Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence

Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence

To those who do not struggle with alcohol, the concepts of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are often considered to be one and the same, which is a major mistake. There are a number of differences between a person who struggles with the abuse of alcohol and a person who has become dependent on the substance for daily survival.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is defined as drinking that has an adverse effect on a person’s ability to work for a living, form meaningful relationships or remain healthy. Drinking while driving, drinking even in the face of legal issues brought on by drinking, frequent binges, failure to live up to responsibilities at home or work, these are all signs of an alcohol abuser.

A person who abuses alcohol puts themselves at risk for any number of health related complications, including liver damage, sexual dysfunction, neurological damage to the brain, liver disease and unwanted pregnancies. Binge drinking can also cause severe short term brain damage. Just a few days of excessive drinking can lead to substantial brain damage over the long term.

Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependency is also defined as alcoholism, which refers to a person who has developed a mental or physical dependency on the drug. Not only will they have developed a extremely high alcohol tolerance, but they are also susceptible to withdrawal symptoms when they do not have a drink.

Unlike alcohol abuse, alcohol dependency is considered to be a chronic disease. Not only do symptoms progress over the course of time, but they can also be fatal if they are untreated. A person who has allowed themselves to become alcohol dependent does not have the physical or mental capability to cut down on their drinking.


Alcohol dependency symptoms include losing control over the ability to avoid alcohol, a strong craving for alcoholic beverages, an increased tolerance and vomiting/nausea when alcohol cannot be consumed. Alcohol dependence also leads to increased instances of liver disease, cancer, brain disease and heart disease.

Alcohol dependent patients typically require a much longer and more intensive course of treatment, whereas an alcohol abuser can usually overcome their problems with interviews and therapy. A person who is alcohol dependent requires hospitalization, so that their withdrawal symptoms can be treated more easily. As such, alcohol dependency is considered to be far more severe than alcohol abuse.

A person who abuses alcohol on a consistent basis is much more apt to be able to change on their own. Someone who has become alcohol dependent needs the assistance of medical professionals in order to overcome their issues. While an alcohol abuser merely drinks too much and imbibes at the wrong moments, an alcohol dependent patient has an incessant need for alcohol, one that requires a great deal of treatment to overcome.