Understanding the difference between alcohol abuse vs. dependence is an important step in knowing when it’s time to seek professional alcohol treatment.
Alcohol Abuse vs. Dependence and Addiction: What’s the Real Difference?
Many people use the terms “alcohol abuse,” “alcohol dependence” and “alcohol addiction” interchangeably. But in fact, they refer to three different substance-related syndromes.
Most people who develop an addiction to alcohol do not get there overnight. For most, it begins with the occasional drink, developing into abuse and divulging into an inability or unwillingness to stop using alcohol despite numerous signs of a problem. Unfortunately, most who are abusing alcohol don’t realize that their recreational habit has become a full-blown alcohol addiction until it’s too late. But by understanding the difference between the terms, you’ll be better able to determine when it’s time to look into outpatient alcohol treatment programs or inpatient residential treatment centers.
Alcohol abuse refers to the excessive or chronic use of alcohol. During this phase, a person is still capable of understanding that there’s a problem and can usually stop drinking before alcohol rehab is needed. Keep in mind that alcohol abuse does not necessarily equate to addiction.
To qualify as alcohol abuse, one must display at least one of the following problems within one year:
- Neglecting responsibilities at home, school and/or work due to drinking
- Putting oneself in dangerous situations (like drinking and driving)
- Legal troubles connected with drinking
- Continuous use of alcohol despite exhibiting previously listed problems and/or problems worsen
Other common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse include:
- Irregular and erratic mood swings
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Developing problems with friends, family, teachers, coworkers or a boss
The difference between alcohol abuse vs. dependence and addiction is sometimes defined by the number and type of diagnostic criteria a person meets. But this method of defining the two has created and perpetuated the perception that chronic alcohol abuse problems are less dangerous or less serious than alcohol addiction. In reality, those with an alcohol abuse problem still experience extremely serious repercussions as a result of their alcohol use.
A person that is experiencing signs of an alcohol abuse problem still has a serious issue, even if they don’t meet the criteria for an addiction. While abuse does not always lead to addiction, it’s often a sign of the beginning stages of alcohol addiction. Some alcohol abusers may not require outpatient or inpatient alcohol rehab to quit drinking. But if you or your loved ones can see that you’re headed down the path to addiction, it may be time to seek help from an inpatient alcohol treatment facility.
Alcohol addiction is a more severe and dangerous form of alcohol abuse. Those with an alcohol addiction have formed a physical dependence, meaning they experience withdrawal without alcohol, and they most likely also have an issue with abuse. Symptoms of addiction can be physical or mental, and most often are a combination of both. The symptoms of withdrawal, in particular, can include anxiety, depression, nausea, restlessness, insomnia, lethargy, sweating, aches and pains, tremors and seizures
To qualify as alcohol addiction, one must display three or more of the following problems within one year:
- Alcohol tolerance
- Neglecting or completely abandoning sports, hobbies and social activities due to drinking
- Use of alcohol to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms
- Drinking in larger amounts or for longer periods of time than intended
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut down on drinking and a complete loss of the ability to stop drinking
- Large amounts of time spent trying to obtain alcohol and recover from alcohol use
- Continuous use of alcohol despite knowing the harm and problems it’s causing
Other common signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction include:
- Mood swings and paranoia
Those who are addicted to alcohol will build up a tolerance and will require more and more alcohol in order to achieve the same effects and to prevent withdrawal. When an addiction is present, inpatient alcohol treatment is highly recommended
Knowing When It’s Time To Get Help
Understanding the difference between alcohol abuse vs. dependence and addiction can help you or a loved one take the next steps toward recovery. Addiction is a long, turbulent road that often begins with alcohol abuse. But know that it’s never too late to turn off that road and get alcohol addiction help.
An inpatient alcohol treatment center provides intensive therapy for alcohol addiction. The primary objective is to help clients through alcohol detox while determining the root issues and creating an individualized treatment plan for recovery.
Outpatient programs are appropriate for those seeking treatment that allows them to fulfill their daily obligations, and/or for those looking to continue treatment following completion of an inpatient program. The best outpatient alcohol treatment programs are often part of a continuum of care that includes inpatient alcohol treatment.
Start Down the Path to Recovery Today
Don’t wait until it’s too late. Let Daylight Recovery Services help you on your journey to sobriety. Have a question or need more information? Reach out to our team of alcohol addiction experts. We’re available 24/7 to help you live an addiction-free life.