The Different Types of Drinking Habits to Avoid

When we talk about someone having an alcohol "problem," it does not necessarily mean they have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). A range of drinking habits can be harmful, including heavy drinking and binge drinking.


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Harmful Drinking Habits

While not everyone who binge drinks or drinks heavily on occasion will develop an alcohol use disorder, this type of risky drinking behavior does increase your risk of harmful consequences, including an AUD. Here's a look at some common risky drinking habits and how they can turn harmful.

Binge Drinking

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more standard drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in about two hours.

Why is binge drinking considered harmful? One of the primary risks is that even one binge during the early weeks of pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol syndrome. Scientific research has also shown that alcohol consumption at that level can do real damage to health. It is associated with:

  • Attention and memory problems
  • Increased risk of injuries (sexual assault, car accidents, falls, burns, alcohol poisoning)
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer (breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon)

Therefore, if you engage in binge drinking—even occasionally—you have an alcohol problem. You may not have an alcohol use disorder, but your drinking is considered hazardous.

The greatest amount of research into binge drinking has revolved around drinking habits on college campuses, where it is a common practice among 18- to 21-year-olds. Research shows that students who binge drink are more likely to:

  • Damage property
  • Have problems with law enforcement
  • Miss more classes
  • Experience more hangovers
  • Become injured

Research also indicates that students on campuses with higher binge drinking rates experience more physical assaults and unwanted sexual advances.

Heavy Drinking

According to the CDC, heavy drinking is defined as consuming 8 or more drinks per week for a woman or 15 or more drinks per week for a man. If you're going out with friends each day of the weekend and having a few too many each time, you may be heavy drinking.

If this habit begins to cause you social, legal, or personal problems in your life, and you continue to drink in spite of the negative consequences, it's likely time to examine your relationship with alcohol. Heavy drinking is considered alcohol abuse if you continue to drink despite the following reoccurring problems:

  • Poor performance at school or work
  • Neglect of your responsibilities
  • Trouble with the law
  • Drinking while driving

Because an alcohol use disorder is considered a progressive disease, if you do not get help for your risky drinking at this stage, you could be headed for much more severe issues.

Diagnosing an Alcohol Use Disorder

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, there are 11 symptoms of alcohol use disorders:

  1. Continuing to drink despite physical or psychological problems
  2. Beginning to crave alcohol when not drinking
  3. Developing a tolerance for the effects of alcohol
  4. Having withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
  5. Consuming larger amounts of alcohol over a longer period of time than intended
  6. Difficulty or inability to reduce alcohol use
  7. Spending large amounts of time obtaining, using, and recovering from alcohol use
  8. Alcohol use that interferes with life roles including at home, work, and school
  9. Giving up social, work, or recreational activities due to alcohol use
  10. Using alcohol in situations where it is dangerous
  11. Continuing to use alcohol even when it causes social and interpersonal problems

The designation of mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use disorders is the terminology used in official medical diagnoses.

  • Mild: If someone displays two or three of the symptoms
  • Moderate: If they exhibit four or five of the symptoms
  • Severe: If someone exhibits six or more symptoms

Once someone reaches the stage of a severe alcohol use disorder, it is much more difficult for them to try to get and stay sober, because they have developed a physical addiction to and psychological dependence upon alcohol.

It is much easier to quit drinking before reaching that stage. Unfortunately, many drinkers do not reach out for help until their drinking causes them overwhelming negative consequences, a phenomenon known as hitting bottom.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Binge drinking.

  2. Goldman MS. Commentary on White, Kraus, and Swartzwelder (2006): "Many college freshmen drink at levels far beyond the binge threshold". Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2006;30(6):919-21. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2006.00123.x

  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder: A comparison between DSM–IV and DSM–5.

Additional Reading

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.