Is there a difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction?

Alcohol abuse and addiction are very different and shouldn’t be confused.  Only a few of the people who abuse alcohol are addicted to it, but everyone who is addicted to alcohol abuses it. Alcohol abuse is usually described as drinking despite recurrent problems, such as interpersonal, legal, economic, or health.

People who are addicted can experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms after they quit drinking. Such individuals should talk with their doctor if they choose to stop drinking, because withdrawal should be supervised medically.

Many people abuse alcohol at some point in their lives, most typically while in college or the military. However, they typically “mature out” of such behaviors after they enter the workforce or re-enter civilian life.

Unfortunately, people who abuse alcohol are sometimes encouraged to attend A.A. by those who don’t understand the significant difference between abuse and addiction. Those who attend A.A. are taught that they are addicted, that they will always be alcoholic for the rest of their lives, that they are powerless over alcohol, that they suffer “loss of control” and can’t consume even a sip of alcohol or they will lose all self-control and be unable to stop drinking abusively, that they will never be able to consume alcohol in moderation, and other beliefs that scientific research has disproved.

These beliefs often create serious problems. People who simply drink too much become convinced that they have an incurable, progressive disease.  This can create a self-fulfilling prophesy in which people assume the role of alcoholic and behave accordingly.

Research by the U.S. government has found that alcoholics who participate in 12 step programs tend to have less success in achieving and maintaining sobriety than do people who don’t participate in any program. In short, 12 step programs tend to be counterproductive — they’re worse than no program.