The Difference Between High-Functioning Alcoholics and Binge Drinkers
Today’s drinkers often find it challenging to tell the difference between letting loose a few times a month and alcoholism. And then, alcoholism manifests in both those who maintain a job and home life and people who have become completely dysfunctional – heavy drinkers who are reaping severe negative consequences as a result. binge drinkers. Binge drinkers
But there are distinct characteristics that define the difference between binge drinkers and high-functioning alcoholics, although their behavior may look quite similar to those on the outside looking in. Each level of excessive alcohol use is often rooted in its own set of contributing factors and treatment should be approached in a way that is unique to the condition and the individual who needs help.
The following are five distinguishing characteristics that differentiate binge-drinking and high-functioning alcoholism.
Typically, these drinkers may go several days without a drink or even wanting a drink, then going over-the-top on the weekend, such as having “one too many” at a bar, party, or club.
High-functioning alcoholics, on the other hand, do suffer from some level of dependence. They tend to drink almost every day, but their drinking may be confined to post-workday activities. Therefore, their habit may not significantly interfere with their lives, compared to those who drink during nearly all their waking moments.
Amount of Alcohol Use Vs. Symptoms of Addiction
Binge-drinking is defined by the number of drinks a person consumes – some experts place this number as just more than what it takes to induce a blood alcohol level over .08 in the course of a couple of hours. This equates to the consumption of roughly 4-5 drinks in a given session.
Conversely, alcoholism is not characterized by the number of drinks consumed but rather whether the following factors exist: (1) physical dependence, (2) increased tolerance, (3) preoccupation with alcohol use including cravings and avoiding situations in which alcohol is unavailable.
The Frequency of Alcohol Use
The frequency of alcohol consumption is also a distinguishing factor between the functional alcoholic and the binge-drinker. As noted, binge-drinkers often confine their alcohol use to a few days a month or in specific settings, such as a bar night out with friends.
High-functioning alcoholics tend to prefer ritualized habits, such as drinking after work or before bed. They may not consume as much as the binge-drinker, but they work to maintain a regular daily drinking habit and will appear irritated, agitated, or downright angry if they are somehow unable to engage in this ritual this on any given day.
Where Alcohol is Consumed
The time and place alcohol abusers tend to drink is also different for binge-drinkers vs. functioning alcoholics. Bingers are most likely to do so in groups of friends or family in social settings, and will probably be among some other binge-drinkers.
High-functioners, on the other hands, may often drink alone or secretively, sometimes sneaking alcohol into situations that are inappropriate for drinking.
Level of Control
Because binge-drinkers, by definition are not addicted to alcohol, they have an easier time cutting back and setting limits. Alcoholics, high-functioning or otherwise, have great difficulty with control and experience daily cravings and uncontrollable drinking. These traits will continue despite adverse consequences that result from their actions.
Make no mistake – alcoholics also tend to engage in binge-drinking, a habit that they might define as drinking significantly more than they usually do when they are adhering to their ritualized behavior. Bingers, however, are not dependent on alcohol but may be at a heightened risk for true alcoholism later. However, these drinkers do not share addictive characteristics with high-functioning alcoholics unless their disease advances.
Each alcohol-related conditions requires a different approach to treatment. For example, binge-drinkers may find recovery less grueling, and receive an intervention and/or have visits with an addictions counselor and support groups. Alcoholism, conversely, often requires long-term, structured treatment that helps the individual get sober and maintain sobriety even the face of severe cravings and the desire to return to drinking.
Binge drinkers and high-functioning alcoholics do share some characteristics in common, but it is important for both the drinker and his or her loved ones to understand the differences due to the implications for treatment and the mechanisms at work behind each habit.
Both conditions are harmful and dangerous and can lead to serious injury, damage to relationships, or legal problems.
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If you or someone you love is abusing substances, please seek treatment as soon as possible. There are many resources available to help you or your loved one.
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~ Nathalee G. Serrels, M.A., Psychology