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Is Binge Drinking Alcoholism?

This is a question that comes up time and time again in my counseling practice. How can I be an alcoholic if I don’t drink everyday? Or, how can I have a problem with alcohol if I sometimes drink “normally?”

The identification as an alcoholic is a personal label ultimately reached by the individual. Often that realization process takes time and involves various stages of acknowledgment and acceptance. An addiction professional can be of great assistance in helping someone identify their problem.

As a marriage and family therapist with a specialization in the treatment of substance abuse disorders, I often see problems with substances eroding quality of life and negatively impacting one's mental health. Often I find that if you are asking yourself these types of questions, there is a problem to explore.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 grams percent. This generally happens with men consume five or more drinks, and women consuming four or more drinks, in about two hours

The ICD-10 is the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), a medical classification list by the World Health Organization (WHO). It defines the “harmful use” of a substance as a "pattern of psychoactive substance use that is causing damage to health." The damage may be physical (as in cases of hepatitis from the self-administration of injected drugs) or mental (e.g. episodes of depressive disorder secondary to heavy consumption of alcohol).

The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.” This obviously doesn’t specify the amount or pattern of the alcohol use. If you are curious about alcoholism, I encourage you to go to an open AA meeting which welcomes anyone wanting to learn more. 

Sara Iannaco, LMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. She has a private psychotherapy practice in Austin Texas.

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