24/7 Support Line - Call Now
Free Insurance Verification
Verify your treatment coverage

Understanding Alcohol Abuse vs Alcoholism

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism? While both are major public health concerns in the United States, the difference between them is not well understood among the general public. This article aims to differentiate between alcohol abuse and alcoholism and to emphasize the importance of seeking professional help.

9 Minute Read | Published Oct 01 2023 | Updated Apr 29 2024 Expert Verified
Hans Mautong
Written by
Wayne P. Brown
Reviewed by
Hans Mautong
Written by
Wayne P. Brown
Reviewed by

Key Differences Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse occurs when the consumption of alcohol is problematic to the individual due to its negative consequences on various aspects of their lives. Although there is not an exact predefined quantity, many experts agree that anything that is more than the recommended safe drinking limit should be considered alcohol abuse:

  • more than 2 drinks per day for men

  • more than 1 drink per day for women.

Alcoholism, on the other hand, is a popular term among the general public that occurs when a chemical dependency accompanies alcohol consumption on alcohol. In other words, is when alcohol abuse evolves into alcohol addiction. It is important to note that alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the term to describe alcoholism as a medical condition among healthcare providers. 

Keep in mind that alcoholism or AUD cannot be determined by the quantity of alcohol being consumed but is a medical condition that is diagnosed based on the mental reliance that the person has on alcohol. 

Identifying Alcohol Abuse vs Alcoholism

As you may have noticed, alcohol abuse and alcoholism are related but distinct conditions. Therefore, differentiating their specific signs and symptoms can be key to identifying individuals with those affections. 

As we previously discussed, alcohol abuse describes a pattern of problematic drinking with negative consequences but does not generally have a component of physical dependence. Some signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse are:

  • Nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, and slow reflexes.

  • Often neglecting responsibilities at work, home, or school due to drinking.

  • Alcohol consumption despite having recurrent interpersonal problems due to drinking.

  • Repeatedly engaging in risky behaviors under the influence of alcohol (driving, swimming, using machinery, or having unsafe sex)

  • Having legal problems directly or indirectly linked to alcohol consumption.

  • Experiencing memory lapses, also known as “blackouts” while drinking.

In contrast, alcoholism is when the troublesome drinking pattern involves a chemical or physical dependence on alcohol. Some of its signs and symptoms are:

  • Requiring more drinks to obtain the desired effect or having a decreased effect with the usual number of drinks.

  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms when not drinking (trouble sleeping, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or even seizures).

  • Found unable to quit drinking or drink in moderation

  • Spending a lot of time drinking or getting over its effects.

  • Found that drinking or its effects interfere with other activities or interests

  • Continue drinking even if it makes you feel depressed or anxious.

  • Found wanting a drink so badly that you couldn't think of anything else or needing alcohol to function and feeling unable to cope without it.

Exploring Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Interestingly, various factors can contribute to the development of either alcohol abuse or alcoholism:

  • Genetics and family history: 

    • Research has shown that genetic factors can account for about 40 to 60% of the risk of developing alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Certain genes may affect the way your body metabolizes alcohol or how it affects your brain. Similarly, data suggest that a family history of alcoholism or alcohol abuse increases the likelihood that you will develop problems related to alcohol.

  • Mental health disorders: 

    • A wide range of mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, have been strongly associated with alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

  • Drinking at an early age

    • A national survey found that people who start drinking before age 15 were three times more likely to suffer from alcoholism than people who waited until age 21 or later to begin drinking. 

  • Social and cultural factors: 

    • The way a culture perceives drinking, alcohol availability, and sets social norms regarding drinking can influence your patterns of alcohol use. Cultures where alcohol is socially accepted at an early age and heavy drinking is socially accepted may have higher rates of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

  • Environmental factors and peer pressure: 

    • Environmental factors such as peer pressure and socioeconomic status can contribute to the development of alcohol-related problems. Exposure to heavy drinking within the family or close friends may increase the risk as well.

Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: What You Need to Know

Both alcohol use and alcoholism can have adverse effects on physical and mental health. When exposed to alcohol for large periods, organs like the liver, heart, brain, and pancreas can be severely damaged. These organ dysfunctions may lead to severe health conditions or even death.

Chronic alcohol use can target your cognitive function and lead to memory and judgment problems.

Alcoholism can also impact your mental health. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation are widespread consequences.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can also contribute to social isolation, financial problems, and legal issues that can indirectly impact your health.

Alcohol Abuse vs Alcoholism: The Demographics

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism affect individuals across all ages, genders, and socioeconomic statuses. A 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 28.8 million adults older than 18 years old had alcoholism. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol contributes to 3 million deaths per year, while also accounting for a significant number of disabilities.

Men have been historically more likely to develop alcoholism than women. However, recent changes in gender dynamics may have caused this gap to narrow. Similarly, young individuals (18-29 age group) tend to have a higher prevalence of alcohol-related problems when compared to older adults. 

Some societal implications of alcohol use and alcoholism are:

  • Increased economic and healthcare costs.

  • Excessive rates of societal problems (motor vehicle accidents, crime, and domestic violence).

  • Increased stigma and discrimination.

  • Excessive public health burden.

Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Treatment

Treatment options available for people struggling with alcohol abuse and alcoholism may vary depending on the needs of the patient and their preferences. A holistic approach often involves a combination of therapy, medications, support groups, and recovery programs.

Therapies for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Medical Interventions for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

  • Medications

    • Some drugs may help you to reduce alcohol cravings and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. These medications include naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate.

  • Detoxification: 

    • A supervised detoxification may be necessary to manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms in people with severe alcoholism. Moreover, it is usually a requirement to be accepted at a treatment center to start detox.

Alcoholism Recovery Programs

These programs offer standardized treatment and support for people struggling with alcoholism. They are perfect for addressing the physical, psychological, and social aspects of alcohol use disorder and include:

Support groups for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Support groups may play a crucial role in helping individuals who suffer from alcohol abuse and alcoholism. These groups make it easy for them to connect with others suffering similar issues and challenges while providing a safe space for guidance and encouragement. Some of the most well-known support groups include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

  • SMART Recovery

  • Moderation Management (MM)

  • Women for Sobriety (WFS)

  • Secular Organization for Sobriety (SOS)

How to Help Someone with Alcoholism

Supporting someone with alcoholism can be very challenging. However, some tips may help you to help them through their path to recovery:

  • Educate yourself

  • Express concern and offer your emotional support

  • Encourage seeking professional help

  • Provide reliable resources and information

  • Encourage self-care

Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention

Preventing alcohol abuse and alcoholism requires a holistic approach directed toward individual behavior, societal attitudes, and environmental factors. Some strategies to avoid the risk of alcohol-related problems may include:

  • Educational campaigns

  • Promotion of responsible dirking 

  • Public Health interventions

  • Promotion of supportive environments

  • Screening campaigns

  • Alcohol awareness campaigns

Embracing Sobriety: YouTube channels dedicated to Alcoholism Recovery

YouTube provides outstanding educational videos and recovery guidance that can be extremely useful. These videos often feature expert opinions and testimonials from people in the same spot. 

YouTube can serve as a platform to raise awareness, destigmatize alcohol addiction, and provide support to those affected by alcohol. Some popular YouTube channels dedicated to fostering a sense of community among people who abuse or have abused alcohol are:

In Conclusion

Alcohol abuse is any problematic alcohol consumption that involves negative consequences in the user´s life. Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is when alcohol consumption involves a chemical dependency or addiction to alcohol.

It is essential to recognize that seeking professional help is a crucial step on the path to recovery from alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Whether through therapy, medications, support groups, or recovery programs, embracing these resources can empower individuals to reclaim control of their lives by committing to sobriety and self-care. Better Addiction Care is here to help you in this journey.


bullet Addiction help
"Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcoholism"
Retrieved on April 29, 2024
bullet National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
"Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5"
Retrieved on April 29, 2024
bullet Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
"National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2022"
Retrieved on April 29, 2024
bullet National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
"Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder"
Retrieved on April 29, 2024
bullet Volunteers of America
"Alcohol Abuse vs Alcoholism"
Retrieved on April 29, 2024
bullet Orlando Recovery Center
"Alcoholism vs. Alcohol Abuse: What’s The Difference?"
Retrieved on April 29, 2024
bullet National Library of Medicine
"Overview of Alcohol Use Disorder"
Retrieved on April 29, 2024
bullet National Library of Medicine
"A Narrative Review of Current and Emerging Trends in the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder"
Retrieved on April 29, 2024

Related Articles

Is Alcohol Addiction Counseling a Good Option for Me? Updated: May 15 2024 Counseling is a fundamental tool to treat alcohol abuse or addiction. When we speak of alcohol abuse or addiction, we are referring directly...
Comprehensive Alcoholism Assessment Guide Updated: Apr 26 2024 Thousands of people who suffer from alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, may not even be aware of their condition. ...
Alcohol Abuse Prevention Updated: Feb 26 2024 Prevention, they say, is the best medicine, and this is as true for the abuse of alcohol as it is for dealing with...

Free Insurance Verification

Our team is available to guide you through the steps of assessing your insurance coverage for addiction treatment.

Pixel Pixel