Are Alcohol Dependency and Alcohol Abuse the Same?
Alcohol dependency is the most severe form of alcohol abuse and is characterised by the constant consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol and an inability to stop drinking. Alcohol abuse differs from a dependency on alcohol, in that it typically does not include extreme, strong cravings for alcohol or signs of physical dependence, i.e. most alcohol abusers do not suffer the more severe withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop drinking.
This is not to suggest, however, that alcohol abuse can be any less detrimental than an alcohol dependency. Family, work, friends and responsibilities can all be negatively affected as a result of alcohol abuse without developing into an alcohol dependency. Both genetics and environmental factors can contribute to the development of alcoholism, and people from all walks of life can be affected by the illness. Age, gender, volume of alcohol consumed, genes and social environment highlight differences in the alcoholic population.
Symptoms of alcohol abuse are similar to those of alcohol dependency, but do not usually include the significant physiological factors that alcohol dependence is characterised by.
Symptoms of alcohol abuse can include:
- Craving - a strong compulsion to drink.
- Loss of self-control - drinking at unsuitable times and occasions, without consideration for the consequences of inappropriate behaviour.
- Tolerance - the individual needs to drink increasing amounts of alcohol in order to feel drunk or comfortable in social situations.
- Withdrawal symptoms – are usually associated with alcohol dependence, but can be experienced with alcohol abuse.
- Reliance on alcohol in specific situations, for example, social events.
- Drink driving and other irresponsible behaviour associated with intoxication.
- Hangovers which effect work commitments.
- Once consumption has started the drinker may find they are unable to stop until they become ill or black out.
- Short-term memory problems.
Binge drinking is often considered part of social life – ‘it's the weekend so it's okay to drink too much’. For many people who are abusing alcohol this is a way of justifying their behaviour. Phrases like 'my friends drink as much as me' or 'I only drink at the weekend' are heard frequently, but this doesn't mean that abusive drinking patterns are not detrimental. Alcohol affects everyone in a different way and you do not need to be drinking around the clock to experience negative consequences from your drinking. It is a common myth that drinking is only problematic if you are physically addicted. Abusing alcohol can cause problems in your career, your health, your relationships, your ability to maintain control in your life. It can affect those around you and can lead to alcohol dependency. Even without ever increasing to a dependent level, an alcohol abuser puts themselves at risks of a long list of alcohol-related problems. You only have to make one mistake when heavily intoxicated to change your life forever. A recent court case in October 2009 where an 18-year old student killed her best friend and seriously injured another whilst drink driving and was given a 5-year sentence serves to underline the huge risk factors involved with excessive drinking.
Have you got a Problem with Alcohol?
If you do not feel you are suffering from alcohol dependency, but experience problems with alcohol abuse, you probably recognise that you think about your drinking behaviour regularly. For example, alcohol abusers often know they have a drinking problem if they have:
- Considered the amount of alcohol they are consuming and thought about reducing it.
- Been annoyed or angry by any criticism of their alcohol consumption.
- Experienced guilty feelings about their drinking.
- Been drinking alone.
- Lied, concealed or acted secretively about their drinking.
Most alcohol-related problems, whether social, psychological or physical, which are due to alcohol abuse, can be avoided if treatment is sought. As a result, legal, social and relationship issues can be avoided, and you can start your recovery by stepping in the direction where you want your life to go - alcohol free.