Alcohol consumption is common in the United States. A 2019 government survey found that 69.5% of adults reported drinking at some point within the past year, while 54.9% reported using alcohol within the past month. 

While drinking in moderation is generally considered acceptable, the unfortunate reality is that some people may abuse alcohol and develop an addiction. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can lead to serious consequences. Although both come with risks, there are some key differences between alcohol abuse and alcoholism. 

What Is an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

People often use the term alcoholism to refer to alcohol addiction, but the proper clinical term for alcohol addiction is an alcohol use disorder. An alcohol use disorder is a legitimate medical condition that involves lasting changes in the brain that make it difficult to stop drinking.

AUD is a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. When someone has an AUD, they meet diagnostic criteria that demonstrate they are unable to stop drinking despite serious consequences. 

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

While an AUD does involve alcohol abuse, not everyone who abuses alcohol has an alcohol use disorder. The difference with alcohol abuse vs. alcoholism is that someone with an AUD has a legitimate medical condition and has lost control of their drinking. Alcohol abuse, on the other hand, is an action; it does not necessarily mean that someone is unable to stop drinking.

Alcohol abuse involves excessive drinking, which is defined as consuming eight or more drinks per week for women or 15 or more drinks per week for men. Binge drinking, another form of alcohol abuse, is defined as four or more drinks in one sitting for women or five or more drinks in one sitting for men. A person with AUD is likely drinking enough to demonstrate alcohol abuse, but it is possible to abuse alcohol without meeting the diagnostic criteria for an AUD. 

Signs of Alcohol Abuse 

Someone who is abusing alcohol may not meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. However, they are likely to show some or all of the signs of alcohol abuse. These signs include:

  • Frequent binge drinking 
  • Drinking to the point of blacking out
  • Making excuses about their alcohol consumption
  • Stating that they need to drink in order to relax or have fun
  • Consuming large quantities of alcohol with the intent of becoming drunk 

What Is Alcoholism?

“Alcoholism” is not an actual diagnosis. When people use this term, they are referring to an alcohol use disorder, which is the diagnostic term for alcohol addiction. Alcoholism generally refers to a disease in which a person is unable to stop drinking. 

Signs of Alcoholism 

When a person has alcoholism, they will show signs associated with an alcohol use disorder. These signs include: 

  • Drinking larger amounts than intended
  • Experiencing strong alcohol cravings
  • Being unable to stop drinking, even when there is a desire to do so
  • Continuing to drink, even when it causes a health problem
  • Developing a tolerance for alcohol so that larger quantities need to be consumed to achieve the desired effects
  • Drinking to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms
  • Giving up other activities and hobbies because of alcohol use
  • Neglecting duties at work or home due to alcohol consumption
  • Spending a significant amount of time drinking and/or recovering from hangovers 
  • Drinking in situations in which it is physically dangerous, such as right before driving
  • Continuing to drink despite experiencing relationship problems caused by alcohol 

What Is the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism?

The primary difference between alcohol abuse vs. alcoholism is that alcoholism refers to a legitimate medical condition, while alcohol abuse does not. Someone who is said to have alcoholism will meet the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder, but it is possible to abuse alcohol without having an alcohol use disorder. 

Treatment for AUD

Since AUD is a legitimate medical condition, people with this diagnosis often require treatment to help them stop drinking. Treatment typically begins with a medical detox program, which can provide support and medication to patients as they withdraw from alcohol. Attempting to withdraw on your own without a detox program can be dangerous, as alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be fatal in some cases. 

After completing a detox program, patients transition into an inpatient or outpatient rehab. Inpatient rehab is more intensive and requires patients to live onsite at a treatment facility. Outpatient rehab occurs in the community and allows patients to live at home and continue to work. While in rehab, patients participate in behavioral services like individual and group counseling, and they often attend support group meetings like AA. 

See Related: Signs You Should Go To Rehab

Get Help in Orlando, FL Today 

If you’re looking for Florida alcohol addiction treatment, Orlando Recovery Center offers a range of options. Our treatment offerings include medical detox, inpatient and outpatient care, intensive outpatient programming, partial hospitalization services, aftercare and teletherapy. Our 93-bed inpatient facility offers numerous amenities, including yoga, volleyball courts, a swimming pool and meditation classes. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, the Orlando Recovery Center can help. Contact us today to begin the admissions process and start your recovery journey. 

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” March 2022. Accessed June 18, 2022.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed June 18, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.” April 14, 2022. Accessed June 18, 2022.

Bayard, Max; McIntyre, Jonah; Hill, Keith; Woodside, Jack. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome.” American Family Physician, 2004. Accessed June 19, 2022.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Treatment.” MedlinePlus, September 26, 2017. Accessed June 19, 2022.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.