Get Addiction Help (888) 804-0917

Heavy Drinking vs. Alcoholism

Sometimes the line is thin between heavy drinking and alcoholism. Many of the same challenges impact heavy drinkers and alcoholics: legal woes, relationship and family problems, interference with work and personal obligations. Learn the facts to help determine the difference between heavy drinking and alcoholism in yourself or a loved one.

What does heavy drinking mean?

Binge drinking is having five or more drinks within two hours for men, or four or more drinks within two hours for women. Heavy drinking is engaging in binge drinking five days or more within a thirty day period. According to a 2012 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 24.6% of people 18 or over reported binge drinking and 7.1% reported heavy drinking within the last month.

Where does heavy drinking merge into alcoholism?


Social and moderate drinkers can take or leave a drink. They don’t make decisions based on getting alcohol and rarely if ever experience legal, social, or physical consequences.


Heavy drinkers imbibe often and in large quantities. Many experience consequences of their drinking, but if faced with compelling reason, they are able to change drinking behavior or stop altogether. Continued binge and heavy drinking can lead to alcoholism.


Alcoholics are people who have lost their ability to control their drinking. According to the chapter “More About Alcoholism” in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge.” This means that, regardless of consequences, alcoholics are unable to control their consumption of alcohol, even if they want to, once they have begun to drink.


The measurements for binge and heavy drinking may seem unrealistic for some, but are based on the health consequences of alcohol on the body. The measurements also create a national standard to help drinkers avoid risky behavior and diminish the risks of the slippery slope of heavy drinking.

What measures can you take to stay informed and keep yourself and loved ones safe?

What can you do if you or a loved one may have a drinking problem?

Reach out to the Pat Moore Foundation to learn about treatment for alcoholism and medical detox from alcohol. Support staff is available 24 hours a day to provide guidance and help. You don’t have to do this alone!  

Image: Pixabay