Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse – What is the Difference?

Moderate alcohol use – upto 2 drink/day for men and upto 1 drink per/day for women and older people – is not harmful for most adults. The problem arises when people abuse alcohol. The abuse of alcohol is a major cause of preventable deaths associated with violence, and motor vehicle crashes. Heavy drinking can increase the risk for certain cancers, especially those of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx (voice box). Heavy drinking can also cause liver cirrhosis, immune system problems, brain damage, and harm to the fetus during pregnancy.

What is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period:

  • Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities;
  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery;
  • Having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk; and
  • Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the drinking.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is more severe pattern of drinking that includes the problem of alcohol abuse plus persistent drinking in spite of obvious physical, mental and social problems causes by alcohol. It includes four symptoms:

  • Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
  • Loss of control: The inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion.
  • Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
  • Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to “get high.”

Source: “Alcoholism – getting the facts”, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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