Have you ever wondered if alcohol abuse and alcoholism are the same? Turns out, they are not. Read on to find out facts about alcohol abuse

Chances are high that you have someone in your family that has suffered an addiction to alcohol, or you may have been through it yourself. In this light, it is easy to think alcoholism and alcohol abuse are the same thing, but it turns out they are not.

In fact, you might think all alcohol abusers are alcoholics, but they are not the same thing. The criteria regarding alcoholism is different, although it has some similarities to alcohol abuse. It all has to do with the severity of symptoms and the signs.

Many people have some worries about their alcohol use, but they are either not sure they need help, or they are convinced they do not need it at all. As a relative or friend, if someone in your life is going through this, you might express the problem to them, but many times, there is no clear solution that seems to follow the identification of the problem.

What is alcohol dependency, then?

Similar to other drugs, there are many questions surrounding alcohol abuse and defining it in specific terms. It can be hard to tell where to draw the line between alcoholism, social drinking and moderate drinking, but the most important question to ask is whether consuming the drug is leading to problems in the life of the person.

Alcohol dependency is mostly a pattern of drinking, which is mainly accompanied by either one or several signs within a period lasting a year. They include recurring problems associated with alcohol, such as being arrested for DUI (Driving under the Influence), the increasing failure to manage responsibilities at work, school or home, and drinking in situations that are dangerous physically – including operating machinery or driving a car.

Another major sign would be continuous drinking even though you have problems in your relationships due to the effects of alcohol.

What is alcohol abuse?

It is similar in many ways to alcohol dependence, but has a difference. For the case of abuse, you are not yet dependent on the substance, and you might go through some tolerance or withdrawal symptoms, but not to the extent of an alcoholic. In this case, the drinker is able to restrict their intake of alcohol, and they have not reached the stage of physical dependence.

Signs of alcohol abuse

Since the definition of alcohol abuse is generalized, it is important to remember that the substance will affect different people differently. Certain signs bear similarities to alcohol dependency, though the extent will be on a lesser level.

They include experiencing financial or legal problems due to drinking, using the substance in dangerous ways, neglecting responsibilities, drinking as a method of de-stressing themselves, drinking so that they feel better about themselves, and drinking in spite of the negative consequences in their lives.

When do you cross the line into alcohol dependence?

The consequences of alcohol abuse are clear enough, but crossing the line between abuse and dependency is very easy. All it takes is your body building tolerance to the substance, and this means you need more of it to get ‘high’ – in other words, achieving a certain level of intoxication.

Another sign is withdrawal symptoms. These are the sick feelings you get when alcohol is unavailable, as well as hangovers – when your body is trying to recover from the substance. These are many, but the main ones include nausea, hallucinations, vomiting, anxiety, confusion, trembling, and even seizures.

The third major sign is compulsive use. Because the withdrawal symptoms are so uncomfortable, they lead to cravings that you cannot seem to control – and you find yourself in need of the substance to function. Even if you make repeated promises to quit your alcohol abuse, you cannot willingly stop – and this is the point that you cannot recover from unless you get professional help.

The short point of this is that dependence has two dimensions; physiological and psychological. The physiological aspect is related to the physical symptoms – you feel a very high level of discomfort when alcohol is not present in your system or when you are denied access to it. The psychological aspect is the ingrained belief that you need alcohol to function in your life and fulfill your responsibilities. In fact, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) defines alcoholism as a physical need that combines with a mental obsession to consume alcohol.

In all this, it is important to remember that not all abusers will cross into alcohol dependency even after taking the substance for a long time, while others will cross over into dependence after the first drink or after several drinks. It all depends on how your body reacts, as well as other factors such as genetic predisposition.

Alcohol abusers may seem to forget that their habits are just as harmful as that of an alcoholic, because they pose the same level of danger to both the general public and themselves. For instance, they may be arrested for DUI and ordered to go for addiction assessments or therapy sessions. When they decide to seek for professional help, they are mostly attendees of outpatient programs.

Alcohol addicts on the other hand, have to go for inpatient treatment programs – these are residential programs that remove them from familiar surroundings and people, as well as things that they associate with drug abuse.

Alcohol abuse, in summary, does not always include a strong desire to take alcohol, physical dependence, or loss of control. The other aspect would be that alcohol abuse does not include tolerance – a factor that is very important in defining alcoholism (this is the rising amount of alcohol your body needs to get ‘high’).

Final thoughts

It is not easy to distinguish alcohol abuse and addiction, as many people note. However, because of the complexity involved in dealing with alcohol abuse and addiction, it is important to seek professional help when you have a problem with your abuse – even if it seems minor. Getting a professional assessment can actually save your life in the future, and facilities such as here can be a good place to begin.

Helpful Resources

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