Author: John Carter

Alcohol Use Disorder vs Alcoholism

Difference Between Alcohol Use and Alcoholism

Binge drinking is defined as a pattern that brings your blood alcohol concentration level up to .08 percent or higher in a two-hour time period. While binge drinking and heavy drinking aren’t the same as alcohol use disorder, these drinking habits may be a risk factor for developing AUD. Not to mention, the potential effects of binge drinking can be dangerous even without an AUD diagnosis.

Difference Between Alcohol Use and Alcoholism

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), for example, uses terms related to alcoholism to describe those in recovery (6). If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol use, it’s helpful to understand the differences between terminology like alcoholism and AUD. Knowing the difference between AUD and alcoholism can help you find the right treatment for a successful recovery. To learn more about alcohol treatment options and search for quality care near you, please visit the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator. If a person has mild abuse issues, they may be able to join a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Presence of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol abuse in which a person quickly consumes a lot of alcohol. Another complication is alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which may occur after you stop drinking and can cause symptoms such as nausea, shaking, and sweating. It can also lead to serious symptoms like seizures, fever, or hallucinations, and can be a medical emergency. Becoming cognitively impaired from excessive drinking of alcohol can lead to risky behaviors that can result in injury or death of an affected person or of others.

There are several forms of abuse, with varying degrees of drinking with each. The exact mechanism that causes people to misuse alcohol is unclear. As you recover from AUD, you may find it helpful to see a psychotherapist who uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. CBT helps you modify your thoughts and actions, while also learning alternative coping mechanisms. If you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself or ending your life, know that you’re not alone.

Difference Between Alcohol Use and Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a layman’s term and not a clinical term used in medical diagnosis. Physicians screen for AUD using the DSM-5 criteria to measure your symptoms and whether you have a mild, moderate, or severe case of AUD (8). Many people with AUD do recover, but setbacks are common among people in treatment. Behavioral therapies can help people develop skills to avoid and overcome triggers, such as stress, that might lead to drinking. Medications also can help deter drinking during times when individuals may be at greater risk of a return to drinking (e.g., divorce, death of a family member).

Someone with an alcohol abuse problem may not experience withdrawal symptoms. You may have also heard of the term “gray area drinking,” which can apply to folks who aren’t sure which of these categories their drinking habits fall into. Taking a closer look into how alcohol is affecting your life can help illuminate if you’re in an unhealthy relationship with drinking. Ultimately, this is a process of prioritizing your health and happiness, regardless of any labels.

Fast facts about AUD

Treatment tends to have more benefit when you address unwanted patterns of drinking sooner rather than later. So, you don’t have to wait until alcohol use feels uncontrollable before reaching out for help. If you want to cut back on your drinking — or quit drinking alcohol altogether — you have plenty of options.

Binge drinking, one of these patterns, involves consuming several drinks in a short period of time. An episode of binge drinking can bring your blood alcohol content (BAC) to dangerous, even life-threatening levels. As a result, you might experience a blackout, vomit, or even pass out. People face both alcohol abuse and alcoholism at high rates in the United States. Learn the key differences, such as drinking habits, warning signs, and side effects.

  1. It also includes binge drinking — a pattern of drinking where a male has five or more drinks within two hours or a female has at least four drinks within two hours.
  2. Other medications can help you quit drinking by suppressing alcohol cravings or making you feel sick when alcohol enters your body.
  3. If you have a concern that you have AUD, you can see a health professional for consultation.
  4. As you learn more about alcohol use disorder, remember that you don’t need to check any boxes or meet any criteria to stop drinking alcohol  and start researching online alcohol treatment options.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate drinking is typically defined as two drinks or fewer for men per day, or one drink or less for women. If you or a loved one show signs of overdose, contact your local emergency services immediately. Alcohol poisoning can get dangerous quickly, and it’s sometimes fatal. You may have AUD if you continue to drink despite any physical, emotional, and social consequences you experience.

Health professionals sometimes prescribe medications to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal. Other medications can help you quit drinking by suppressing alcohol cravings or making you feel sick when alcohol enters your body. In addition, AUD is an addiction disorder, which means you may have a difficult time stopping alcohol consumption, even when you want to.

Excess drinking can affect your physical and mental health in many different ways. The most recent edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)” includes AUD as a mental health diagnosis. Below, we’ll compare and contrast these two patterns of alcohol use in more detail, plus offer some guidance on identifying your options for getting treatment and support. Though some people may view terms like “alcoholic” as unhelpful or negative, many still use this term to describe their experience with AUD.

Alcohol Use Disorder vs. Alcoholism: What’s The Difference?

You should also see a professional before quitting alcohol if you have other health conditions. Generally, however, the difference between alcohol misuse and AUD lies in looking at how a person drinks in the short term, as opposed to over a prolonged period of time. Misusing alcohol in one instance may not lead to an alcohol use disorder. However, continuing to abuse alcohol over a period of time will likely lead to an alcohol problem. It’s for this reason that you should strive to avoid alcohol abuse and seek to help people who are battling this issue.

How does Alcohol Abuse differ from Alcoholism?

By recognizing AUD as the clinically diagnosable medical condition it is, we can remove some of the stigma surrounding alcohol use and get more people the care they deserve. You may have also heard the term ‘alcohol dependence,’ which was previously diagnosed per the DSM-IV. Whether or not you meet any criteria for AUD, you can always benefit from support to change your relationship with alcohol. With online alcohol treatment, you can get expert guidance on your own terms and from the comfort of your own home. In addition to our alcohol-related vocabulary changing over time, so have our treatment options. If you’re looking for the definition of unhealthy alcohol use to understand how your own drinking habits measure up, that’s an incredible act of self-care.

People with AUD represent about 20–35 percent of completed suicides. Very high concentrations of alcohol in the blood can cause breathing problems, coma, or death. This question doesn’t always have a straightforward answer, since every person has their own limit when it comes to alcohol. That said, certain patterns of alcohol use do pose some cause for concern.

In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality. Visit the Alcohol Treatment Navigator web page (located on the NIAAA website) when you’re ready to search for a treatment provider. People may drink for its depressant effects or the feelings of calm, relaxation, and well-being it produces.