treated at the beginning.
Some signs that your drinking is becoming a problem are that you:
- Cannot go an extended period without drinking
- Have cravings for alcohol
- Are preoccupied with planning your next drink
- Cannot function normally without alcohol
- Exhibit withdrawal symptoms or signs of physical dependency
- Regularly black out or have memory lapses when drinking
- Find yourself drinking alone, or in secret
While these signs do not mean you are an alcoholic, they do show that you have a problem that needs to be addressed.
If you are concerned about your drinking or how it is affecting you, you should take a step back and assess your drinking. Taking an alcohol assessment test can be a good start. Schedule one here.
You can also contact Smarmore Castle Private Clinic if you are concerned about your own or someone else’s drinking.
Our staff are available to answer any questions you may have.
We can be reached at:
- Functional Alcoholism
- Strokes & Alcoholism
- The Devastating Effects of Alcoholism
- Alcoholism and Thiamine Deficiency
Last updated & clinically assessed 30 March, 2022