Differences Between Alcohol Addiction and Abuse

Articles, Australia, International, Understanding Addiction

There are countless people who can claim that alcohol causes them significant problems. Statistically, more than 25% of young adults resort to binge-drinking and as such almost everyone has someone they know, that has the potential to be an alcohol abuser.

That said, most people don’t realise that there is a stark difference between alcohol abuse and addiction. It’s hard to identify the type of alcohol problem someone has because most people who suffer from it, don’t usually admit having a problem. Since most of us know someone who has an issue with moderate consumption of alcohol, it’s imperative, that we understand the fundamental differences between alcohol addiction and alcohol abuse, for they are not one and the same, contrary to what most people believe.


Alcohol abuse can be told apart from addiction by examining their previous offences in this area. Is your friend or loved one spending every weekend in a drunken stupor? Do their binges usually, begin around payday? Perhaps there is something more obscure to be seen? Alcohol abuse is a pattern behaviour, meaning that it usually repeats itself when certain aspects align that allow, induce or justify alcohol consumption. It is not a dependency of alcohol that urges them to drink. If decided or forced to stop their binge-drinking cycle it would not send the patient into fits of withdrawal. Not yet anyway. That said, uncontrolled and excessive drinking can lead to a plethora of other problems.

  • A drastic change of behaviour and personality when under the influence of alcohol.
  • Inconsistent dedication to their professional or social obligations.
  • Drastic mood swings, easy to anger.
  • Alcohol becomes the focal point of social interaction and relaxation.

The main difference between a person addicted to alcohol and a person who just abuses it is that the abusers usually understand their issue and acknowledge the problem. This leads to themselves and others around them to believe that their problem is surely not that dire since it is a common misconception that a person with true alcohol problems will always deny ever having a problem in the first place. This enables the alcohol abuser to keep indulging their vice under the guise of being fully aware of their issue when in reality it is deliberately or subconsciously used as a “cop-out” or an easy way to ignore the root of the problem. These behavioural cycles can often become a rhythm that lulls the alcohol abuser into a full blown addiction.


This is alcoholism in its true form – an addiction. This means that the withdrawal of their vice of choice might and most likely will damage their core bodily functions and make almost impossible to lead a normal life without it. The body has developed a hard dependency on alcohol to function and exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Uncontrollable sweating
  • Seizures and cramps
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and panic attacks

If two or more of these symptoms are observed its important to get the patient professional attention as soon as possible. These symptoms can evolve into life-threatening situations such as respiratory shock, stroke or heart failure if not treated and brought under control.

Telling the two apart

Abusive alcohol behaviour is very widespread and more common than most people give it credit for. It is the third largest preventable cause of death in the United States alone and biggest offender worldwide. On the other hand, alcoholism is not as widespread but by no means any less serious issue.

Alcohol abusers are much easier to identify in most situations. They are the soul of every social gathering, and usually set the pace of the festivities until they either black out from drinking or get asked by others to calm down, usually with little success. They are in most cases able to limit themselves to drinking in socially acceptable places and times. The main issue stems not from drinking all the time, but drinking too much when there is a reason or excuse to drink. They may drink themselves to a stupor in a three-day bender but will clean up nicely a day after and usually stay away from the drink for longer periods of time until ultimately returning to it and repeating this cycle all over again.

Alcohol addicts are much harder to identify. Their prolonged exposure and abuse of alcohol have made their bodies more tolerant than most drinkers and as such don’t usually appear drunk to others. Another rather counter-intuitive sign of an alcohol addict is exceptionally harsh-hangovers, thus making people around him think that he is simply inexperienced drinker when, in fact, it’s the other way around. They don’t over-drink often, however, they are drinking almost constantly, during working hours and when at home, most of the time alone. They have very poor self-control when it comes to staying sober in various social situations where drinking is frowned upon. There are many cases where alcohol addicts will go, for example, a job interview tipsy or even flat out drunk.

Similarities between abuse and addiction

The biggest and unfortunately the most complex similarities between alcohol addiction and alcohol abuse is the fact, that professional help is required to get these vices under control and steer back to the path of recovery. Both of these sides of the same coin can have a deep-rooted and extensive impact on their lives. Both of these problems have need of professional guidance to open their eyes and show them the magnitude of the problem they are facing.

As serious medical conditions, both addiction and abuse should be treated with utmost care and seriousness. Inpatient rehabilitation treatment is the perfect course of action when tackling these issues as they provide a safe and caring environment where under the careful guidance of psychologists and doctors, both addict and abuser can understand their own reasons for falling in this pit and show them the path to recovery.

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