You don’t get over an addiction by stopping using. You recovery by creating a new life where it’s easier to not use. A bottle and glass of wine on the table. Addicted woman standing in the background

Alcohol Abuse vs Alcohol Dependence: Is there a Difference?

Excessive drinking may be more prevalent than you think. Nearly 26% of all adults over the age of 18 reported binge drinking within the last month. While some people can drink socially, even to excess, on occasion and not become addicted, others aren’t so fortunate. If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, it’s important to understand the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Additionally, you can seek help through effective treatment programs such as those available at America’s Rehab Campuses in Arizona.

What Is Alcohol Dependence?

Originally, clinicians defined alcohol dependence as a chronic medical condition. If you are dependent on alcohol, for example, you will have withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking it. In order to avoid withdrawal symptoms, you have to keep drinking alcohol. Unfortunately, as your body becomes used to the substance, you need to drink more often and in larger quantities to get the same effect.

If you have alcohol dependence, you or your loved ones may notice the following characteristics:

  • Higher tolerance. You’ll need to drink more to have the same effects as your body becomes used to alcohol. For example, if three cocktails used to make you feel tipsy or drunk, you may need five (or more) to achieve the same effects if you drink frequently.
  • Withdrawal symptoms. If you experience tremors, insomnia and mood swings after abstaining from alcohol, your body has probably become dependent on it.
  • Drinking to “cure” hangovers. If you suffer from frequent withdrawal symptoms and drink to cure them, you may have an alcohol dependency.
  • Awareness there is a problem. Although you may choose to deny it, you probably have an awareness of your craving for alcohol — whether you admit it or not is another story.

Alcohol dependence refers to the inability to quit drinking without having moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms. If any of this sounds familiar, feel free to reach out to our admissions staff regarding the best way to begin your journey to sobriety.

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

So, what is alcohol abuse and how does it differ from alcohol dependence? Alcohol abuse was previously defined as continuing to engage in unhealthy drinking habits no matter the cost to your health or interpersonal relationships. Often, this results in legal and social problems. In other words, someone who is experiencing alcohol abuse may have an alcohol dependency, but they may still be able to cease drinking without withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol abuse describes the continuing use of alcohol, often excessively, even though it creates problems with your health, relationships and work.

So, alcohol abuse is a step below alcohol dependence because you may have a physical dependency but do not yet suffer withdrawal symptoms.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

The preferred terminology for both these conditions, which happen on a spectrum, is alcohol use disorder. Signs of this condition may encompass symptoms of both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency, including:

  • Involuntarily drinking more than intended
  • Inability to cut down on the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption
  • Spending considerable time drinking and thinking about alcohol
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities that were important to you before you started drinking
  • Frequent cravings for alcohol
  • Engaging in risky behavior such as drinking and driving
  • Continuing to drink regardless of social, legal and other consequences

What’s the Preferred Terminology?

Beginning with the 5th edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5), terms such as abuse and dependency fell out of favor. Instead, the latest edition uses substance use disorder, which addiction treatment professionals describe and treat depending on where you fall on the spectrum.

With this new classification, there is no longer a stigma attached to those in the late stage versus early stages of this disease. Nonetheless, whether moderate or severe, alcohol use disorder poses a grave risk if left untreated.

Additionally, stigmatizing terminology such as “abuse” can create barriers and prevent those who need help from seeking treatment. The neutral terminology of alcohol use disorder puts the problem in proper perspective.

You should never feel badly for having an alcohol use disorder. However, it’s important to seek assistance in the detox process to help ensure a successful recovery.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Arizona

Begin your recovery journey with America’s Rehab Campuses in Arizona. Our compassionate therapists and medical team members are truly invested in your recovery. Feel free to contact us to find out more about our alcohol treatment programs and how we customize them for each client. Including learning about insurance we accept like Blue Cross Blue Shield and many more. Isn’t it time to seek the help you need to regain control of your life?