Understanding the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence can be a challenge. Not only are the two terms often used interchangeably and frequently referred to as “alcoholism,” both have many similarities making it challenging to decipher between their main differences.
However, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are, in fact, different, and knowing how and where they vary can determine what type of help an individual struggling with either one needs.
By understanding the main differences, risks, symptoms, and treatments of the two, finding and receiving help may be much more manageable and potentially save someone a lot of hardship in their lives.
What is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse is a vague term that can encompass a few different issues. The dilemma is that it is not black and white; it is a sliding scale ranging from mild to severe.
This term is often used in place of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), which is defined as a medical condition or chronic illness where an individual has become dependent on alcohol. However, abuse does not always refer to the severe cases that have evolved into AUD.
Alcohol abuse more accurately can be defined as drinking large amounts of alcohol and often. People who struggle with this do not have to be dependent or suffer from AUD; however, their reliance on alcohol can still be detrimental to their daily lives.
With alcohol abuse, individuals may not be dependent on the substance to get through the day-to-day, but they still misuse alcohol.
Binge Drinking: The Most Common Form of Alcohol Abuse
The most common form of alcohol abuse and the term you might be most familiar with is binge drinking. Binge drinking is when an individual consumes mass amounts of alcohol, leading to their BAC getting to 0.08g/dl or above.
Males who consume more than four alcoholic drinks in one day or a total of 15 or more in one week or a female who consumes more than three alcoholic drinks in one day or eight or more in one week are considered binge drinkers.
Binge drinking is often normalized in American culture and is done quite often. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 6 adults in the United States participates in binge drinking about four times per month, consuming an average of 7 alcoholic beverages per incident. That equates to nearly 500 drinks a year per binge drinker.
Though these people are not currently dependent on alcohol, continuously indulging in the practice of binge drinking makes one much more at risk for developing alcohol addiction.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
The following are all possible signs of binge drinking or alcohol abuse:
- Experiencing problems in daily life (work, home, school, etc.)
- Erratic or odd behavior
- Compromised motor skills (slurred speech, stumbling or falling, etc.)
- Getting in trouble with the law (DUI’s, fights, etc.)
- Engaging in secretive or sneaky behavior to hide alcohol use
- Experiencing denial of how much alcohol one is consuming
Risks of Alcohol Abuse
Many of the risks of alcohol abuse go hand in hand with the symptoms. Some possible risks include:
- Becoming dependent on alcohol and experiencing AUD
- Health issues like physical injury or alcohol poisoning
- Lost or ruined relationships
- Mental or psychological disorders like depression or anxiety
- Problems with the law like tickets or a possible arrest
What is Alcohol Dependence?
Alcohol dependence is a more accurate term to be used in place of Alcohol Use Disorder. AUD is described as a chronic medical condition in which one is dependent on alcohol, even with the desire to stop.
Someone who abuses alcohol may not depend on the substance, but those who suffer from alcohol dependence abuse alcohol.
The most significant difference between the two conditions is that those who suffer from dependence cannot physically stop drinking without some form of treatment or medical assistance. In contrast, those who abuse alcohol may not require the same type of interference as their level of drinking differs. Often, alcohol abusers are not typically as consistent with their drinking as they do not physically depend on it.
Signs of Alcohol Dependence
The following signs or symptoms may be an indicator you or someone you love is experiencing an alcohol addiction:
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or extreme shaking and sweating
- Discoloration of the skin, including red blotches or dark under-eye circles
- Unexplainable physical injuries
- Secretive and uncharacteristic behavior
- Experiencing little to no energy
- The incessant need to drink and inability to not think of alcohol
- Using alcohol even when in unsafe environments, like when driving
Risks of Alcohol Dependence
The risks of alcohol dependence can be severe as they have lifelong effects on one’s overall health. Some of the major risks are:
- Physical injury
- Trouble with the law (DUI’s, arrests, loss of child custody, etc.)
- Cognitive and mental deterioration
- Mental or psychological issues like anxiety or depression
- Severe health issues like liver, kidney, heart disease, high blood pressure, or cancer
Accountability Tools for both Alcohol Abuse and Dependence
There is no such thing as a “typical” alcohol abuser, and those who misuse alcohol all do so in different ways and for various reasons. Because of this, treatment and accountability tools may look different on a case-by-case basis.
Because everyone’s situation is unique, it is essential to know what options are out there for accountability tools to find what works best for an individual pursuing sobriety. Some options may be better suited for those who abuse alcohol, and some may be better suited for those with alcohol dependence.
Depending on the severity of the alcohol problem, formal treatment may be one’s best option. There are different options, including inpatient, outpatient, and 30 or 60-day rehabilitation programs that tackle the issue hands-on. Treatment may be more appropriate and effective for those who struggle with alcohol dependence.
Finding support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can be a place where one can talk about their drinking issues without judgment. Made up of others suffering from AUD, AA is a place where one can express themselves with like-minded people who understand the struggles associated with getting sober.
Incorporate New Habits
Though this may be a better accountability tool for someone who experiences alcohol abuse and not dependence, incorporating new healthy habits into their lives may help them cut back on their drinking.
Some habits include exercise, meditation, journaling, or reading in place of alcohol. These habits can improve your overall health and help you stay accountable if you do them with a friend or someone from your Recovery Circle.
One last accountability tool that can benefit those suffering from alcohol misuse, whether mild or severe, is remote monitoring. Remote alcohol monitoring allows one to have autonomy over their lives, recovery, and can help individuals rebuild trust with loved ones. Remote monitoring technology can provide relief to people experiencing both alcohol abuse and dependence.
There are a few ways one can monitor their alcohol consumption, like keeping a notebook handy and writing down when and how much you are drinking. However, with tools like Soberlink’s state-of-the-art remote breathalyzer, you can produce a much more accurate record of your drinking habits and overall recovery journey.
Why Choose Soberlink?
Though various types of alcohol monitoring can be beneficial during early recovery, using Soberlink’s comprehensive alcohol monitoring system is proven to improve outcomes. Soberlink is highly regarded in the Addiction Treatment community by thousands of industry leaders due to the following features:
It is Made of High-Quality Technology
Given the sensitive nature of alcohol monitoring, Soberlink’s sophisticated 2FA system keeps client data safe and secure against hackers or phishing campaigns. Offering this second layer of protection speaks to their dedication to continuously innovate and improve the client experience.
The Soberlink system combines wireless connectivity with adaptive facial recognition, tamper detection, and the system’s Advanced Reporting feature. Moreover, Soberlink remote breathalyzers store and monitor client progress, which can be quickly and easily accessed by you or specified members of your Recovery Circle, allowing for swift intervention in the event of a slip or relapse.
The system is also user-friendly and as high quality as law enforcement-level devices as it uses the same professional-grade fuel-cell sensor to ensure the integrity of each test.
It is Discreet
As alcohol abuse and dependence are a sensitive matter, Soberlink’s breathalyzer was designed to be sleek and discreet so that its clients could test in public without drawing attention.
Portable and compact, Soberlink devices can be easily stored in a small bag or briefcase for easy transportation from place to place. If discretion is important to you, whether you are monitoring for alcohol abuse or dependence, Soberlink is a great tool given the autonomy and privacy it provides users.
It is a Reputable and Trusted System
In addition to being easy-to-use and discreet, Soberlink’s remote breathalyzer is a reputable and trusted system by thousands of Addiction Treatment Professionals for over a decade.
With FDA 510 (k) medical clearance and multiple testimonies, those who have used it or had clients use it can speak on its effectiveness for helping those who struggle with alcohol abuse and dependence and hope to achieve recovery.
Know Yourself, Know Your Recovery
As you can see, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are indeed two different concerns and may require a different approach.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol misuse, finding the right accountability tools can help get them on the path to recovery.