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Binge Drinking

Binge Drinking vs. Alcohol Use Disorder

June 14, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 14, 2023
10 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 14, 2023
10 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 14, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 14, 2023
10 min read

We’ve all heard the phrase, "Work hard, play hard." Many of us enjoy celebrating milestones, unwinding after a long week, or being in the company of friends over a drink or two. But when does occasional celebration turn into habit? And when does that amount to a serious issue? It's essential to recognize when our relationship with alcohol might become problematic so we can step in.

In this article, we will explore the differences between alcohol use disorder (AUD) and binge drinking. By understanding these differences, we can better support ourselves and those around us.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)​​

Imagine standing on a cliff before a relentless, tumultuous storm –– and there we are, facing it, day after day. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can feel this way, like an uncontrollable force that engulfs us in its path. Just as a storm intensifies and becomes more destructive, AUD is persistent and compulsive in nature, its strong winds like cravings and its persistence like that constant urge to drink.

AUD refers to a chronic condition in which a person's drinking becomes compulsive, despite the negative consequences that come along with it. AUD can escalate over time, wreaking havoc on our physical and mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.

Like a storm that causes destruction in its wake, AUD can ravage the lives of those affected, eroding relationships, impairing decision-making, and deteriorating physical health. Just as shelter and assistance are crucial during a storm, it is vital for individuals with AUD to seek professional help, support, and treatment to navigate these challenges.

It's crucial to remember that AUD is a complex condition influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, and mental health. By envisioning AUD as an overwhelming storm, we can better understand the gravity and persistence of the condition, fostering empathy and compassion for individuals who grapple with this complex disorder.

The signs of AUD can range from mild to severe, and it can have a significant impact on our physical health, relationships, ability to function, and overall well-being.

Seeking professional help and support is essential for those of us struggling with AUD. The question is not if but when.

Unpacking Binge Drinking

Binge drinking, on the other hand, refers to a pattern of drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or higher in a short amount of time. So, if Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a relentless series of storms, think of binge drinking as a tornado. In other words, binge drinking is episodic.

As such, binge drinking often takes place on specific occasions or events, during which people may guzzle down drinks in a short span of time. Because alcohol intake is different for men and women, mostly due to body size and composition, binging is defined as follows:

  • Men: Consuming five or more drinks in about two hours.
  • Women: Consuming four or more drinks within two hours.
  • Nonbinary: Unfortunately, more research is needed to understand the parameters of binge drinking in trans and/or gender-expansive individuals.

While binge drinking may not always indicate the presence of AUD, it carries its own risks and potential consequences. Excessive alcohol consumption during a binge drinking session can lead to impaired judgment, increased risk of accidents, alcohol poisoning, and negative effects on physical and mental health. It’s crucial to be aware of one's alcohol intake and make responsible choices to minimize these risks.

Discerning Binge Drinking From AUD

Understanding the differences between AUD and binge drinking is essential for identifying and addressing potential concerns. For instance, someone with AUD will often engage in binge drinking –– but someone who binge drinks occasionally may not necessarily qualify as having AUD.

Here are the main differences between these two concerning drinking behaviors:

  1. Drinking patterns: The chief difference comes down to pattern. AUD involves consistent excessive drinking, often on a daily or frequent basis. In contrast, binge drinking is characterized by episodic heavy drinking and is typically intermittent. AUD represents a chronic condition that can range from mild to severe. Furthermore, AUD can persist over a long period, causing significant negative impacts on multiple aspects of a person's life.
  2. Loss of control: Individuals with AUD experience a loss of control over their alcohol consumption and find it challenging to cut back or stop drinking altogether. Binge drinkers may have temporary loss of control during specific drinking episodes but can generally control their drinking habits outside of those occasions.
  3. Cravings and dependence: People with AUD often experience strong cravings for alcohol and may develop physical and psychological dependence. Binge drinkers, on the other hand, may not experience the same intense cravings or dependence on alcohol.
  4. Overall impact: AUD has wide-ranging impacts on our physical and mental health, relationships, employment, and daily functioning. Binge drinking, while risky and harmful, may not have the same level of sustained negative effects as AUD. However, both can immediately lead to compulsive behaviors –– such as drunk driving and unprotected sex –– that can have lifelong consequences.

Breaking the Stigma

Recognizing when alcohol consumption becomes problematic is essential for both ourselves and those around us. Understanding the distinctions between AUD and binge drinking enables us to navigate our relationship with alcohol more consciously.

While binge drinking may be a behavior exhibited occasionally, AUD is a chronic condition that requires professional intervention. By fostering awareness, empathy, and open discussions, we can support those struggling with alcohol-related challenges and encourage responsible drinking habits in our communities –– or seek support ourselves.

If we’re struggling with AUD or engaging in regular binge drinking, getting the right professional help and support is crucial. A recent study shows that if we have a family history of AUD, we might be more likely to binge drink. Binge drinking or having AUD is not a moral failure.

Thankfully, various treatment options are available including therapy, support groups, and medical interventions, which can assist individuals in managing their alcohol-related challenges. Online programs, like those found on the Reframe app, can help those seeking to ameliorate their relationship with alcohol. However, if you are deep in the throes of AUD, this will not substitute professional treatment.

Find Control and Thrive With Reframe

Changing our relationship with alcohol is one of the best things we can do to improve our quality of life. Balance awaits –– download Reframe right now and kickstart your journey to wellness.

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually and with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey! Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit gives you the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people from around the world who are going through the exact same experiences as you! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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