While alcoholism is an indication of a deep-rooted problem and an over-dependence on the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism, social drinking is just that- social drinking.
Social drinkers consume alcohol when they are with friends, family, co-workers, or acquaintances, mostly limiting themselves to about 4-5 drinks while in company.
The distinction between social drinkers and binge drinkers tends to get blurry because all social drinkers are not binge drinkers, though a majority of binge drinkers are social drinkers. Confused? Let's take a closer look.
What is Binge Drinking: The Definition
Binge drinking was once a term used to describe the act of excessive episodic drinking (to the point of experiencing a hangover) over the course of a few days, but today, the term usually refers to alcohol abuse over a much shorter time span, usually a few hours.
The rapid consumption of alcohol in a limited time frame with the intention of getting drunk or inebriated is the basic understanding most people have of binge drinking.
For an authoritative answer to the question, "what is binge drinking?", we need to turn to more learned sources.
A technical definition of binge drinking, which was created by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), states that binge drinking is an event that leads to a BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) count of 0.08% or higher.
This definition has been criticized by many people, considering binge drinking can be subjective and may perhaps depend on:
a person's alcohol capacity,
a person's understanding of binge drinking based on his/her own drinking habits,
and the degree of intoxication that constitutes binge drinking, which is something that varies from one culture/country to another.
4 glasses of alcohol on a night out (for women) and 5 glasses (for men) is the limit for a majority of drinkers, and anything above this figure is considered to be more than enough to get someone intoxicated.
This limit is popularly known as the "5/4 definition" and is adhered to in a majority of social circles.
Binge drinking can occur in many places and for many different reasons. It is is a "practice" usually adopted to celebrate an occasion, ease stress, indulge in camaraderie and become socially acceptable in the eyes of others (especially in the case of teens and college students).
The time to get worried about binge drinking and the consequences, is when someone binge drinks regularly and does so either with the same, small group of people or alone. This can be a sign that alcohol is being used as a form of escapism, and can ultimately lead to alcohol dependence.
Young adults in particular take to binge drinking because they want to get drunk and just let loose. It is more often than not a conscious choice, even though many who suffer from the effects of a drunken night out can't even recall some of the events that may have taken place during the excessive drinking episode.
What Is Binge Drinking? Binge Drinking Is Not....
Binge drinking is not alcoholism, even though this practice does constitute alcohol abuse and binge drinkers are at risk of becoming alcoholics.
There are some in the addiction field who talk about binge drinking alcoholics, but this is a contradiction in terms, as a binge drinker only displays one of the four characteristics of alcohol dependence, that being loss of control.
As mentioned earlier, there's also a very fine line between binge drinking and social drinking.
A social drinker is someone who only drinks in company without exceeding the 5/4 limit (most of the time anyway) and doesn't necessarily abuse alcohol. Binge drinkers, on the other hand, do just that in a social setting (or not, as the case might be).
Can social drinkers become alcoholics? Yes. Can binge drinkers become alcoholics? Yes. The key here is to understand these two habits are just risk factors, but not necessarily pre-requisites for alcoholism and/or alcohol dependency.
It's important not to get too hung up on binge drinking. Most of us will binge drink at some stage or another. Christmas, anniversaries, birthday parties are all occasions when we let our hair down and maybe drink too much.
The occasional excess is O.K., it is only when we regularly binge drink, and use alcohol to suppress negative feelings and emotions that we need to stop and take stock.
Binge drinking is NOT alcoholism, it is possible to stop binge drinking and return to normal drinking. "Stop Drinking Alcohol" is an e-book that outlines how you can either return to normal drinking or stop altogether WITHOUT the need for the 12 steps. I highly recommend it as a viable alternative for binge drinkers wishing to cut down on their alcohol consumption.
If you found this page, "What is Binge Drinking?" helpful, then the following may be of interest to you:
Deborah Morrow, M.S. Addiction Psychology, is the director of treatment programs for The Alcoholism Guide website. In her practice Deborah provides on-line coaching and support for those dependent on alcohol or who require other services such as relapse prevention or court mandated services. (Read More)