What’s the difference between heavy drinking and binge drinking?

It only takes a few drinks to be labeled as a heavy drinker or a binge drinker.

It only takes a few drinks to be labeled as a heavy drinker or a binge drinker.

Something that has been bothering us for a while was the question you see in the header of this article. The concepts ‘heavy drinking’ and ‘binge drinking’ were both used in many articles and sources, but the difference never got quite clear. It seems most media just take these terms out of their sources as they please. And usually heavy drinkers are binge drinkers too, but there is a definetely a difference.

That the concepts in practice are usually the same is because of the enormously low amounts of alcohol you have to drink to make these categories according to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Basically binge drinking is drinking a lot at once, while heavy drinking is drinking a lot over a longer period.

Binge drinking according to the CDC is when a man drinks 5 units of alcohol within 2 hours, which according to them results in a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of around 0.08. For women the limit is 4 units of alcohol. If you do this every 2 weeks you are considered a binge drinker. In the United Kingdom the limits are 8 for men and 6 for women.

Heavy drinking in the States is when a man has an average of 2 units a day, which comes down to at least 14 a week. For women it’s  even easier to be considered a heavy drinker since they need an average of 1 per day (7 a week). Since these are already averages most people who did heavy drinking during the year are likely to be labeled as heavy drinkers by the CDC at the end of the year. The British Department of Health speaks of heavy drinking with averages of 50 units per week for men and 35 for women.

As you can see in America it’s quite easy to juggle with these figures. A man who drinks 2 glasses of wine every day and drinks 5 beers in a bar once every 2 weeks is both a heavy drinker and a binge drinker. In our book this would be a very moderate drinker. In the words of Obelix the Gaul: “These Americans are crazy”. Well, just think about it next time you read the formentioned terms in an alarming article about alcohol abuse.

Micky Bumbar

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in Science on Alcohol. Tags: , bac, , binge drinking, binge-drinkers, blood alcohol content, , heavy drinkers, heavy drinking, how many units, limits, , United Kingdom, united states, what's the difference between a binge drinker and a heavy drinker,

6 thoughts on “What’s the difference between heavy drinking and binge drinking?

  1. I always thought a binge drinker’s aim was to get drunk before going somewhere where drink wasn’t available, whereas a heavy drinker is someone who drinks a lot regularly.



    • Hahaha actually I associated binge drinking also with younger kids (the ones that have no money to buy a lot in a bar or club) and therefor drink like hell before it. The term is used a lot when it comes to drunken teenagers.


  2. what in the heck? the british department of health qualifies heavy drinking for men as 50 units a week? that’s a little over seven beers every day. hats off to british men, they apparently take their alcohol far more seriously than i do.

    micky, you wouldn’t happen to know what percent of british males are heavy drinkers, would you? because that amount of consistent drinking seems both dangerous and a little impressive.


    • Well I don’t know it, but I’ll look into it. I’m a bit curious myself too. I actually don’t think with units they mean pints by the way, since that’s the standard size in Britain. When it’s 7 times 300 ml a day we are talking slightly over 2 liters a day, which doesn’t sound too strange.
      I mean if you drink 5 or 6 liters of beer on Friday and Saturday alone, you are covered for the full week as a heavy drinker.


  3. Pingback: Queen Mother Elizabeth, a heavy drinker who lived to see 101 years | Lords of the Drinks

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