What is the difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse?

When talking with people about alcohol-related problems, there’s a good chance you’ve heard lots of terms thrown around without really knowing what they mean. We’ve all heard the terms “alcoholism” and “alcohol abuse” a million times, but many remain ignorant about the difference between the two. While both are related to the overconsumption of alcohol and one is often a feature of the other, they refer to issues of different scope.

As you seek help and hope to rebuild your life, you will likely encounter these terms again and again. That is why it is so important to have an understanding of what exactly they mean. Once you get the differences sorted out, you will be able to use these terms with confidence to properly describe your situation and get the help you need. More importantly, you will feel empowered to talk about your struggles with accuracy and self-assurance.

Alcoholism Defined

Alcoholism is defined as the use of alcoholic drinks that is both continuous and compulsive. This means the afflicted individual drinks without conscious reasoning in response to an irresistible urge and keeps on drinking for an extended period of time.

Alcoholism is considered an addiction and a disorder. It results in psychological and physical dependence on alcohol, meaning a person feels a need and desire inside themselves to drink and cannot stop drinking without going through the painful process of physical withdrawal.

While continuous and compulsive drinking is what defines alcoholism in the strict dictionary sense, there are many behaviors that are often associated with this terrible affliction. Those affected typically have drinking-related problems in their social lives, with their alcoholism damaging their personal relationships. Alcoholism is also associated with the eventual development of serious health issues, like cirrhosis of the liver, caused by years of excessive drinking. These conditions, however, are not always present. Those who are afflicted with alcoholism and yet maintain a relatively normal life are called “functional alcoholics.” Despite their ability to keep their lives patched together, they suffer from alcoholism all the same.

Alcohol Abuse Defined

Alcohol abuse has a very general definition. It is normally described simply as the “misuse of alcohol.” This can be applied to a wide variety of circumstances.

Drinking to excess, either all at once or over a longer period of time, is the most common form of alcohol abuse. This includes binge drinking, or the consumption of many alcoholic beverages in a short period of time, as well as continued or ceaseless drinking over many days, weeks, or even years.

For people who shouldn’t be drinking at all, any amount of consumption is considered a form of alcohol abuse. This reasoning would be applied, for example, to a pregnant woman or a child. Drinking enough to be over the legal limit and then driving a car is also a form of alcohol abuse.

Relationship Between Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

As you can see, the terms “alcoholism” and “alcohol abuse” describe similar phenomena but apply to different contexts and under different circumstances. Someone suffering from alcoholism likely has a long history of abusing alcohol. Each episode of binge drinking, each bender, and each drunken period of their life is an example of alcohol abuse. All together, this history of alcohol abuse indicates a pattern of behavior that suggests the term alcoholism, with its dependency and status as a disorder, applies to the case.

With that being said, most people who abuse alcohol do not suffer from alcoholism. “Alcohol abuse” is a much more general term, and thereby casts a much wider net than “alcoholism.” Your average alcohol abuser has not yet developed a physical or psychological need to drink. They are, however, much more likely to develop such a dependence because of their unhealthy habits. Some individuals are especially predisposed to fall into dependence by an addictive tendency hardwired into their genetic code.

That is why alcohol abuse must be treated before addiction develops. And once a dependence has developed, help must be sought all the more earnestly. If you abuse alcohol or are suffering from alcoholism, call 833-820-2922 for the help you need. Our trained counselors and always available and ready to give assistance.