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What’s the Difference Between Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse?

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For many people, it’s easy to blur lines of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. As such, many won’t seek the help the help they need, often believing that they have their drinking under control. And although friends and family may try to intervene, their efforts often fall short in the face of someone who is denial about their drinking problem. All of that aside, let’s turn our attention towards understanding the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism so that we be more informed when trying to help those who appear to enjoy one too many.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also referred to as alcohol dependence, is a term used to describe alcohol consumption that encroaches on someone’s ability to lead a fully productive life. It’s not necessarily that they drink excessively; it’s the fact that alcohol has completely taken over their lives. In many cases, alcoholism, according to the American Psychiatric Association, can cause significant impairment and also distress. Some signs of alcoholism include

  • Neglecting major responsibilities
  • Drinking and driving
  • Drinking that results in legal ramifications
  • Excessive drinking that results in social problems

In addition to social and legal problems, alcoholism can result in serious physical and mental health problems, including

  • Alcoholics can suffer severe withdrawals when alcohol is no longer available, which includes trembling, vomiting, hallucinations and, in extreme cases, seizures.
  • In some cases, alcoholics may become anxious if confronted with the prospect of running out of alcohol and not having money buy more.

It’s not uncommon for those struggling with alcoholism to develop a high tolerance for alcohol. In most cases, this results in an alcoholic’s need to consume larger of alcohol each time they drink to feel intoxicated.

What is Alcohol Abuse?

When it comes to alcohol abuse, it is a descriptive term that identifies the action of an individual within the context of alcohol. Basically, alcohol abuse is a precursor to alcoholism. Those who abuse alcohol are those who do one of two things, either drink too much at one time or drink too frequently, usually during the week and weekends. To help further illustrate this point, let’s take a look at what some studies have suggested are the tell-tale signs of alcohol abuse:

  • Drinking more than 7 drinks per week
  • Drinking more than 4 drinks on special occasions

To better contextualize this data, let’s take a moment to identify was constitutes an alcoholic drink. When it comes to hard liquor, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits is considered an alcoholic drink. For beer drinkers, 1 12-ounce can of beer constitutes an alcoholic drink.

Obviously, not everyone who consumes these quantities, or even slightly higher, will become alcoholics, but we have to acknowledge that it is possible. Some symptoms of alcohol abuse include

  • Hiding your drinking or your alcohol
  • Feel guilty about drinking
  • Experiencing blackouts and memory lapses after drinking excessively
  • Can’t stop drinking once you’ve started
  • Despising those who criticize your drinking
  • Feeling depressed
  • Needing a drink in order to face the day ahead

More to explore