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Alcohol Abuse vs Alcoholism – The Key Differences

alcohol abuse

Many people don’t know there is a difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse. And one may question, does it matter?


alcohol abuseWhen a loved one has a ‘drinking problem’ we try to convince them to seek help. It is crucial to ask for help at an early stage because the ‘drinking problem’ can easily turn into alcohol dependence. The line between abuse and dependence is thin, leaving alcohol abusers on a slippery slope. Psychiatrists these days worry more about the abusers than for the actual alcoholics. Mostly, because abusers are in denial, they go to work every day, have a ‘normal’ life, they are not alcoholics (yet!) and think that there is nothing to worry about. In reality, many of them are aware of their problem because they barely hold it together.

substance abuse evaluation by professionals – or just court accepted evaluation test – can be eye-opening. The test shows the level of the abuse. At times, the evaluation helps people accept that they have a problem that affects, not only their personal and social life but the society as a whole.

Facts show that 16.3 million adults ages 18 and older (6.8 percent of this age group) had an AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) in 2014. Nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In 2010, alcohol misuse problems cost the United States $249.0 billion. Alcohol is a serious social problem that needs even more serious measures. 

Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are similar. The differences can be noticed in the severity of the symptoms and signs.

alcohol abuse

1. What is alcoholism?

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), alcoholism is “a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.”

SAMHSA defines heavy drinking as “drinking 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days.” 

To put it simply, alcoholism is the most serious physical and psychological alcohol dependence that completely overtakes the person’s life. Dependent individuals can’t get through the day without alcohol. They have cravings all the time and get angry when can’t get access to alcohol.

Signs of Alcohol Dependence – Alcoholism

  • Withdrawal – alcoholics suffer from withdrawal symptoms the second they stop using alcohol. Most common signs of alcohol withdrawal include trembling, nausea, confusion, seizures, anxiety, vomiting, sweating – and a characteristic smell also coming from their breath. These symptoms are severe and life-threatening, especially when trying to stop being dependent and try detox at home.
  • Tolerance – the level of alcohol intake within a day increases because they can’t get enough alcohol in their system to keep them intoxicated.
  • Uncontrollable Use – the person can’t stop drinking even when is aware of the behavior and the consequences alcohol has on his/hers life. Also, they try to quit multiple times without success.
  • Strong Cravings – every day, the cravings are so strong, the person must satisfy the need for alcohol. When speaking of dependence, one is physically and mentally addicted to the substance and will continue using it regardless of the health, financial, and personal problems.
  • Drinking to Relieve the Withdrawal Symptoms – these symptoms happen when the person doesn’t drink for a while and the alcohol starts to leave the body because the body is not getting the amount it was used to. The withdrawal symptoms are so strong and unbearable ‘forcing’ the alcoholic to start drinking and stop the agony.
  • Alcohol Disrupts Every Aspect of Their Life – alcoholics spend their time focusing on their dependence. Consequently, they constantly drink during the day or start within the early hours and neglect every responsibility.

alcohol abuse

2. What is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse can be defined in various ways. One can abuse alcohol during the weekends, and get in trouble for it. Alcohol abuse is the mild version of consuming alcohol. The main difference between abuse and alcoholism is the ability to stop drinking for a few days without experiencing major problems. However, abusers are also dysfunctional and face many problems because of the drinking habit. They may experience slight withdrawal symptoms, but nothing serious.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse:

  • Drink and drive – they feel capable of driving while drunk, risking theirs and the life of other passengers.
  • Drink after a negative situation – whether it’s at the workplace or at home, it is a way to comfort them.
  • Everyone around them suggests that they should cut down on drinking.
  • The family members start to warn them on the number of drinks they consume during a day.
  • They start to drink secretly.
  • They make excuses to not got to work after a night of drinking. Their boss warns them for their behavior.
  • They are unable to fulfill major responsibilities at work or at home.
  • They drink occasionally, or every day in small amounts.

alcohol abuse

3. How to Prevent Alcohol Abuse Turning Into Alcoholism?

The person that abuses alcohol is unable to see when the abuse turns into dependency. And the initial reasons that draw the person to increase the level of abuse might include family or work problems, mental issues, pressure, other forms of abuse, failure, and more. It takes many months, and maybe years for the person to become dependent or switch from casual drinking to alcoholism. However, it is important to interfere as soon as possible and try to help the person realize the level of their abuse. Family members and friends can organize an intervention, as soon as they notice the first signs of the change.

Learn the Best Intervention Methods and Techniques and help your loved one seek treatment.

Usually, the alarming sign is the physical and mental dependence. They can’t stop drinking even at those days they promised they won’t. They start to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. Their tolerance level increases. Also, alcohol starts to be a huge obstacle in their everyday functioning. If they are not able to go to work or start to intensively neglect every task, they might be crossing the boundary of abuse.

For more information please call our Addiction Treatment Helpline at (844) 439-4765. This is a Free and completely confidential call. We are available 24/7. In many cases, your health insurance company will cover 100% of the treatment cost. So please call now.

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