How does alcohol abuse differ from alcoholism? While these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to two distinct patterns of alcohol consumption. Understanding the differences between alcohol abuse and alcoholism can help you recognize when you or someone you love may be at risk and take steps to address the issue.
In this article, we’ll define alcohol abuse and alcoholism, discuss their signs and symptoms, explore potential causes and risk factors, examine their consequences, and review the available treatment options. So, let’s dive in and explore the stages of alcohol misuse.
How is Alcohol Abuse Different Than Alcoholism
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are two distinct patterns of alcohol consumption that can have serious negative consequences for your health and well-being.
Alcohol abuse refers to the excessive consumption of alcohol. Some common examples of alcohol abuse include binge drinking (consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time) and heavy drinking (consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol on a regular basis). Alcohol abuse often leads to problems in various areas of a person’s life, such as work, school, or relationships. It can be a precursor to alcoholism but does mean a person will definitely develop alcoholism.
On the other hand, alcoholism (also known as alcohol addiction) is a legitimate medical condition characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, the inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed, and the onset of withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption is stopped. Individuals with alcoholism need to drink in order to function, and continue to do so despite understanding the consequences. Alcoholism is a chronic disease that can be managed but has no cure.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a handbook issued by the American Psychiatric Association for medical professionals to use as a guide for diagnosing mental disorders, such as alcoholism. The most recent version, DSM-5, integrates both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence into a single disorder called alcohol use disorder (AUD) and sub-classifies it into mild, moderate, and severe categories.
Based on a national survey, 29.5 million people in the United States ages 12 and older struggle with alcohol use disorder. That’s just over 10% of the population for that age group!
While alcohol abuse and alcoholism have some similarities, they differ in their severity, frequency, and impact on a person’s life. Alcohol abuse is less severe than alcoholism, but it can still have negative consequences on a person’s health and well-being. Alcoholism, on the other hand, is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that requires professional treatment. Still, alcohol abuse and alcoholism kill over 3 million people each year.
In the next section, we’ll explore the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and alcoholism in more detail.
Signs and Symptoms
Both alcohol abuse and alcoholism can cause a range of physical, psychological, and social symptoms. While alcohol abusers may experience side effects intermittently or less severely, those who are alcohol dependent will maintain a consistently lower quality of life. Here are some common signs and symptoms of each:
Alcohol Abuse Symptoms
- Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home due to drinking
- Continuing to drink despite the negative impact on relationships
- Using alcohol in hazardous situations, such as drinking and driving
- Experiencing legal problems as a result of drinking, such as DUIs or public intoxication
- Continuing to drink despite the onset of physical or psychological health problems, such as blackouts or depression
- Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time (binge drinking)
- Consuming more alcohol than the recommended guidelines (heavy drinking)
- Experiencing intense cravings and finding it difficult to stop drinking once you start
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol, meaning you need to drink more to feel the same effects
- Encountering physical withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, such as shaking, sweating, or nausea
- Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from its effects
- Neglecting other activities or interests in favor of drinking
- Continuing to drink despite the negative impact on relationships, work, or health
- Drinking in secret or lying about the amount of alcohol consumed
Alcoholism is specifically defined by tolerance, withdrawal, and compulsion. Not everyone who abuses alcohol will develop alcoholism, but alcohol abuse can still have negative consequences on a person’s health and well-being. In the next sections, we’ll explore the potential causes and risk factors for alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
What Causes Alcohol Misuse and Addiction
The causes of alcohol abuse and alcoholism are complex and can vary from person to person. However, there are several potential factors that can contribute to the development of these conditions:
Causes of Abuse
- Peer pressure or social norms that encourage excessive drinking
- Coping with stress, anxiety, or other emotional problems
- Trauma, such as physical or emotional abuse
- Genetics or a family history of alcohol abuse
- Availability of alcohol
- Mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety
- Low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence
Causes of Alcohol Dependence
- Genetic factors that make some individuals more susceptible to developing alcoholism
- Chronic stress that leads to increased alcohol consumption
- A history of physical or emotional trauma
- Brain chemistry imbalances that increase the risk of addiction
- Social and environmental factors, such as living in a culture where heavy drinking is normalized
- Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety
- Many people who abuse alcohol or develop alcoholism may have a combination of these factors.
Are You at Risk?
While anyone can develop a drinking problem, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of substance abuse disorders. Some common risk factors include:
– Family history of alcohol abuse or alcoholism
– A history of trauma or abuse
– Chronic stress or anxiety
– Mental health disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder
– Peer pressure or a social environment that encourages excessive drinking
– Poor coping skills or low self-esteem
– Availability of alcohol
– A history of heavy drinking or binge drinking
It’s important to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that a person will develop abuse or addiction issues, but they may increase the likelihood. Additionally, the risk factors may differ between alcohol abuse and alcoholism. For example, having a family history of alcoholism may increase the risk of developing alcoholism specifically, but may not be as strongly associated with alcohol abuse.
In the next section, we’ll explore the potential consequences of problem drinking.
Consequences of Addiction
Both alcohol abuse and alcoholism can have serious and negative consequences on a person’s health and well-being. Even moderate drinking carries health risks and negative impacts on an individual’s life. Some potential consequences include:
- Liver damage and liver disease
- Increased risk of cancer, particularly of the liver, mouth, throat, and esophagus
- Heart disease and high blood pressure
- Weakened immune system and increased risk of infections
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Increased risk of accidents and injuries, such as falls or car crashes
Mental and Emotional Consequences
- Depression and anxiety
- Memory loss and cognitive impairment
- Increased risk of suicide
- Relationship problems, including divorce or domestic violence
- Financial problems, such as job loss or bankruptcy
- Legal problems, such as DUIs or public intoxication charges
- Increased risk of criminal behavior or involvement with the criminal justice system
- Social isolation or estrangement from friends and family
- Neglect of responsibilities at work, school, or home
It’s important to note that the consequences of alcohol misuse can vary depending on the individual and the severity of the condition. Seeking treatment for your alcohol problems can help prevent or minimize these negative consequences. In the next section, we’ll explore some potential treatment options for alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Alcohol Detox and Rehabilitation Options
Fortunately, there are several treatment options available for individuals struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Some common treatment options include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing harmful thought patterns and behaviors
- Motivational interviewing (MI), which helps individuals find motivation and build confidence to change their behavior
- Contingency management, which provides rewards for positive behavior changes
- Disulfiram, which causes unpleasant physical reactions if alcohol is consumed
- Naltrexone, which can reduce alcohol cravings and block the pleasurable effects of alcohol
- Acamprosate, which can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a well-known 12-step program that emphasizes abstinence and support from peers
- SMART Recovery, a program that focuses on self-empowerment and building coping skills
- Moderation Management, a program that focuses on reducing alcohol consumption to safer levels rather than abstinence
It’s important to note that different treatment options may work better for different individuals, and a combination of therapies may be necessary for some. It’s also important for individuals to have a strong support system, including friends, family, and healthcare professionals, throughout the treatment process.
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are serious conditions that can have negative consequences on a person’s health, well-being, and relationships. However, with the right treatment and support, individuals can overcome these conditions and lead fulfilling lives. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, don’t hesitate to seek help from a healthcare professional.
How St. John’s Recovery Place Can Help
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction and needs help, St. John’s Recovery Place is here to support you. Our team of experienced professionals provides compassionate and evidence-based treatment for individuals seeking alcohol detox and rehabilitation.
We offer personalized treatment plans that are tailored to the unique needs and goals of each individual, and we use a variety of evidence-based therapies and techniques to help our clients overcome their addictions. From medically supervised detoxification to aftercare, we provide a full continuum of care to help our clients achieve lasting recovery.
Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how we can help you or your loved one take the first step toward recovery. Call 833-397-3422!