Understanding the nuanced distinctions in alcohol consumption patterns such as binge drinking and the more chronic condition referred to as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is vital. Both present serious health and societal problems, yet they are not necessarily interchangeable, as we often presume. This article aims to illuminate these complexities and why the term "alcoholic" is no longer the preferred descriptor for those contending with problematic drinking behaviors.
What is Binge Drinking?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. For men, this typically happens when they consume five or more drinks in two hours, and for women, it is usually after four drinks within the same time frame. These numbers vary based on multiple factors, such as weight and body fat percentage.
It is essential to underscore that while binge drinking is a risky behavior, it doesn't automatically qualify someone as having Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offers a comprehensive definition of AUD as "a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences."
Significantly, AUD is assessed based on eleven criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). Meeting two of these eleven criteria during the same 12-month period would qualify for an AUD diagnosis. The severity of AUD—mild, moderate, or severe—is determined by the number of criteria met.
Are Binge Drinkers Considered “Alcoholics”?
Herein lies the critical distinction. Binge drinkers may not necessarily have AUD. Someone could engage in binge drinking occasionally without meeting the criteria for AUD. However, this does not mean that binge drinking is safe or devoid of potential harm. Both binge drinking and AUD pose substantial risks to individuals and communities and may necessitate intervention.
The label "alcoholic" has traditionally been used to describe someone struggling with a severe form of AUD. However, the term has gradually fallen out of favor among healthcare professionals and recovery communities. The term "alcoholic" tends to conjure stigmatizing stereotypes, potentially dissuading individuals from seeking help due to fear of being labeled. Instead, the phrase "person with Alcohol Use Disorder" is used to promote a more empathetic and person-centered approach to care.
This semantic shift aligns with a broader trend in healthcare and advocacy to prioritize "person-first" language. By saying "person with AUD," we recognize the individual first, not their condition. This approach is an essential step toward reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorders and encouraging more individuals to seek help.
Statistics Highlighting the Scope of Alcohol-Related Issues
The gravity of alcohol-related issues in our society is reflected in statistics provided by SAMHSA. In 2019, an estimated 14.5 million people aged 12 or older had AUD. This number includes 414,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17. Furthermore, binge drinking was reported by 25.8% of people aged 18 or older in the past month.
Conversely, not everyone who binge drinks will develop AUD. However, the risk increases with the frequency and quantity of binge drinking episodes. According to NIDA, about half of the people who meet the criteria for AUD do so by their mid-20s, but others may not develop the disorder until later in life.
While these insights provide valuable context, it's critical to remember that help is available for both binge drinkers and those with AUD. Early intervention can make a significant difference in treatment outcomes. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use, reach out to a healthcare provider.
Rethinking the Term "Alcoholic" and Advancing Alcohol-Related Awareness
While binge drinking and AUD are related, they are not identical, and the term "alcoholic" is no longer the favored descriptor for people struggling with AUD. Although binge drinking does not automatically translate to AUD, it is a serious behavior with its own set of risks.
By differentiating between these terminologies and behaviors, we can promote a better understanding of alcohol-related issues, foster more constructive conversations about prevention and treatment, and ultimately contribute to a healthier and more informed society.
Take Control of Your Drinking & Seek Help for a Healthier Future
If you find yourself struggling with binge drinking, it's crucial to remember that help is available, and reaching out can make a significant difference in your life. Binge drinking may not automatically lead to an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), but it is a serious behavior with inherent risks.
Whether it's talking to a healthcare professional, joining support groups, or exploring alcohol treatment options at MATClinics, taking that first step toward seeking help can set you on a path toward positive change. Remember, you don't have to face this alone. Reclaim control of your life, embrace a healthier relationship with alcohol, and discover a brighter future by reaching out for the support you deserve.