Difference Between Binge Drinking And Heavy Drinking

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on January 13, 2022

Binge drinking involves consuming four or more drinks for women, and five or more drinks for men. For women, heavy drinking is consuming eight or more drinks in a week, and for men, heavy drinking is consuming 15 or more drinks in a week.

Binge Drinking Vs. Heavy Drinking

If you or someone you love are drinking excessively, you may be concerned about the pattern of alcohol abuse.

Binge drinking and heavy drinking are often terms used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two.

Binge drinking involves heavy alcohol consumption in a short period, while heavy drinking may define a larger pattern of abuse over a given week or month.

What Is Binge Drinking?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams per decilitre (g/dl) or above.

This typically happens when adult women consume four or more drinks at a time, and when adult men consume five or more drinks in a two-hour period.

For youth, the numbers are lower: it takes three drinks for girls to pass the threshold and three to five drinks for boys.

This is the most common type of excessive drinking, often seen in one of the four stages of alcoholism, pre-alcoholism.

What Is Heavy Drinking?

Heavy drinking is generally defined as excessive drinking in a given week.

For women, heavy drinking means consuming ​​eight drinks or more per week, and for men, it means consuming 15 or more drinks per week.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) considers heavy drinking to be binge drinking five or more days in a month.

The Difference Between Binge Drinking And Heavy Drinking

Both binge drinking and heavy drinking have major negative implications on health and can lead to alcohol use disorders (AUD).

One is not necessarily worse than the other — they simply describe patterns of alcohol consumption.

A person who drinks heavily may binge drink, and a person who drinks in binges may be heavily drinking. The difference lies in how much is consumed at once.

Generally, binge drinking occurs when a person consumes multiple drinks at once, whereas a person who drinks heavily may spread out their drinks throughout a week or month.

Binge Drinking Or Heavy Drinking May Lead To Alcohol Use Disorder

If someone binge drinks, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have an alcohol use disorder.

Heavy drinking is more cause for concern when considering an AUD because it points to a larger, more consistent pattern of abuse.

Any abuse of alcohol can lead to physical, mental, and health consequences in the short and long run.

The health consequences of binge drinking include:

  • weight gain
  • alcohol poisoning
  • harmful effects on pregnant women, including miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • weakened immune system

The health consequences of heavy drinking include:

  • higher risk of developing AUD
  • heart disease
  • damage to the nervous system
  • anemia
  • Seizures
  • difficulty sleeping
  • liver damage
  • digestive issues from pancreas damage

Binge Drinking And Heavy Drinking FAQs

Learn more about the prevalence and treatment of binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption.

According to a 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 33% of full-time college students binge drink.

The CDC states that one in six adults binge drinks about four times a month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in 2018, 5.1% of adults engaged in heavy drinking in the past year.

After heavy alcohol consumption, your blood alcohol concentration will be very high.

The best way to safely detox from alcohol is to go to a detox center where you can get medically-supervised care and detoxification from alcohol.

Detoxing from alcohol at home can be unsafe if severe withdrawal symptoms occur.

Learn more about detoxing from alcohol and what happens during alcohol detox.

You’ll likely feel withdrawal symptoms within a few hours of consuming your last drink. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on tolerance and level of consumption.

Read more about the signs of alcohol detox.

Get Help For Alcohol Abuse

Recognizing the early stages of binge drinking and heavy drinking is crucial when identifying serious alcohol abuse.

If you’re worried that you or your loved one are showing signs of alcoholism and engaging in these behaviors, help is available.

Reach out to our helpline and we can help you to take the first steps toward recovery.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on January 13, 2022
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