Alcohol Abuse vs Alcohol Dependence

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Alcohol use disorder is a blanket term for alcohol-related issues, like alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Treatment is often necessary to help people overcome such disorders.

Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence (alcoholism) are types of alcohol use disorder. A person struggling with alcohol abuse isn’t necessarily dependent on the drug, but it’s still a serious problem. Alcohol abuse and dependence are both treatable conditions.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that negatively impacts a person’s relationships, health, career, or social life. Essentially, alcohol abuse is any type of harmful or risky drinking. Types of alcohol abuse include binge drinking, underage drinking, and heavy drinking.

Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive drinking, and it is defined as five or more drinks for men, and four or more drinks for women, in a matter of about two hours. Alcohol Abuse vs Alcohol Dependence Binge Drinking Is The Most Common Men vs Women

A person who abuses alcohol may not lose control every time they drink, but their drinking patterns may increase their tolerance to alcohol, and thus their risk of alcoholism. Alcohol affects each person differently, and though some people who abuse alcohol develop alcohol dependence, others may not.

Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence is diagnosed by four key symptoms, which include:

  • craving—a strong need or urge to drink
  • loss of control—not being able to stop drinking after starting
  • physical dependence—presence of withdrawal symptoms after quitting
  • tolerance—need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effect

Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is the most severe drinking problem and is defined as a mental and physical dependence on alcohol. Alcoholism has characteristics that include a higher tolerance to alcohol and the presence of withdrawal symptoms when an individual stops drinking. Alcoholism isn’t necessarily a moral failing, but it may cause good people do things that harm themselves or others.

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Similarities Of Alcohol Abuse And Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are identified as alcohol use disorder (AUD), which means that an individual’s use of alcohol causes problems at work, school, or home. An alcohol use disorder occurs when problem drinking becomes severe. Even if a person is not dependent on alcohol they may drink to deal with social situations, stress at work, or the symptoms of a mental disorder.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are nearly 18 million people suffering from an alcohol use disorder in the United States, but many of them never receive treatment for it.

Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence both have psychological, physical, social, and genetic factors. Abusing alcohol increases the risk of alcoholism and also damage to the liver, kidneys, heart, brain, and other organs. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are both serious issues.

Differences Of Alcohol Abuse And Alcohol Dependence

A person struggling with alcohol abuse may be able to limit or moderate their drinking when necessary, which is what sets them apart from a person with alcoholism. Whether it’s a concerned family, a new job, or a relationship, someone who abuses alcohol may be able to quit if they have good enough reason for it. Alcohol Abuse vs Alcohol Dependence Little To No Control Over Alcohol Abuse

A person with alcoholism has little to no control over when they drink, how much they drink, or their behavior while drinking. A person who becomes dependent on alcohol may have a very hard time quitting without some form of treatment. When someone with alcoholism stops drinking, they may experience severe, and sometimes fatal, withdrawal symptoms.

Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder

It can be hard to tell if someone drinks too much, especially if they intend to keep it a secret. Yet there are certain signs that help determine if someone has a severe drinking problem. Knowing if a person has a drinking problem is one of the first steps to getting help.

The 11 signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:

  • drinking more or for a longer period than intended
  • wanting to cut down or stop drinking, or trying to, but being unable to
  • spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • feeling a strong need, or craving, to drink
  • finding that drinking interferes with family life, career, or school work
  • continuing to drink even though it causes problems with social life
  • giving up or cutting back on enjoyable activities for alcohol
  • getting into dangerous situations while drinking or after drinking
  • continuing to drink despite its contribution to depression, anxiety, or other health problems
  • having to drink more and more to feel the effects of alcohol
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms when alcohol wears off

The presence of any two of these symptoms is a cause for concern and is the basis for alcohol use disorder. Withdrawal symptoms are the mental and physical reactions that a person with alcoholism has when they stop drinking.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, and sweating. In severe cases of alcohol withdrawal, an individual may experience a fever, delirium tremens, seizures, or hallucinations.

Alcohol And Health Issues

Abusing alcohol may lead to serious physical and mental health problems. Excessive drinking damages the brain, heart, pancreas, and liver. Long-term heavy drinking increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, liver, breast, colon, and stomach.

Alcohol abuse is also a leading cause of heart disease, liver disease, and pancreatitis. Too much alcohol increases the risk of injuries, suicide, fatal car accidents, homicide, and other alcohol-related crimes. Alcohol is involved in the deaths of 88,000 people every year in the United States, which breaks down to about 240 people per day. Alcohol Abuse vs Alcohol Dependence 240 People Per Day Die

Alcohol abuse, over time or on a single occasion, may actually cause learning disabilities and even mental disorders, like anxiety or depression. Many people use alcohol to cope with their anxiety, depression, or other illness. Co-occurring mental and alcohol use disorders may present difficulties during treatment, so dealing with them at the same time can be vital for a full recovery.

Treating Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder treatment typically starts with a medically-supervised detoxification program (medical detox). Medical detox is a treatment for withdrawal symptoms and the physical addiction to alcohol. A medical detox program at an inpatient treatment center is one of the safest ways to remove alcohol from a person’s body.

After an individual has detoxed from alcohol, they are more likely to remain active in recovery and receptive to behavioral treatment. Individual treatment programs vary, but all patients are given a chance to identify and correct unhealthy behaviors related to alcohol, reduce crime, and improve their overall quality of life. Alcohol is a highly addictive substance, but recovery is possible with the right treatment.

Contact for an alcohol addiction treatment program based on your needs.


National Library of Medicine—Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse


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