The fact that you have developed some type of alcohol problem indicates that you need to do something to change this behaviour. The terminology used to describe this type of behaviour can be a bit confusing, but it is important that you are able to distinguish between alcoholism and alcohol abuse.
Members of the public tend to use words like ‘alcohol abuse’ and ‘alcoholism‘ interchangeable, but it is important to understand that there are significant differences in what these actually mean. Here are just some of the most common words to describe different types of alcohol problem:
- Alcohol abuse means you are using this substance in a dangerous manner, and it is causing problems in your life. Even though you are abusing this substance, you have not yet become physically or psychologically addicted.
- Binge drinking refers to a dangerous pattern of drinking where the individual regularly drinks more than the recommended alcohol intake in one session. This type of behaviour is very common in the UK.
- Substance abuse is a generic term for alcohol or drug abuse.
- Alcohol addiction usually refers to a physical dependence on alcohol, although it often includes psychological addiction.
- Alcoholism refers to a situation where the individual is physically and mentally addicted to alcohol. Some people prefer not to use the word ‘alcoholism’ because it is associated with a particular approach to recovery, so alcohol addiction can be used interchangeably with alcoholism.
- Problem drinking can refer to alcoholism or alcohol addiction, but it is mostly used when describing binge drinking, alcohol abuse, or underage drinking.
The reason it is so important to determine the type of alcohol problem you are dealing with is that this signals the type of treatment you need. If you have not yet become physically addicted to alcohol, it may be possible for you to change your behaviour and drink safely again in the future. Once you have crossed the line into addiction though, it is very unlikely that you will ever be able to drink safely again.
If you are not yet addicted, it will be important for you to change your behaviour as soon as possible. By continuing on your current path, there is a high risk of you progressing to alcoholism. Some people just go through a stage of binge drinking (for example, while going to university), but they later snap out of it (for example, by entering employment). If you are getting in trouble due to your behaviour, it is likely that you will need help. An addiction counsellor will be able to help you regain control of your drinking using strategies such as a drinking journal.
If you were already addicted to alcohol, your only real option would be permanent abstinence. Even if you stop drinking for a year (or even fifty years), you will keep on falling into addiction every time you return to this substance. Breaking away from alcoholism without help is difficult, so you are likely to need some type of help depending on the extent of your addiction. This could include things like rehab or a recovery fellowship – usually both.
If you are still unsure about the nature of your alcohol problem, it is strongly recommended that you get help from your GP or an addiction therapist. This professional will be able to assess your problem and point you in the direction of the most appropriate treatment.