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Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Dependence

Alcohol Abuse vs Dependence

Many have been asking about the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Well, simply said, alcohol abuse is like binge drinking wherein you consume a lot of alcohol for a short period of time for the main purpose of becoming intoxicated. In this scenario, one usually consumes at least 3 (or more) alcoholic drinks within a day’s time.

It is also regarded as a harmful use of alcoholic beverages. As such, this state can already lead to a certain amount of damage to one’s own mental and physical state. The DSM-IV classification makes alcohol abusers as persons who continue drinking excessive amounts of alcoholic drinks in spite of recurrent interpersonal, legal and social problems that have all resulted from the use of alcohol.

Alcohol dependence is a different scenario because it involves two dimensions namely physical and emotional. For physical alcohol dependence, one physically desires to drink or to continue drinking alcohol-rich drinks so that withdrawal symptoms won’t occur. Abrupt cessation of alcohol may prompt the occurrence of these symptoms like: mood swings, headache and irritability among others. Physical alcohol dependence is also characterized by the absence of regard for oneself and disrespect to the norms stipulated by the society. Emotional alcohol dependence involves a continued desire to ingest alcoholic beverages, that is, without having any form of physical dependence to initiate such.

Alcohol dependent persons are those who fit the description of alcohol abuse but, at the same time, they show any or all of the items below:

o Narrowing down the preference of alcoholic beverage (sticking to one type of beverage)

o A drink-seeker attitude or behavior (this person would only want to attend social gatherings that involve drinking alcoholic drinks, and also constantly hangout with peers who also want to drink alcohol)

o Alcoholic tolerance (drinking more than the usual amount to experience the same ‘drunk’ effect)

o Experiencing withdrawal symptoms (even with a very short time of not drinking alcohol, i.e. one day, the person already exhibits signs of withdrawal)

o Drinking as a form of withdrawal relief (there are some people who want to drink more alcohol for the main aim of reducing the ‘tremors or shakiness’ and even treat a present hangover)

o Awareness of drinking compulsion (whether they openly admit their habit to other people or not, they constantly crave for alcohol subjectively)

o Drinking resurrection (a return to the habit of drinking after a time of being alcohol-free; this person is not able to live up to his previous decision of finally quitting alcohol consumption)

Ideally, those who are considered as alcohol abusers can be assisted with several short interventions like educating them about the harm done by binge drinking and also about the likelihood of alcohol poisoning.

Conversely, those who are classified as alcohol dependents require a more serious type of professional assistance. They need to be subjected to detoxification sessions, long term medical treatments, rehabilitation coupled with professional counseling and even being enrolled to self-help support groups like Al-Anon (Alcoholic Anonymous).

1. Alcohol abuse is consuming lots of alcohol drinks for a short period of time while alcohol dependence is drinking alcohol products to allay withdrawal symptoms.

2. Alcohol abuse is less grave compared to alcohol dependence.

3. Alcohol abuse can be managed with simpler and brief awareness sessions while alcohol dependence is managed with stricter and more supervised interventions.


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