What’s the Difference between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence?

Question: What is the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence?

Answer: Alcohol abuse, in the simplest terms, is a pattern of excessive use of alcohol to the point of self-harm. You continue to drink even though adverse consequences–ranging from marital problems to DUIs–have occurred. An example would be frequent episodes of binge drinking, followed by “sobering up” the next day. However, alcohol abuse is NOT addiction. It does NOT include

  • a strong craving for alcohol
  • loss of control over drinking
  • physical dependence on alcohol

Alcohol dependence, on the other hand, is addiction to alcohol and includes

  • physical dependence
  • tolerance
  • cravings
  • loss of control
  • withdrawal symptoms after stopping

Someone who is dependent will drink until passing out and continue to drink upon waking, creating a cycle stopped only by outside intervention (a family member) or running out of drinks.