What is Alcohol Abuse and how does it differ from Alcoholism?

There can be a fine line between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Abuse is characterized by a pattern of drinking which negatively impacts one’s personal relationships, health, work, school or other responsibilities.

Alcohol Abuse will show up in the following ways:

Inability or reduced capacity to fulfill responsibilities in Major Life Areas such as work, school and home

Drinking in, or which results in, hazardous or risky situations such as drinking and driving, unprotected sex

Legal problems

Continuing to drink despite damage to relationships with significant others, children, friends and co-workers

Alcohol abuse may not disrupt a person’s life to the extent alcoholism does, but the negative effects are visible and when they are brought to their attention, should prompt the drinker to want to change.

A major difference is that unlike the alcoholic, a person with an alcohol abuse problem will be able to evaluate the harmful consequences, understand the need to change and will not only want to, but, will also take steps to change.

The person with an alcohol abuse problem will be able to reduce their drinking to acceptable levels, eliminate the impacts on their Major Life Areas and will be able to sustain that lower level of consumption on an ongoing basis.

By contrast, the alcoholic will be either unable to recognize the extent of the harmful consequences, or even with some level of awareness of the harm being caused, will have the inability to stop drinking completely.

The greatest differences are that the alcoholic has a disease that impacts physical and mental health and all areas of their life. Their disease is chronic and lasts a lifetime.

Typically, the alcoholic will have tried to reduce consumption or quit on one or more occasions and finds that they start drinking again to the same levels as before and it becomes progressively worse, with increasing harmful consequences.

It is important to note that the person who is an alcohol abuser is often likely to become an alcoholic as they may need increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect.

Many alcoholics will attempt to convince themselves and those around them, that they are just heavy drinkers, or abuse alcohol from time to time. If they are truly alcoholic, they will return to their patterns of over indulging, hurting those around them and being unable to control their consumption for an extended period. Many will go to great lengths to try and prove their point, even quitting for a year or more only to start drinking again.

If you are struggling with Alcohol Abuse or know someone who is, check out Our Substance Abuse Program.