The American Medical Association defines alcoholism, or alcohol dependence as “a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.

Alcoholism is a serious, long-term disorder that involves the repeated excessive consumption of alcoholic drinks; it is the development of withdrawal symptoms that appear after a person has ceased their alcohol intake; it is also the decreased ability to function in social settings and at work; and oftentimes, alcoholism can simply refer to liver disease.

However, because drinking is common in social settings across many different cultures and affects different people in different ways, it can be hard to determine when drinking starts to become a problem. This article will explain the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism, along with the warning signs of both.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is any use of alcohol that can be harmful, either physically or mentally. An alcohol abuser is a person who uses alcohol excessively in a way that impacts their social, interpersonal, and/or legal lives. However, unlike those who are alcohol dependent, alcohol abusers retain some ability to limit their drinking. Here are some common signs of alcohol abuse:

  • You repeatedly have problems at home, school, or work because of your drinking. For example you might perform poorly at work, fail classes, neglect your family, or bail out on your commitments.
  • You drink in dangerous situations, such as while driving or operating machinery. This can also include mixing alcohol with medication against your doctor’s orders.
  • You can’t remember what happened while you were drinking after you stop drinking.
  • You’ve run into trouble with the law on account of your drinking.
  • You’ve hurt either yourself or somebody else while you were drinking.
  • You drink despite the fact that you have a health problem that is caused or worsened by alcohol use.
  • Your drinking is causing problems in your relationships with friends or family.
  • You drink to relax or de-stress.
  • It is particularly important to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse because alcohol abusers are at a much higher risk of becoming alcohol dependent. Alcohol abusers can usually recover after a brief intervention, but those who are alcohol dependent often require much more help.

Signs of Alcohol Dependence

Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a more severe form of problem drinking than alcohol abuse. The major difference is that people suffering from alcoholism have developed a physical dependence on alcohol. Therefore, somebody who is alcohol dependent will continue to drink no matter how many problems alcohol is causing in his or her life, and that person will experience alcohol withdrawal if they do attempt to stop drinking.

All the symptoms of alcohol abuse are common to alcoholism, but if you are alcohol dependent, you will exhibit additional signs, such as these:

  • You feel physically compelled to drink and can no longer control your alcohol intake.
  • You need to drink more to achieve previous effects (alcohol tolerance).
  • When you stop drinking, you experience physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These may include nausea, sweating, trembling, or anxiety.
  • You drink to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
  • You give up other activities, make excuses, or sneak around so that you can keep drinking.
  • You feel like you rely on alcohol to function.
  • You crave alcohol, or you worry about not having enough alcohol to get through a day or weekend.
  • You only go to social events that will include alcohol consumption.
  • You drink alone, in the morning, or for extended periods of time.
  • You are unable to follow through on quitting drinking and regularly relapse.
  • Do you notice signs of alcoholism in yourself or a loved one?

Alcoholism is a serious disease that affects millions of people worldwide. It has both mental and physical factors, and it is very difficult to recover without help. Luckily, a wide variety of help is available for those suffering from alcohol dependence.

Alcoholism treatment comes in the form of detoxification, medical treatment, professional rehab, professional counseling, or self-help group support. If your drinking is causing problems in your life, then you have a drinking problem – but you can make a change and get started on the road to recovery today.