Differentiating between alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence and alcoholism is a near impossible task for a layman who does not have in-depth knowledge on the subject. The reason for this mix-up is that all three are harmful or negative behaviour patterns linked to alcohol. Thus, in order to identify exactly what issue is plaguing you or someone around you, or simply to get clarity on the subject, you first need to understand what each of these issues actually are.
It is the frequent and recurrent consumption of alcohol in a week or the consumption of too much alcohol in one sitting despite the known consequences and warnings. Alcohol abuse takes a toll on a person’s work, health, relationships and life. Also, a person abusing alcohol might engage in day to day activities such as operating heavy machinery or driving, which might result in accidents and cause harm to his/her own self and others. Binge drinking will also hinder the person from fulfilling their responsibilities due to restricted mental capacity and productivity. Furthermore, it can even land a person in legal peril for issues such as drunk driving.
It is a form of physical and mental dependence on alcohol, which can be characterized through a high alcohol tolerance and the presence of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Alcohol dependence is a chronic disease due to its advanced and even fatal symptoms. A person afflicted by this disease cannot stop drinking despite the severe health problems and medical implications. If a person with alcohol dependence cuts down or abruptly stops their drinking, they will undergo harsh withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, insomnia and mood swings. In order to escape from these effects, a person might take up drinking once more. Two other identifying factors for alcohol dependence in a person are that he/she has a preferred brand or favorite drink that they binge on, also, they have drink-seeking behavior; in other words, they only attend functions where they know that they will have open access to the bar, or meet people around whom they can drink comfortably.
Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a severe and problematic pattern of alcohol consumption that can cause a lot of distress for the person afflicted by it, as well as for others. A major characteristic of a person affected by AUD is them having trouble limiting and controlling their drinks. Other signs include reduced productivity and activity, high tolerance for alcohol, unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking or ‘cold turkeys’, experiencing withdrawal symptoms on stopping or cutting back on consumption, and a strong urge to drink.
The Difference and Link
Alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence and alcoholism share many symptoms and signs which makes it hard to identify between the three, yet all of them are separate conditions. However, alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholism due to the increase in alcohol tolerance levels, which is why AUD is considered a severe and distorted form of alcohol abuse. Alcohol dependency is a severe form of alcoholism, which is why not only does it exhibit the characteristics of alcohol abuse, but it also showcases other symptoms.
Alcohol abuse is a relatively milder drinking problem that can be curbed by the patient himself/herself even without professional help. Alcoholism has different forms, the treatment of which can only be determined after identifying the severity of the issue. Alcohol dependency, on the other hand, is a serious issue that cannot be treated without professional help or medication, and in some cases even requires being admitted to rehab.
The main similarities between the three alcohol-related issues are their symptoms and in some case their causes. There are three major causes of alcohol abuse, alcoholism and alcoholism – family history and genetics, a stressful lifestyle that can result in a person using alcohol as a coping mechanism, and lastly to feel enjoyment and happiness.