Alcoholism and alcohol use disorder have long been connected in the addiction and medical communities. Because they are so often linked to one another, they have become almost synonyms. 

In most people’s minds, problematic drinking is the same as alcoholism. We want to do our best to dispel this notion and distinguish the two for the sake of healthier recovery and clarity in terminology. 

Alcoholism: What is it? 

Alcoholism, strictly speaking, is alcohol addiction. In other words, it describes a person or persons who suffer from a severe form of alcohol dependence or exhibits a formal inability to manage drinking habits.

Alcoholism increases the likelihood that a person’s health, mind, and well-being will be affected negatively. The negative consequences of alcohol abuse become grimmer in the presence of other substance use disorders or illicit substances. 

Alcohol Use Disorder: What is it? 

Like any substance use disorder (SUD), an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is characterized by the presence of a mental illness or disease –– an alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled drinking and preoccupation with alcohol.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported (2019) that 14.5 million people aged 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder (5.3%).

Primary Differences

An alcohol use disorder is a medical diagnosis to describe a person or persons with an alcohol problem. Alcoholism is a non-medical term used to self-diagnose an individual who lacks consumption restraint. It is rare for a medical professional to diagnose a patient as an alcoholic. Instead, they will seek to determine whether someone has mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use disorder . 

Primary Similarities

A person may feel compelled to drink for many reasons; this includes trauma, depression, stress, coping, anxiety, or shame. For someone suffering from an alcohol use disorder , the presence of any one of these triggers could lead them to experience their disorder on a much larger scale. 

The effects of alcohol, in either case, can lead to serious long or short-term health complications, including death. As an example, drinking impacts reaction time, speed of reflex, and coordination. Getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking alters your perception of speed and distance and threatens personal safety and the safety of others on the road. 

Warning Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a series of characteristics may describe someone suffering from an alcohol use disorder. 

  • Drinking longer than intended
  • Feeling incapable of cutting back on alcohol consumption
  • Drinking to the point of illness
  • Presence of alcohol cravings
  • Inability to care for a family, hold down a job, or perform in school
  • Continuing to drink despite threatening the stability of relationships
  • Decreased participation in activities
  • Finding oneself in dangerous situations as a direct result of drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite the presence of other health problems (i.e., depression)
  • Alcohol withdrawal

Warning Signs of Alcoholism

Common signs of alcoholism include:

  • Lacking control over alcohol consumption
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Prioritizing alcohol above personal responsibilities
  • Excessive drinking
  • Excessive spending on alcohol
  • Negative behavioral characteristics after drinking

We Can Help | Seneca Health Services

At Seneca Health Services, we believe recovery is possible. For over 40 years, we have provided behavioral health services throughout southeastern West Virginia. We are passionate about helping our community heal. If you or a loved one is battling a substance use disorder and wants to receive help, our team is ready to help

“Recovery makes you wiser and work harder. You will laugh at the little things and laugh at the chaos life brings. You will know that you are a survivor.” 

If you’d like to learn more about the Crosswinds Center or Recovery Ridge, contact Seneca Health at 888.SENECA9 or use the link provided. We know it’s hard to take the first step –– let us help.