Alcohol Abuse & Dependence

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. 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. Online learning opportunities on substance use disorders, alcohol and drug prevention, violence prevention, behavioral health issues, and more. Before you decide to stop drinking, talk to a healthcare provider to determine what treatment options are available and whether you would benefit from medical supervision during detox.

What is the difference between alcohol abuse

Drinking to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms, such as drinking to stop the shakes or to “cure” hangovers. Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. However, genetics is not the only contributing factor to the risk of alcohol abuse.

Understanding The Dependence Vs Addiction Debate

There may be neglect of personal and professional responsibilities due to drinking, and there may be physical effects such as blacking out or requiring medical intervention due to excess alcohol consumption. For these reasons, most professionals now prefer the terms “alcohol misuse”, “unhealthy alcohol use”, or “alcohol use disorder” to describe the varying levels of alcohol abuse. Mutual-support groups provide peer support for stopping or reducing drinking.

  • While that’s certainly a common example of binge drinking, you can binge drink at home, a cocktail party, or a corporate event just as easily.
  • Heavy drinking can cause men to have difficulty maintaining an erection .
  • You might think talking about alcoholism, alcohol abuse and binge drinking differently is just splitting hairs, but it actually isn’t.
  • A heavy drinking binge may even cause a life-threatening coma or death.
  • Alcohol misuse refers to single episodes during which you might drink excessively.

Reactions in the body that indicate dependence include the development of a tolerance to alcohol’s mind-altering effects and symptoms of withdrawal when alcohol use stops or decreases abruptly. Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It encompasses the conditions that some people refer to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and the colloquial term, alcoholism. Considered a brain disorder, AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe. Lasting changes in the brain caused by alcohol misuse perpetuate AUD and make individuals vulnerable to relapse. The good news is that no matter how severe the problem may seem, evidence-based treatment with behavioral therapies, mutual-support groups, and/or medications can help people with AUD achieve and maintain recovery. According to a national survey, 14.1 million adults ages 18 and older1 (5.6 percent of this age group2) had AUD in 2019.

Alcohol Abuse Vs Alcohol Dependence

Unlike binge drinkers, people with an AUD cannot and will not stop drinking despite severe physical, psychological, and emotional consequences. It’s also called alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction or alcohol abuse. It has been postulated that naltrexone may blunt the rewarding effects of alcohol, whereas acamprosate may attenuate adaptive changes during abstinence that favor relapse (Heilig and Egli 2006; Litten et al. 2005). The criteria for alcohol abuse are purposely rather liberal in order to identify individuals whose alcohol use is leading to negative effects. There are four major categories of abuse as listed above; however, the number of ways that these four categories can relate to actual life experiences is quite numerous. Thus, even someone who repeatedly gets intoxicated on weekends and drives home would satisfy the criteria for alcohol abuse.

Hallucinations and delirium tremens in the most severe form of withdrawal. Behavioral counseling can help a person learn to modify behaviors, identify triggers, and develop coping mechanisms for handling cravings and temptations.

The effects of carbamazepine and lorazepam on single versus multiple previous alcohol withdrawals in an outpatient randomized trial. Becker HC, Baros AM. Effect of duration and pattern of chronic ethanol exposure on tolerance to the discriminative stimulus effects of ethanol in C57BL/6J mice. From a clinical standpoint, this is important because it underscores the value of these models in identifying and evaluating new treatment strategies that may be more effective in battling the problem of relapse. This group mainly consists of men and has the highest divorce rate of other groups. These individuals frequently use other illicit drugs in addition to their alcohol use. The person continues to drink alcohol despite having the problems listed above and/or problems continue to worsen as a result of drinking.


No matter the frequency, if your drinking habits have negatively affected your life, it’s possible you have a problem with alcohol abuse. Understanding the differences and overlaps between alcohol abuse and dependence can help you gain insight into your behavior and recognize if the need for treatment exists. Your ongoing recovery depends on continuing mental health treatment, learning healthier coping strategies, and making better decisions when dealing with life’s challenges.

If you’re afraid your drinking problems are spiraling out of control, Alvarado Parkway Institute can help you get your life back on track. Whether you’re struggling with alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence, our alcohol rehab center in San Diego provides a safe, supportive, and caring environment for your road to recovery. We offer medically supervised detox, individual and group therapy, and aftercare planning to help make sobriety a permanent way of life.

For men, drinking more than an average of two drinks a day is considered alcohol misuse. “If someone is clinically diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, medical detox is necessary because alcohol withdrawal can lead to seizure and possibly death,” Weinstein says. Treatment of AUD focuses on relieving symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in the short term and then suppressing alcohol cravings in the long term. However, since alcohol affects people in different ways, recognizing AUD in yourself or in others can be subjective and challenging. Read on to learn more about the symptoms, risk factors, treatments, diagnosis, and where to get support. Alcohol abuse refers to continuing to use alcohol, often excessively, even though it creates problems in a person’s life, including health, relationship, and work-related consequences.

Other indication that you may have a binge-drinking problem include drinking excessively at weekends, holidays, and special occasions, frequently drinking more than you planned, and often forgetting what you said or did while drinking. In severe cases, withdrawal from alcohol can also involve hallucinations, confusion, seizures, fever, and agitation. These symptoms can be dangerous, so talk to your doctor if you are a heavy drinker and want to quit.

Different stressors likewise robustly reinstated extinguished alcohol-reinforced responding in different operant reinstatement models of relapse (Funk et al. 2005; Gehlert et al. 2007; Le et al. 2000, 2005; Liu and Weiss 2002b). This effect appears to involve CRF activity because CRF antagonists block stress-induced reinstatement of alcohol-seeking behavior (Gehlert et al. 2007; Le et al. 2000; Liu and Weiss 2002b). Veatch LM, Becker HC. Lorazepam and MK-801 effects on behavioral and electro-graphic indices of alcohol withdrawal sensitization. Upregulation of voluntary alcohol intake, behavioral sensitivity to stress, and amygdala crhr1 expression following a history of dependence. Overstreet DH, Knapp DJ, Breese GR. Drug challenges reveal differences in mediation of stress facilitation of voluntary alcohol drinking and withdrawal-induced anxiety in alcohol-preferring P rats. Knapp DJ, Overstreet DH, Breese GR. Baclofen blocks expression and sensitization of anxiety-like behavior in an animal model of repeated stress and ethanol withdrawal.

The reason for this is that these terms simplify alcohol use into very basic terms. In reality, alcohol use and misuse exist on a broad spectrum and there is a vast difference between someone with no alcohol problems and someone with severe alcohol addiction. The term “Alcoholism” could be applied to someone who drinks yet experiences no negative impact on their life as easily as it could to someone who is addicted. This does not help to identify alcohol use disorders and can mean people with real problems believe they are fine.

What Is The Difference Between Alcohol Abuse & Dependence

To avoid these tendencies, try to drink alcohol in moderation—or not at all. Moderating alcohol consumption means limiting yourself to one or two drinks, no more than once or twice a week.

David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. Carbonation speeds up the rate of absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, often causing faster intoxication. When consumed in single measures or shots, liquor is rapid and easy to drink, which can quickly lead to a pattern of alcohol abuse.

Many drinking problems start when people use alcohol to self-soothe and relieve stress (otherwise known as self-medicating). Getting drunk after every stressful day, for example, or reaching for a bottle every time you have an argument with your spouse or boss. Binge drinking and alcoholism are dangerous habits, but they each have different risk factors.

What is the difference between alcohol abuse

The functional type is generally working adults who are middle-aged, educated, have good jobs, higher incomes than the other types, and relatively stable relationships. This group tends to drink What is the difference between alcohol abuse every other day or even more, often consuming five or more drinks when they do drink. Recurrent alcohol use leads to the person not fulfilling major responsibilities at work, school, or home.

Substance Abuse Treatment Programs

Tolerance and withdrawal are two of the cardinal features of alcohol dependence. You experience intense cravings to drink alcohol, and find yourself unable to stop drinking even when you want to.

  • A person who abuses alcohol may also be dependent on alcohol, but they may also be able to stop drinking without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
  • The term “Alcoholism” could be applied to someone who drinks yet experiences no negative impact on their life as easily as it could to someone who is addicted.
  • Becker HC, Lopez MF. Increased ethanol drinking after repeated chronic ethanol exposure and withdrawal experience in C57BL/6 mice.
  • Look for the medically reviewed badge on our articles for the most up-to-date and accurate information.
  • However, there’s one major difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Safely withdraw from drugs or alcohol in a controlled, medically supervised environment to ensure the patient’s health and safety. Detox can last anywhere from two days to a week, or possibly more.

Physical Complications Of Alcohol Use Disorder

Relapse represents a major challenge to treatment efforts for people suffering from alcohol dependence. To date, no therapeutic interventions can fully prevent relapse, sustain abstinence, or temper the amount of drinking when a “slip” occurs. For some people, loss of control over alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol dependence, rendering them more susceptible to relapse as well as more vulnerable to engaging in drinking behavior that often spirals out of control. Many of these people make numerous attempts to curtail their alcohol use, only to find themselves reverting to patterns of excessive consumption. Enhanced voluntary alcohol drinking in dependent mice produced brain alcohol concentrations similar to those achieved during the chronic alcohol exposure that initially rendered the animals dependent.

Errico AL, Parsons OA, King AC, Lovallo WR. Attenuated cortisol response to biobehavioral stressors in sober alcoholics. Rimondini R, Arlinde C, Sommer W, Heilig M. Long-lasting increase in voluntary ethanol consumption and transcriptional regulation in the rat brain after intermittent exposure to alcohol. Lopez MF, Anderson RI, Becker HC. Repeated cycles of chronic intermittent ethanol exposure increase both self-administration and the reinforcing value of ethanol in C57BL/6J mice. Brown G, Jackson A, Stephens DN. Effects of repeated withdrawal from chronic ethanol on oral self-administration of ethanol on a progressive ratio schedule. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over a quarter of the U.S. population engages in heavy alcohol consumption, and over 10% of Americans aged 12 and older have used an illicit drug in the past month. The release of DSM-5 generated quite a bit of controversy regarding many of its changes. It remains to be seen if the current approach offers any specific advantages to more traditional notions of substance abuse and substance dependence .

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