Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcoholism: What Are The Differences?

Misusing alcohol is a serious problem, and often times, it’s hard to know when your casual drinking has turned into something more severe. When it comes to alcohol addiction, there are two terms you’ll hear: alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Although the two are often used interchangeably, the reality is that alcohol abuse and alcoholism each have their own unique set of identifiers and characteristics.

While both alcohol abuse and alcoholism can have adverse effects on a person’s life, understanding the differences between the two will help you to understand the severity of your addiction and the best course of treatment.

What is Alcohol Abuse?

According to the CDC, alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work. Manifestations of alcohol abuse include the following situations:

  • Failure to fulfill major responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Drinking in hazardous situations, such driving under the influence
  • Drinking that leads to recurring legal problems
  • Continued drinking despite ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by drinking

Even though alcohol abuse doesn’t severely disrupt a person’s life the way alcoholism does, that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Alcohol abuse can cause damage to a person’s mind, body, and spirit. Additionally, it’s not uncommon to see alcohol abuse turn to alcoholism with continued use.

However, unlike someone suffering from alcoholism, a person with an alcohol abuse problem is able to learn from negative consequences and change their behavior. Clearly laying out the path of alcohol abuse can inspire and encourage a person to change their destructive habits.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependency, is a chronic disease characterized by the consumption of alcohol at a level that interferes with physical and mental health. The biggest difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism is that addiction is a disease that affects all areas of a person’s life.

Alcoholism is influenced by genetic and environmental factors, and because it’s chronic, alcoholism lasts a lifetime. The key signs of alcoholism include:

  • A strong craving for alcohol
  • Continued use despite repeated physical, psychological, or interpersonal problems
  • The inability to limit drinking

An alcoholic will continue to drink despite serious health, legal, and/or family problems. People with addictions, such as alcoholism, have a chemical dependency that prevents them from changing on their own. Unlike with alcohol abuse, willpower alone isn’t enough to help them overcome their alcohol addiction. This is why so many people with alcohol dependency end up homeless, separated from family, unemployed, and eventually die from their addiction.

Over time, alcoholics build up a tolerance for alcohol, meaning they need to consume more and more in order to feel the effects. And when they stop drinking, they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, anxiety, shakiness, headaches, nausea, and irritability. In order to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms, an alcoholic will continue to drink.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are both serious addictions and shouldn’t be ignored. If you or someone you know is struggling with either alcohol abuse or alcohol dependency, the best thing you can do is to get them the help they need.

If you’re ready to take the next steps on the road to recovery, call the Orlando Recovery Center today at 855.757.2191

Written by: Christina Bockisch

Christina is a blogger based in Fort Myers, Florida. She writes about mental health, fitness, and life as a whole on her blog, My Life in Wonderland. Follow her on Twitter.