Alcohol Abuse is Different than Alcoholism

Alcohol Abuse | Lakehouse Recovery Center

When someone abuses alcohol, they put themselves at risk for developing an addiction to alcohol, or alcoholism. And in many cases, by the time a person reaches a health professional they do already have an addiction. However, there are some men and women suffering from alcohol abuse, who use alcohol in unsafe ways, but they do not have an addiction.

An addiction is a specific illness that affects the body and the brain. An alcohol or drug addiction, for example, could be defined by a loss of control where you find yourself spending large amounts of time engaging in alcohol-related activity to the point where you are neglecting social, academic, or familial responsibilities.

You’re not only drinking but you’re thinking about drinking. You’re planning your day so that you can drink. You’re planning your financial life so that you can be sure to have enough money to buy alcohol throughout the month. You can see that alcoholism can take over a person’s life.

What Is Addiction?

In summary, an addiction has the following components to it:

  • Cravings: You have compulsive needs to drink alcohol.
  • Loss of Control: You have lost the ability to stop drinking even when you want to. You feel as though you have not control of whether you drink or not.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: When you’re not drinking, you begin to have symptoms of withdrawal. This indicates that your body has formed a dependence to alcohol.
  • Tolerance: You find that you have to drink more and more alcohol to experience the same high you once felt.

What Is Alcoholism?

Widely regarded as a chronic disease, alcoholism is a pattern of behavior and a chemical dependency which has reached a level of unmanageability.

After many years of alcohol abuse, a person develops alcoholism when their brain and body becomes dependent upon the presence of alcohol to perform even the most basic of functions. In addition, people with alcoholism tend to be compulsive, meaning they have a compulsion to drink.

They have an obsessive urge to drink that is only satisfied through the compulsive abuse of alcohol.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholics (NIAA), the items listed above are the four key signs that point to alcoholism, or alcohol addiction. Alcoholism is considered a chronic illness that requires ongoing care and attention.

Signs Of Alcoholism:

  • Inability to stop or control drinking
  • Lying about drinking
  • Losing money, relationships, jobs, or experiencing other consequences because of drinking
  • Loss of ability to manage drinking- cannot stop after consuming the first drink
  • Physical symptoms which can include: shakes, nausea, depression, or seizures without alcohol
  • Mental symptoms which can include: memory loss, slurred speech, blacking out, obsessive thinking regarding alcohol
  • Drinking every day
  • Cravings for alcohol

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse will differ for both men and women depending on how much they drink and what they consider to be the consequence of abuse.

Different institutions and organizations define alcohol abuse separately.

For example, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans believe heavy drinking to be 15 drinks or eight drinks a week for men or women, respectively.

The National Institute On Alcoholism And Alcohol Abuse defines binge drinking as any occasion in which the blood alcohol content is raised to 0.08. Typically, that is 2 drinks per hour for both men and women.

Signs Of Alcohol Abuse:

  • Does not have to drink every day, but drinks excessively when consuming alcohol
  • Drinks more than most people on drinking occasions
  • Uses alcohol as a coping mechanism
  • Change in personality, behavior, or activity when consuming alcohol
  • Sometimes experiences consequences
  • Negative consequences to health
  • Being ashamed of drinking
  • Feeling guilt for drinking
  • Drinking to relax and feel better
  • Experiencing alcohol side effects of dependence
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Facing legal and financial problems because of drinking
  • Friends and family are concerns with your drinking
  • Having black outs and memory gaps while drinking
  • Lying about your drinking habits
  • Neglecting school, work, and family because of drinking
  • Attempting to quit drinking but not succeeding

Understanding Alcohol Abuse

Before discussing the signs and side effects of alcohol abuse, it is important to first understand what exactly alcohol abuse is.  Many adults have a drink or two every now and then, so how does one know when drinking goes from having fun to having an addiction?

According to Addiction Blog, alcohol abuse is “drinking excessively and more than recommended.”  But how much is too much?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism breaks it down like this:

  • Moderate Drinking – Up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men
  • Heavy Drinking – Drinking 5 or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days
  • Binge Drinking – A pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08 g/dL.  Typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in about 2 hours

Health Consequences of Alcohol Abuse

However, a person may be abusing alcohol and still not have an addiction. Abuse of alcohol can lead to significant health consequences – including the eventual development of an addiction.

But for some people, there may be a period of time when they are abusing alcohol without having an addiction.

Certainly, abusing alcohol can put someone at risk for developing an addiction. Below are some health consequences that can arise as a result of alcohol abuse:

  • Cancer
  • Cirrhosis
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Gout
  • High blood Pressure
  • Nerve Damage
  • Alcohol Poisoning
  • Addiction
  • Heart Disease
  • Neurological Damage
  • Sexual Dysfunction

Additionally, there is research that shows that alcohol abuse, such as binge drinking, can affect a person’s brain cells. In fact, research has shown that various parts of the brain can experience substantial damage after just 4 days of drinking.

Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Here are a list of side effects that can occur after long term alcohol abuse:

  • Cognitive, motor, mood, and behavior changes
  • Damage to the heart – cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, stroke, high blood pressure
  • Damage to the liver – steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis
  • Damage to the pancreas – pancreatitis, digestion problems
  • Increased risk of mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast cancer
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome

Consequences of Binge Drinking vs. Casual Drinking

The serious health consequences mentioned above are often the result of chronic binge drinking.

Binge drinking is defined as drinking four or more drinks during one event for females, and for male teens, binge drinking is consuming five or more drinks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 38 million people binge drink approximately 4 times per month and consume 8 drinks in one drinking period.

Both alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction are serious health matters. If you abuse alcohol or feel you have an addiction, seek help immediately.


Messages sent through this form are confidential. Required fields are marked with (*).

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.