Alcohol is an integral part of American culture. Almost all professional sporting events are sponsored by beer and liquor brands, and images of alcoholic beverages are used in television shows, movies, and advertisements. More than half of American adults consume alcohol regularly as a result. How do alcoholism and alcohol abuse work? 

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), in 2015, 15.1 million American adults (6.2 percent of the population) had an alcohol use problem.  Continue reading below if you are concerned that a loved one may be abusing alcohol.

Everything You Need to Know About Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is classified as a chronic mental health disorder. These people have physical alcohol dependence and have little control over their drinking. It is common for these individuals to continue drinking even if it negatively affects their personal, social, or professional lives.

Alcoholism is the most severe type of alcohol abuse. It involves an inability to control drinking. Alcohol use disorder is another name for it. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious health problems such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Cancer
    • Breast
    • Mouth
    • Throat
    • Esophagus
    • Voicebox
    • Liver
    • Colon
    • Rectum

This condition means that a person doesn’t know how or when to stop drinking. These people spend a lot of time thinking about alcohol and cannot stop drinking, regardless of whether it causes serious financial and home problems.

How Do Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism Work_

Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism must be distinguished. The former refers to a set of behaviors, while the latter refers to a psychological condition. More than a third of all college students admit to binge drinking or drinking heavily regularly. Even though this is a lot of alcohol to consume and can be harmful in the long run, students rarely allow these habits to affect their daily lives.

Alcohol abuse refers to a mild form of alcohol use disorder (AUD), while alcoholism typically refers to alcohol dependence. According to the CDC, an alcohol abuse pattern is a drinking habit that causes harm to one’s health or interpersonal relationships and one’s ability to work. These are some examples of alcohol abuse:
  • Failure to meet major responsibilities at work, home, or school
  • Drinking under the influence in dangerous situations
  • Drinking that causes recurring legal problems can lead to more drinking
  • Continued drinking despite ongoing problems in the relationship that have been caused or worsened through drinking

Although alcohol abuse does not cause severe disruption to a person’s life like alcoholism, it is still a problem. A person can be affected by alcohol abuse in their mind, body, or spirit. It is not unusual for alcohol abuse to escalate into alcoholism.

A person with alcohol abuse problems can learn from their mistakes and make changes. It can be inspiring and motivating to outline the path of alcohol abuse clearly.

Those who abuse alcohol are not in the clear, however. Binge drinking has been linked to an increased risk of developing alcoholism in the future. Although these disorders can differ, both alcohol abuse and alcoholism often require professional treatment.

Concerning Behaviors

In determining if a person has a substance abuse problem, their attitude toward consumption is more important than how often they consume alcohol. An individual who drinks one glass of wine every night is unlikely to develop a drinking problem if they drink every day. However, someone who drinks once or twice a week do so until they blackout may be at risk. Other concerning behaviors include drinking alone or in secret, becoming irritable when alcohol is unavailable, or prioritizing alcohol over other aspects of their lives.

Treatment Options

Alcoholism can be treated in a variety of ways, and not every method works for every person. Some people respond well to mental health counseling and rehabilitation programs, while others are successful with 12-step programs. This is a complex form of addiction that can take years to overcome.

Healthcare professionals now provide up-to-date treatments backed by science. Care is offered at different levels of intensity in a variety of settings. Many outpatient options allow people to maintain their regular routines and their privacy, too, if desired.

Components of Professionally Led Treatment

Health care professionals provide two types of treatment for alcohol use disorder:

Talk Therapy

A licensed therapist can help people build coping strategies and skills to stop or reduce drinking. Treatment can include one-on-one, family, or group sessions.

Alcoholism Work


A primary care clinician or a board-certified addiction doctor can prescribe non-addicting medications. These can help people stop drinking and avoid relapses.

These two options can be used in combination and tailored to individual needs.

Four Treatment Methods for Alcoholism

There are four basic levels of care or intensity for alcohol treatment. These levels, as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, include:


This form of treatment includes regular office visits for counseling, medication support, or both. See below for some “lower intensity” alternatives for outpatient care.

Intensive Outpatient or Partial Hospitalization

Coordinated outpatient addiction recovery care for complex needs.


Residential treatment can be either low or high-intensity programs in 24-hour treatment settings.

Alcohol Abuse

Intensive Inpatient

Medically-directed 24-hour services inpatient; may manage withdrawal.