acquiesce - December 15th, 2020

The Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependance

With so many different terms describing problems to do with the consumption of alcohol, it can be difficult to know the difference or what each term means. In this article, we will be discussing the difference between alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence and other commonly used terms as well as how to get help if you are struggling with any of them.

What is Alcohol Abuse? 

Alcohol abuse is when an individual drinks excessive amounts of alcohol over the recommended and low-risk limits, despite the negative impacts it has on themselves and others around them. This can involve negative effects on their physical and mental health, their relationships with others and problems with the law.

Even small servings of alcohol can change the way in which people behave, increasing their confidence, reducing their inhibitions and impairing their decision making skills, motor skills and speech. Alcohol consumption is measured in units, with one unit being 10ml of pure alcohol which is roughly half a pint of lager or one single measure (25ml) of spirits and a small (125ml) glass of wine is 1.5 units.

The NHS advises against drinking more than 14 units per week and if you do drink, they recommend spreading these units evenly across three or four days. The way in which alcohol affects your mind and body depends on how much you drink and also impacts whether you will suffer from long-term effects.

The short term effects of consuming 1-2 units of alcohol include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Warm, sociable and talkative feeling caused by blood vessels expanding

The short term effects of consuming 4-6 units of alcohol include:

  • Part of the brain associated with decision making (frontal lobe) is affected, causing recklessness and uninhibited behaviour.
  • Cells in the nervous system are impaired, causing feelings of lightheadedness and delaying your coordination and reaction time.

The short term effects of consuming 8-9 units of alcohol include:

  • Reaction times are much slower
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired vision and focus
  • The liver will struggle to filter out all of the alcohol overnight, so a morning hangover is highly likely.

The short term effects of consuming 10-12 units of alcohol include:

  • Coordination is strongly impaired, increasing the chances of injury and accidents
  • Feelings of drowsiness due to the depressant effect of alcohol
  • Due to the toxicity of alcohol in this amount, the body will attempt to pass out the alcohol quickly through urine, causing you to feel dehydrated with a headache. 
  • The high amount of alcohol in your system can also disrupt your digestion, causing nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The short term effects of consuming 12+ units of alcohol include:

  • Risk of alcohol poisoning
  • Interference with functions such as breathing, heart rate and gag reflex (making you more likely to choke)
  • Coma
  • Death

The Long Term Effects of Abusing Alcohol 

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over a long period of time can have serious negative effects on the body. This includes damage to the organs, a weakened immune system and increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels, making an individual more prone to heart attacks and strokes. 

Other long term effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Weakened bones, increasing the risk of breakage or fractures
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver Disease
  • Cancer (Roughly 4% of UK cancer cases are caused by alcohol)
  • Dementia
  • Impotence
  • Premature Ejaculation
  • Infertility

Not only can alcohol abuse impact your physical wellbeing  but it can also affect your mental health too, leading to depression, anxiety or aggression.

What is Binge Drinking?

‘Binge drinking’ is the consumption of lots of alcohol in one session and is commonly seen amongst younger people as part of the ‘uni lifestyle’. According to the NHS, for women consuming 6 or more units of alcohol in one session is considered as binge drinking, whereas 8 or more units of alcohol in one session is considered to be binge drinking for men.

According to a 2017 study by Drinkaware, among those in Great Britain who had drunk alcohol, 27% were classed as binge drinkers based on their heaviest drinking day in the week before being interviewed (28.7% of men and 25.6% of women).

What is Alcohol Dependency?

Alcohol dependency is a term used to describe when an individual has a physical dependence on alcohol, meaning they rely on alcohol to function on a day-to-day basis and is the most serious form of drinking problem according to Drinkaware

When someone with al alcohol dependence attempts to stop drinking or reduce the amount they drink, they experience symptoms such as:

  • Withdrawal e.g. sweating, shaking, nausea, delirium tremens and seizures that can be stopped or prevented by drinking more alcohol.
  • Feeling the need to drink in the morning following waking up.
  • Worrying about where the next drink is coming from and scheduling social, familial and work responsibilities around alcohol.
  • A tolerance to alcohol, meaning the brain has adapted to alcohol and therefore requires more than usual to feel the same effects as before.

There are a number of factors that can lead to an individual becoming alcohol dependent, including stressful or traumatic events, mental health problems, a history of alcohol dependence in the family or the family’s attitudes towards alcohol.

Alcohol dependence can lead to a range of physical and mental health problems similar to those of alcohol abuse but with a higher chance of development due to the frequency at which the individual consumes large amounts of alcohol. 

What is Alcohol Addiction ?

Alcohol addiction, otherwise referred to as ‘alcoholism’ is a term used to describe when an individual is unable to stop consuming alcohol despite the negative physical and/or social consequences they may face as a result. Similar to alcohol dependence, someone who is addicted to alcohol will likely experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to stop drinking or reduce the amount they drink.

The difference between alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction is that dependence is a physical reliance whereas addiction is a physiological reliance. Someone with an alcohol addiction does not necessarily have a physical dependence on alcohol as it is the brain that is convinced it needs alcohol in order to function.

For example, some people might have a drink to chill out or feel more sociable, but those with an addiction feel as if they cannot relax at all or that they are too anxious to socialise without having a drink first. Many people suffering with addiction have previously existing mental health problems and start using alcohol as a way to cope with their thoughts and feelings which then develops into an addiction.

As alcohol is so commonly used as a way to calm nerves and binge drinking at the weekend is normalised in the UK, an individual may not even realise they have an addiction. In fact, lots of people can maintain a successful lifestyle on the outside, with a great job, relationship, family etc… and yet behind closed doors they find themselves needing a drink (known as a high functioning alcoholic).

Whilst it is common for people to develop an alcohol addiction without a physical dependence, as they consume more and more alcohol, it is common for them to become tolerant and therefore develop a physical dependence too. 

Signs of an Alcohol Addiction 

Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction can vary depending on the individual and can be both physical and/or psychological. Common signs include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms including sweating, nausea, and shaking that stops when more alcohol is consumed.
  • Worrying about where the next drink is coming from, planning social, family and work events around alcohol, isolated drinking, 
  • A compulsive need to drink and finding it hard to stop once started
  • Drinking alcohol despite the known negative consequences
  • Waking up and drinking – or feeling the need to have a drink in the morning, 

How to Get Help

If you believe you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence or an alcohol abuse, treatment at Acquiesce begins with a free confidential consultation with a Recovery Practitioner in order to establish the individual needs and suitability for safe treatment with the service.

This can be done over the phone or by booking an appointment at the treatment centre. Once the correct treatment pathway has been decided and agreed, Acquiesce provides a safe and therapeutic environment which is conducive to the recovery from alcohol addiction.

Following a detoxification, a combination programme of evidence based therapies are then delivered by a team of experienced professionals. The therapies address the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of alcohol addiction and utilises holistic therapies, social activities and regular gym and exercise. 

Individuals will understand their addiction and gain the knowledge and tools required for an ongoing sustainable recovery, with a personal relapse prevention plan and on-going aftercare that is provided as standard.

To discuss your recovery, or the recovery of a loved one, please get in touch for a free, anonymous consultation.

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