The difference between binging and alcoholism

Today is Monday so it’s back to school on the Upgrading-Morten’s-knowledge-about-Alcohol-and-Alcoholism-Course. Last week the course went a bit nerdy with lots of stuff on the biological effects of binging. I was particularly surprised to learn how relatively little it takes for the body to react to the consumption of alcohol. I watched a documentary about binge drinking where two twin brothers tested the effects of binging on their bodies. One of the brothers had to drink 21 units of alcohol once a week over a period of four week. Before the fourth binge session, his overall condition was tested and it showed a significantly higher degree of systemic inflammation. The heart, liver and brain are significantly affected by heavy drinking with increased possibility for heart failures, intentional and unintentional injuries as well as a number of unintended consequences.

This week I want to look into the different kinds of treatments for binge drinking. But I will start out trying to make a clear distinction between alcoholism and binge drinking. While searching around, I came across definitions of alcoholism and binge drinking that might be useful to think with. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking involves taking in a specific amount of alcohol during a short timespan, which for men is five drinks in two hours and four drinks for women. This is the same overall understanding of binging that I found on a number of other websites last week. I am still a bit puzzled about the time frame that they set up. Why is it two hours and not an entire night? I don’t understand that.

By contrast, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines alcoholism quite narrowly as a dependency on alcohol. People with alcoholism have a strong craving for alcohol and will continue to drink even when doing so might cause them physical or social problems. CDC doesn’t use the term alcoholic as a categorical term for people suffering from alcoholism so I won’t do that either. So, people who suffer from alcoholism might try to limit or stop drinking but are often unable to do so because of the physical cravings they feel and the drinking habits they have acquired.

Then the CDC makes a clearcut distinction that separates alcoholism from binge drinking. They say that someone with alcoholism typically drinks every single day and this drinking pattern is difficult if not downright impossible to change. In other words, as they also emphasize, there has to be a repeated pattern in order for the diagnosis of alcoholism to be made. Binge drinking, on the other hand, is defined as such even when it is only one episode. 

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