What Is The Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Dependence?

Addressing the frequently asked questions dealing with addiction.


Will you explain the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence?


In short, alcohol abuse is too much, too often and alcohol dependence is the inability to quit.  Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that leads to the failure to fulfill responsibilities at work, home or school and/or repeated drinking in situations in which it is physically hazardous.

Alcohol dependence may include a drinker’s increase in tolerance, withdrawal syndrome, unsuccessful attempts to cut down or even quit drinking altogether, lose control of their alcohol use and consistently drink more and for longer than intended.  The cardinal features of alcohol dependence are compulsion (inability to refrain from taking that drink), loss of control over alcohol (can’t quit) and continued drinking no matter what the consequences.

"Sober Days" ran in the Palm Springs daily newspaper, the Desert Sun, for several years in the 1990s-2000s. The popular Q&A column was written by Dr. James West, the Betty Ford Center’s first medical director. He remained with the Betty Ford Center until 2007, when he retired at age 93.

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