The term “alcohol use disorders” refers to a spectrum of disorders, and it’s rare that two people’s drinking behaviors and the harms caused by their drinking will be defined in exactly the same way. “Heavy drinking” is an especially ambiguous term because it can refer to binge drinking, or it can reference a chronic drinking problem – or some may use it interchangeably with “alcoholic.” But are all heavy drinkers alcoholics? And are all alcoholics heavy drinkers?
Almost all alcoholics do drink heavily, but not all heavy drinkers are alcoholics. Binge drinkers, for example, are defined by the practice of drinking more than four (for women) or five (for men) drinks in about a two-hour period. On average, about one in six American report binge drinking, and those who say that they binge drink ingest an average of eight drinks per binge about four times per month, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Despite the fact that so many Americans indulge in the behavior regularly, it is far from healthy. Binge drinking is associated with such issues as unintentional and intentional injuries, a range of cardiovascular disorders, liver disease and neurological damage.
Chronic drinking is defined by drinkers who drink more than the recommended one (for women) or two (for men) drinks a day, or more than seven (for women) or 14 (for men) drinks in a week, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). How this shakes out in terms of daily drinking – whether it’s drinking three drinks at lunch every day during the week or drinking cocktails plus a bottle of wine at dinner – adds up to drinking that is harmful to the drinker’s health, and potentially puts their safety and the safety of others at risk.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), alcoholism is defined by:
One of the major differences between alcoholism and heavy drinking is the need for treatment. Most alcoholics will benefit most from an inpatient alcohol rehabilitation program that offers medical detox and long-term follow-up care in therapeutic treatment. Heavy drinkers, on the other hand, may need different types of alcohol treatment services depending upon:
Sometimes, environmental or underlying factors can make even a few drinks a huge problem for the drinker. If it triggers unsafe behavior of any kind or if moderation is impossible alone, then it’s time to seek help. A range of alcohol abuse treatment options are available. Contact us at the phone number listed above today, and our admissions coordinators can discuss which services will be best in your loved one’s situation.
Integrated Treatment of Substance Abuse & Mental Illness