Do I Need Rehab? Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol Addiction vs Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous and deceptive drugs on the market today — mainly because of how widely accepted it is in our culture. Many people say, only half-jokingly, “Alcohol is the only drug that you have to defend not using.” With alcohol use — and abuse — so widely accepted, it can be hard to understand when your drinking crosses the line from “normal” behavior into a problem. How can you tell when you’ve slid into alcohol abuse or addiction? If you’re asking yourself, Do I need rehab?, an understanding of alcohol abuse vs. addiction can help you get clarity on your behavior and find a solution.

What is Alcohol Abuse? 

The Surgeon General has defined alcohol abuse as a “pattern of drinking” that has an obvious negative impact on your life. Did you experience any situations like the following ones over the past year?

1. You messed up at work, school, or your home life because of your drinking. That might mean calling out from work, failing to complete assignments or bombing a test, or missing an event that was important to your family because of drinking or a hangover.
2. You put yourself in dangerous situations while drinking or drunk, such as drunk driving, or unsafe sex.
3. You experience legal problems related to your drinking: DUI, fights, or disorderly conduct arrests.
4. You started to think that your drinking was impacting your life, but kept on drinking.

If you experienced any negative situations like these in the past year, you might meet the criteria for alcohol abuse.

What Counts as Binge Drinking?

 Alcohol abuse is defined according to how your drinking affects your life. Binge drinking, on the other hand, follows a strict numerical scale. The CDC defines binge drinking as five or more drinks “on one occasion” for men, and four for women. It’s possible to be a binge drinker that does not meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or addiction. However, alcohol use disorder is known to be progressive. If you don’t have a problem today, it is likely only a matter of time until you do. No one can binge drink indefinitely without physical, mental, emotional, or legal side effects.

What is Alcohol Addiction? 

Alcohol addiction is the common term for what is often medically defined as “dependence.” Dependence on alcohol means that an individual suffers from withdrawal in between binges: i.e., the shakes, sweats, headache, irritability, or even seizures. Individuals with alcohol dependence also have difficulty controlling their alcohol use and may have failed attempts to quit altogether.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

In 2013, the DSM-V (the guide that medical professionals use to diagnose disease) introduced a new comprehensive diagnostic term for alcohol abuse and dependence: alcohol use disorder. Instead of separating alcohol abuse and dependence, the DSM-V brought them together under one umbrella encompassing mild, moderate, and severe alcohol use disorder. Only a medical professional can truly diagnose alcohol use disorder. However, review the guidelines to get clarity on your own use. Do any of these apply to you? 

1. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended. 
2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use. 
3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects. 
4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol. 
5. Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
6. Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol. 
7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use. 
8. Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous. 
9. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol. 
10. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect, or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol, or alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Exhibiting two or more of these symptoms in one twelve-month period could be a sign of moderate alcohol use disorder. Four or five symptoms indicates a moderate case, while six or more indicates that an individual is likely suffering from severe alcohol use disorder — and needs professional help for addiction.

Do I Need Rehab? 

Because alcohol use disorder is a progressive disease, anyone exhibiting mild, moderate, or severe symptoms can benefit from professional help. Stopping the disease in its tracks can spare you and your loved ones a lot of suffering. If you can relate to any of the symptoms above as defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it’s worth exploring your options for addiction treatment. If you have insurance for addiction treatment, the cost of treatment might even be covered by your plan.

Treating Alcohol Abuse & Addiction in Rehab

In addiction treatment, you’ll learn to heal and adopt the skills you need to live life in sobriety. Every day includes a mix of activities and therapies to give you new wings, such as one-on-one counseling, group therapy, art therapy, and more. Your treatment team will work with you to develop a plan that meets your needs and helps you get to where you want to go.

If you’re wondering: Do I need rehab? Your drinking has likely progressed beyond the norm. If you’re still not sure, reach out. Our admissions team members have been there, and they can listen to your story and give you some clarity on next steps. You don’t have to live that way any more. Let hope take flight. 


The Owls Nest


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