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Defining Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

by James Heller 26. March 2009 11:58
April, 2009 marks the 22nd year of Alcohol Awareness Month.  

Tarzana Treatment Centers is participating with a series of articles meant to inform and educate the general public about alcohol abuse, dependence and treatment.  Considering that over 21 million Americans meet the criteria for alcohol abuse and over 53 million admit to past-month binge drinking, not to mention the many loved ones affected by each, our efforts are worthwhile.

For the common person, the terms “alcoholism” or “alcoholic” have come to describe people who drink too much on more than one occasion, or at inappropriate times.  In fact, there are specific medical definitions for alcoholism and alcohol abuse.

This common misconception can cause a delay in seeking alcohol treatment when drinking problems impact a family.  The problem drinker will likely excuse the behavior and attempt to disconnect alcohol from any problems.  Without the facts, family members can’t know that alcohol treatment is available to help break the problem cycle.

It is important that more people know what constitutes alcohol abuse and alcoholism (alcohol dependence), and the differences between them.  Also, there is hope because treatment is available for the earliest stages of alcohol abuse and all through the most acute alcohol dependence.  

In each case, outpatient and residential treatment is available at Tarzana Treatment Centers.  For alcoholism, alcohol detox through medical detoxification is needed to cleanse the body of its physical dependence.

The following comparison is from the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism


Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that is accompanied by 1 or more of the following problems: (1) failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities because of drinking; (2) drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery; (3) recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk; and (4) having social or relationship problems that are caused by or worsened by the effects of alcohol.

Alcoholism (alcohol dependence) is a more severe pattern of drinking that includes the problems of alcohol abuse plus persistent drinking in spite of obvious physical, mental, and social problems caused by alcohol. Also typical are (1) loss of control—inability to stop drinking once begun; (2) withdrawal symptoms (symptoms associated with stopping drinking such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety); and (3) tolerance (needing increased amounts of alcohol in order to feel drunk).

Tarzana Treatment Centers in Los Angeles makes a daily effort to find treatment news articles that we can share with our readers in the alcohol and drug treatment community.  Portions of the article above were found at http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/295/17/2100.pdf among others of equal informational and educational quality.