Although many people think they are one and the same, alcoholism (alcohol dependence) and alcohol abuse are two different forms of problem drinking.  According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, alcoholism is defined as one who has signs of physical addiction to alcohol and continues to drink, despite problems with physical health, mental health, and social, family, or job responsibilities. Further, with alcoholism, alcohol may control one’s life and relationships.  Alcohol abuse, on the other hand, is when one’s drinking leads to problems, but not physical addiction.

There is no known cause of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Research shows that a person’s environment and peer influences impact the risk of becoming alcohol dependent.  Further, although a massive amount of scientific research indicates heredity plays some role in developing alcoholism, having a family history of alcoholism does not doom a person into becoming an alcoholic. The genetic tendencies can be overcome. Also, although research suggests that certain genes may increase the risk of alcoholism, which genes and how they work are not known.  What is known, however, is that how much a person drinks can influence their chances of becoming dependent. Again, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, those at risk for developing alcoholism include:

  • Men who have 15 or more drinks a week
  • Women who have 12 or more drinks a week
  • Any individual who has five or more drinks per occasion at least once a week
  • (One drink is defined as a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1 1/2-ounce shot of liquor)
  • People have an increased risk for alcohol abuse and dependence if they have a parent with alcoholism.
  • Individuals may also be more likely to abuse alcohol or become dependent if they:
  • Are a young adult under peer pressure
  • Have depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia
  • Have easy access to alcohol
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Have problems with relationships
  • Live a stressful lifestyle
  • Live in a culture alcohol use is more common and accepted

It is interesting to note that alcohol abuse is on the rise.  Around 1 out of 6 people in the United States have a drinking problem.  Again, not all of these cases are classified as alcoholism, but they may lead to the disease eventually.  Symptoms of alcoholism can include people who often:

  • Continue to drink, even when health, work, or family are being harmed
  • Drink alone
  • Become violent when drinking
  • Become hostile when asked about drinking
  • Are not able to control drinking — being unable to stop or reduce alcohol intake
  • Make excuses to drink
  • Miss work or school, or have a decrease in performance because of drinking
  • Stop taking part in activities because of alcohol
  • Need to use alcohol on most days to get through the day
  • Neglect to eat or eat poorly
  • Do not care about or ignore how they dress or whether they are clean
  • Try to hide alcohol use
  • Shake in the morning or after periods when they have not a drink

Alcoholism is a major social, economic, and public health problem. Problem drinking can affect every part of a person’s life. If an individual has an alcohol problem, abstinence can help improve their mental and physical health and possibly, relationships.  Treatment programs can help you quit. However, drinking again after treatment is common. Research has shown that it is important to have a good support system when overcoming alcoholism.

See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth for more info

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