Definition of Alcoholism


Is alcoholism the same as alcohol abuse? If they are, in fact, dissimilar concepts, what is it in the definition of alcoholism that differentiates it from alcohol abuse?

Since the two concepts have some degree of overlap, many people think that alcoholism and alcohol abuse are the same.

Although they are in fact seen as different conditions in the medical and psychological communities, one point, however, needs to be emphasized: the more a person abuses alcohol, the more likely he or she will become alcohol dependent.


Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Are They the Same?

Perhaps because the two terms are related, many people think that alcohol abuse and alcoholism are identically the same.

Although this misinformation makes some sense, it is still misinformation, nonetheless. So what is the difference between the two concepts?

A Definition of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse, unlike alcoholism, does not include a craving or an extremely strong desire for alcohol, physical dependence, or the loss of control due to drinking.

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

  • Continued drinking in spite of ongoing relationship problems that are the result of drinking.

  • Drinking in situations that can result in physical injury. Examples include driving a vehicle or operating machinery.

  • Failure to attend to important responsibilities at work, home, or school.

  • Experiencing recurring alcohol-related legal problems. Examples include getting arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, for damaging someone's property, or for physically hurting someone while drunk.

A Definition of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is also known as alcohol addiction and alcohol dependence. Having stated this, the following is a definition of this concept.

Alcoholism is a progressive debilitating disease that includes the following symptoms:

  • Craving: A strong and continuing compulsion or need to drink.

  • Tolerance: The need to drink increasing amounts of alcohol in order to "feel the buzz" or to "get high."

  • Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms when a person stops drinking after a period of excessive drinking. Such symptoms include: anxiety, sweating, nausea, and "the shakes."

  • Loss of control: The inability to limit one's drinking over time or on any given occasion.

Even with the above definitions of the two terms, we feel that one point is critical in understanding the relationship between the two conditions.

The more an individual abuses alcohol, the more likely he or she will become an alcoholic.

In other words, the more a person gets drunk, the more a person gets an alcohol "buzz," and the more a person drinks 5 or more drinks at one sitting (known as "binge drinking"), the more likely a person will eventually become dependent on alcohol.


Conclusion: Definition of Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are seen as the same concepts by many people.

Although the two terms are very similar as far as some of their consequences, alcohol abuse does not include a strong craving for alcohol, a loss of control due to drinking, or physical addiction.

In fact, it is these differences that make the definition of alcoholism significantly different from the definition of alcohol abuse.