The terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcoholism” are often used interchangeably. Both connote a problem with drinking and negative impacts on day-to-day life from alcohol consumption. But there are subtle yet important distinctions between these two terms. Familiarizing yourself with the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism can help you understand your own relationship with alcohol—and begin to determine whether you need treatment to live a healthy sober lifestyle.

What is alcohol abuse?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that results in “significant and recurrent adverse consequences.” People who abuse alcohol may have repeated problems with the law, difficulty maintaining relationships, or trouble holding down a job because of their habitual drinking. Yet they continue to drink despite these consequences, which can lead to long-term issues with their physical or mental health.

You don’t have to drink every day to abuse alcohol; while abusers tend to be consistent heavy drinkers (men who consume 15 or more drinks per week, or women who consume 8 or more drinks per week, according to the CDC), they can also be occasional binge drinkers (men who consume 5 or more drinks in less than two hours, or women who consume 4 or more drinks in less than two hours). No matter the frequency, if your drinking habits have negatively affected your life, it’s possible you have a problem with alcohol abuse.

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a chronic disease characterized by a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. People with an alcohol addiction need to drink in order to function. Signs that you may be struggling with alcohol dependence include:

  • Tolerance

You find yourself needing to drink larger quantities of alcohol to get the same mind-altering effects.

  • Withdrawal

Being without alcohol for any period of time can make you feel physically ill. Symptoms of withdrawal include headaches, nausea, tremors, and in severe cases, hallucinations and seizures.

  • Compulsion

You experience intense cravings to drink alcohol, and find yourself unable to stop drinking even when you want to.

Long-term alcoholism can result in life-threatening conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and cirrhosis.

The connection between alcohol abuse and alcoholism

According to the CDC, up to 90% of people who abuse alcohol don’t currently fit the diagnostic criteria for severe alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder. However, they are at an increased risk for developing an alcohol addiction down the line.

Alcoholism is influenced by a number of hereditary and environmental factors. For example, if you’re genetically predisposed to addiction, you may be more likely to struggle with alcoholism. But regardless of your genetic makeup, excessive drinking can also lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of alcohol abuse, triggering physiological changes that cause a dependence to form. Left untreated, alcohol abuse can quickly progress to a full-blown alcohol addiction.

Alvarado Parkway Institute provides treatment for alcohol abuse and alcoholism

If you’re afraid your drinking problems are spiraling out of control, Alvarado Parkway Institute can help you get your life back on track. Whether you’re struggling with alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence, our alcohol rehab center in San Diego provides a safe, supportive, and caring environment for your road to recovery. We offer medically supervised detox, individual and group therapy, and aftercare planning to help make sobriety a permanent way of life.

To find out more about our inpatient and outpatient alcohol rehab services, call our 24-hour crisis line at (619) 667-6125 today.