What’s the difference? Alcohol Abuse vs Dependence

12 Apr

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Alcoholism can be described in different ways, for example using the term ‘alcohol abuse’ or the term ‘alcohol dependence’. Do both of these descriptions mean the same thing? The answer is NO. No they do not mean the same thing at all.

What is Alcohol Abuse?

The term ‘alcohol abuse’ refers to someone who drinks alcohol to the point of harming themselves or to the point of engaging in risky behaviors like driving under the influence or having unprotected sex. A person who abuses alcohol will do so in spite of the consequences they face each time they drink. They will repeat this behavior time and time again and allow the wreckage to build up all around them. Alcohol abusers have impaired cognitive abilities and impaired judgement when it comes to decision making. This bad decision making and the consequences that arise from it will inevitably create tension in interpersonal relationships and will negatively affect their performance in all areas of their life. This person may not have become ‘alcohol dependent’ yet but the constant damage to the brain, liver and digestive tract will accumulate and soon become a major health issue. Unlike someone who has become alcohol dependent the alcohol abuser may still have some self control over how much and when they drink.

What is Alcohol Dependency?

Someone who is ‘alcohol dependent’ has a physical and psychological need and desire to drink alcohol. They have abused alcohol to such an extent that it becomes required by the body to function. This person has now built up a tolerance to the copious amounts of alcohol that they consume and are able to drink large quantities with little outward evidence. When they don’t feed the body the required dose of alcohol their body begins to crave it. The four criteria used to diagnose true alcohol dependency are high tolerance, uncontrolled daily drinking binges, cravings for alcohol and outward physical signs of withdrawal when not drinking. Both the abuser and the dependent alcoholic are at risk of serious health consequences from liver disease to cancer but while alcohol abuse is highly and quite easily treatable, alcohol dependency requires skilled assistance in a medically assisted detox facility. It takes time and a strong network of support for the dependent person to break free of the chains of their addiction.

This skilled and quality assistance can be found here at Cornerstone of Southern California in our DHCS licensed and certified, Joint Commission accredited Inpatient Residential Detox Program. We have been helping addicts for 32 years and are ready right now to help.

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