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.
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