Alcohol Abuse or Alcohol Addiction?

Man with head against the wall holding bottle

Monday, November 19, 2018 | By Cooper Samp

The casual drink has become the norm for most people today. Whether they go out to a sit-down restaurant or cook a nice state dinner, it’s unusual not to see a glass of wine next to the plate. It helps liven up the conversation, it “pairs nicely,” and some even say it could be good for you so why not? With songs like Drunk in Love”, ”Swimming Pools,” “Shots,” and “Margaritaville,” what kind of message are we hearing? What kind of drinking is it? If you were to drink a beer to calm your anxiety, would you be considered an alcoholic?

Binge Drinking vs. Drinking Everyday

I am going to answer that question right away: no. For people who have a previous history of alcohol use disorder, this is not a good idea, but drinking to relieve stress is common and does not mean you have a problem. The distinction between alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction is the king of drinking that is taking place. Try to think about the last social gathering where drinking was casually involved. There can be a difference between your Aunt Kathy getting “turnt” and your Uncle Jimbo drinking all day.

While alcoholics will tend to drink alcohol in large doses (especially during gatherings) a more significant characteristic of an addict is the frequency. Alcohol abuse usually happens in large social groups where alcohol is readily available, and a person takes advantage of the resources available. While this is not healthy and a sign of lack of self-control, this is not alcoholism. You do not have an addiction or an alcohol use disorder. If you restrict your heavy drinking to social occasions. Note that while heavy drinking occasionally is not an addiction, there are still adverse health effects associated. When individuals drink heavily during these social gatherings and extend it further into their everyday life; this is alcoholism.

An alcoholic tends to drink all day: morning into the evening. They will typically have irrational or aggressive behaviors and thoughts at random times. People who abuse alcohol from time to time have the potential to turn it into addiction, but it is more innocent and happens less often. When alcohol abuse becomes common, addiction comes into play.

Mental Health Illness vs. Situation

Another critical distinction between alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction is the intention behind the drinking; Alcohol abuse is just an action while alcohol addiction is a mental health condition. Abuse can be the result of a bothersome situation or because they know the effects won’t be detrimental in the long run.

Alcoholism, on the other hand, is a common mental health issue that can run through genetics: meaning if someone has a family history to addiction, they are much more likely to develop the disease. Someone who drinks alcohol for fun and occasionally binge drinks is not an alcoholic. The key word is “occasionally.” Alcoholics drinks because they “need” to physically. Their bodies have become physically dependent on the drug to the point that if they stop drinking they could go through moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms including:

  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Shaking
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are not the same things, but this does not mean alcohol abuse is acceptable. The abuse of alcohol can still have adverse health effects and can be a precursor to alcohol abuse disorder. Alcohol can be a crutch for stressful times and anxiousness, but individuals can become dependent on using alcohol as a crutch and ultimately become psychologically dependent on the drug as a coping mechanism.

Warning Signs of Abuse Turned Addiction

If you know someone who tends to binge drink, it is important to observe them and their patterns to ensure it doesn’t lead into something more severe. Alcohol abuse can turn into addiction pretty easily if abuse happens regularly. Think of a gambling disorder. They start innocent as a fun night out but can slide into going to casino regularly or dipping into online sports betting. Gambling can be a slippery slope starting with innocent fun and ending with spending paychecks to make back funds lost previously.
This danger is true for alcohol as well. It starts small without any warning and can turn ugly fast. As stated earlier, many times people turn to alcohol to ease their problems instead of using more effective coping skills; this opens the door to a variety of mental health issues.

If a person is hiding alcohol, it is the number one sign they have an addiction. Finding excuses to drink – like in any good or bad news or any event – could be another sign of alcoholism. If a person is addicted to alcohol they are physically dependent on the drug, so look for the withdrawal signs. Good times to look for withdrawal signs can be on vacation or on road trips where the individual does not have easy access to alcohol.

The significant difference between someone who likes to drink and someone who is an alcoholic is the dependence. Although not healthy, someone can still binge drink and go crazy but not be addicted to alcohol.

Does Alcohol Abuse Require a Treatment Center?

If a person is not yet addicted to alcohol but they still abuse drugs, it can be hard to know whether or not treatment necessary. Generally, this decision is left up to the drinker. There are apparent negative effects of alcohol, but these effects can be detrimental during addiction. Depending on how much the abuse affects the person will change whether or not they want treatment. For example, if someone only drinks once in a while but drives while drunk, they may wish to help on how to control themselves while drinking – alcohol addiction treatment centers can help. Alcoholics Anonymous support group meetings are a good start for those addicted and abusing alcohol because it provides a safe and judgment-free environment to talk about alcohol.

Treatment for alcohol abuse would look different than alcohol use disorder. A person who only struggles with alcohol abuse will not need detox and may only need talk therapy. Talk therapy is available through a therapist alone without the need for a treatment center. Halfway houses or sober-living can also be an option to encourage sober habits and eliminate distractions.

The truth is that alcohol treatment is not necessary for alcohol abuse. To treat alcohol abuse, one can go through a variety of means like talk therapy or a simple intervention. Ask yourself or your loved-one struggling if they want help. Ask them how much and how often they drink and if they are drinking to self-medicate. Knowing whether or not someone has an addiction and whether or not they need help can be a difficult challenge for anyone. We are here to help. If you need help assessing the right actions to take, feel free to call Coalition Recovery and our addiction specialists can lead you in the right direction.

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