Alcohol Addiction vs. Alcohol Dependence

Do you know the difference between alcohol addiction and alcohol dependence? They’re typically synonyms, but most sites characterize alcohol addiction or alcoholism as the starting stage towards full-blown alcohol dependence. Both are caused by alcohol abuse. It’s like the difference between gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is stage one in the development of periodontal disease and mostly affects your gums or gingiva. On the other hand, periodontitis is when the gingivitis infection has spread all the way to your periodontal tissue that connects teeth and tooth roots to jawbone and tooth socket.

If you’ve begun to develop alcoholism or alcohol addiction due to alcohol abuse, you should say no to drinking alcohol or start drinking moderately before your alcohol abuse worsens to outright alcohol dependence, where you become a slave to your cravings and desires.

What Are the Differences Between Alcohol Addiction and Alcohol Dependence?

You can become addicted to alcohol without developing dependence to it. In turn, alcohol dependence is known as the most severe type of alcohol addiction, like the periodontal disease to alcoholism’s gingivitis. This isn’t the case for all other drugs and chemicals. They even have symptoms that they either share or are unique to them, further blurring the line between what is dependence and what is addiction.

Here are the telltale signs of whether you have alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction.

ConditionDefinitionSigns and Symptoms
Alcohol Addiction (Alcoholism)

Addiction is when you now need 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous to help treat your condition because drinking has begun to interfere with your everyday life.

You can be addicted to alcohol without being dependent on it. Both can be induced by alcohol abuse.

  • Unable to say no to alcohol
  • Becoming dishonest or secretive
  • Appearing irritable, tired, or unwell
  • Appearing drunk more regularly
  • Lacking interest in previously normal activities
  • Needing to drink more in order to achieve the same effects or buzz
  • Developing mental health problems like depression or anxiety
  • You’ve become an occasional binge drinker (drinking 5 drinks for men and 4 drinks for women in one sitting)
Alcohol Dependence

Dependence occurs when you develop tolerance to alcohol, necessitating you to drink more to get the same buzz as you previously got.

Full inpatient treatment and medical detoxification might be called for in order to treat your withdrawal symptoms.

  • You want alcohol so badly that you can’t think of anything else
  • You’ve tried to cut back or stop more than once and couldn’t
  • Various withdrawal symptoms from shakiness to delirium tremens
  • You drink more, or longer, than you plan to almost by reflex or second nature
  • You’ve quit or cut back on other activities that were important to you in order to drink
  • You keep drinking even though it has caused problems for you or your relationships
  • You’ve now graduated from binge drinking to heavy drinking (5 or more episodes of binge drinking every 30 days)
  • You spend a lot of time drinking, being sick, or having a hangover because you feel like you can’t function normally without at least one drink

Since addiction can occur without dependence, it typically means you can become mentally addicted to drinking alcohol long before you develop a tolerance and physical dependence to it. Addiction can start psychologically or progress to become physical cravings, as in the case of nicotine addiction. Even if you don’t need the substance and you can end up better without it, you’re still fixated with it.

Defining Alcohol Dependence, Alcohol Addiction, and Alcohol Abuse


Even though even online alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction are changed interchangeably, they’re not the same. They’re closely related to each other but they’re not synonyms of one another. Both have separate sets of symptoms and behaviors that occur progressively in a spectrum of the same disorder. It’s basically the same disorder in different stages or magnitudes of severity.

  • What Is Alcohol Abuse? Alcohol abuse is consuming too much alcohol, alcohol dependence is you unable to quit using alcohol, and alcohol addiction is when your cravings for alcohol has taken priority over everything else, as though you’re drowning all your sorrows with the bottle. Alcohol abuse is both the root cause of dependence and addiction as well as the natural consequence of developing those conditions, such that your pattern of drinking only becomes more abusive the more addicted to alcohol you become.

    As a symptom of alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse typically involves binge drinking, heavy drinking, drunk driving, and drinking alcohol at the expense of participating in other activities, like going to work or school. Alcohol abuse typically results in alcoholism and alcohol dependence. Abuse doesn’t always lead to addiction but it’s often a sign that you’re suffering from the beginning stages of the alcohol use disorder. This is especially true of drinking that starts interfering with your obligations socially at home, at work, or at school.

  • What Is Alcohol Addiction? Alcohol addiction can occur even when you’re not alcohol dependent. Also known as alcoholism, it’s a condition wherein you can’t feel normal anymore unless there’s a percentage of alcohol in your system. This will naturally do a number on your liver and kidneys, among many other organs and systems in your body. If you’re unable to stop using alcohol despite the growing negative consequences of your drinking then that’s addiction right there.

    Alcohol addiction or alcoholism is also quite similar to alcohol abuse, in that abusing alcohol is both a primary cause and a natural consequence of alcohol addiction. Alcoholism is characterized by your inability to stop consuming alcohol despite the negative consequences versus merely tolerating alcohol use to the point of being encouraged to drink more to get the same buzz as before. It also involves other signs like exceeding self-imposed limits with alcohol and an inability to stop drinking when developing tolerance, which is typically the body’s signal that it’s “tired” of drinking alcohol.

  • What Is Alcohol Dependence? Instead, you’re chasing the buzz because you’ve developed tolerance for drinking alcohol, thus necessitating you to drink more. Your desensitization is your first step towards becoming more alcohol dependent because your body has gotten used to drinking. Alcohol dependence is the worst kind of addiction even though you can be addicted to alcohol without being dependent on it. You’ve become so dependent on alcohol that detoxifying it from your body requires medical assistance.

    Alcohol dependence happens when you’ve developed alcohol tolerance, such that a drink or two isn’t enough to affect you anymore. More importantly, if you stop drinking you start experiencing side effects or alcohol withdrawal symptoms from the act. You’re now dependent on alcohol to function properly or feel normal. You need medical detox once you suffer from withdrawal symptoms because they can be quite life-threatening. They’re most apparent among the heaviest of drinkers. Quitting or drastically cutting their intake can lead to various symptoms that could turn deadly.

    What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction versus Dependence?

alcoholism, alcohol addiction and people concept - male alcoholic drinking brandy at home

When you’re addicted to alcohol in a psychological level even though your body has no need for an alcoholic drink, your brain will still believe it needs that drink and will stop at nothing to get that next fix. At this level, it’s about the same as process addiction like gambling and sex addiction even though no physical dependence of the substance happens. Alcoholism at this stage is also known as a signal addiction.

The symptoms of alcohol addiction include the following.

  • Drinking alone or in secrecy
  • Feeling a hangover when not drinking
  • Inability to stop drinking once you’ve started
  • Exhibiting signs of irritability and extreme mood swings
  • Choosing drinking over other responsibilities and obligations
  • Experiencing temporary blackouts or short-term memory loss
  • Becoming isolated and distant from friends and family members
  • Changing appearance and group of acquaintances you hang out with
  • Making excuses for drinking such as to relax, deal with stress or feel normal
  • Continuing to drink despite social, psychological, and physical consequences

As your signal addiction to alcohol worsens, tolerance and withdrawal might happen. This means you need more and more alcohol to achieve the same drunkenness or inebriation as before. If you don’t feel “normal” without having a drink on hand to consume or if you’re consuming drinks at odd times of the day, then you might be alcohol dependent, which is also known as having a process addiction.

The symptoms of alcohol dependence include the following.

  • Can’t think of anything else but alcohol
  • Drinking more and longer than you plan to
  • Attempts to cut back or stop has failed time and again
  • Found out you have withdrawal symptoms when the buzz wore off
  • Most of your time is spent drinking, being sick, or having a hangover
  • Needing to drink more than before to get the buzz you used to get for fewer drinks
  • Continued drinking even though it has caused problems for your relationships or yourself
  • Issues with family, school, or work because of your bad habit or sickness after drinking alcohol
  • Cutting back or quitting activities that used to be important to you in favor of alcohol consumption
  • Finding yourself in situations while drinking or after drinking that you might get hurt, like driving or questionable stunts
  • Drinking alcohol even though it causes you to have memory blackouts, worse health than before, or depression and anxiety

Process addiction is further characterized by withdrawal symptoms or symptoms that occur for weeks whenever you don’t drink alcohol for the short length of time of a day or so. Some of these withdrawal symptoms can get deadly, so you really must check yourself into a rehab center or hospital if you’re planning to quit drinking alcohol and you’re suffering from this type of addiction.

The withdrawal symptoms of severe alcoholism include the following.

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness
  • Depression
  • Racing heart
  • Loss of appetite
  • Serious seizures
  • Severe confusion
  • Delirium tremens
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Feeling, seeing, or hearing things that aren’t there

Delirium tremens in particular has a death rate of 1-5 percent. It’s a condition that’s characterized by fever, rapid heartbeat, and confusion. For those who are chronic heavy drinkers who are dependent on alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms are so medically serious that medical intervention and detoxification with doctor monitoring is called for once they decide to quit alcohol.

How Much Is Too Much Alcohol?

How much is too much alcohol consumption? How can you maintain the daily commercial reminder of “drink moderately” when you feel like you have to drink in a social situation? First and foremost, you should be aware that the average serving of alcohol includes the following.

  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 8-9 ounces of malt liquor
  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 2-3 ounces of cordial, liqueur, or aperitif
  • 3-4 ounces of fortified wine (such as sherry or port)
  • 1.5 ounces of brandy, cognac, or 80-proof distilled spirits

Watch out because many places like clubs and bars over-serve their drinks. It’s easy to over-drink, especially if you’re at home and your beer or wine glasses are oversized. With that in mind, developing alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction isn’t just about how much alcohol you consume. It’s also about the following.

  • How often you drink
  • What happens when you cut back on drinking
  • What the effects of drinking are to you specifically

What Are the Major Signs of Alcohol Dependence

There are two major signs of full-blown alcoholism bordering on alcohol dependence. They include the following:

  • Tolerance: Raising your tolerance of alcohol is the first warning sign of alcoholism. It’s the signal that your signal or psychological addiction for alcohol has turned into full-blown alcohol dependence. Do you drink a lot more than you used to? Are you doing it because the amount of drinks that used to give you a buzz isn’t enough to affect you anymore?

    These are signs that you’re building tolerance to alcohol, which is an early warning sign of alcohol dependence or full-blown alcohol addiction. Over time, you need more alcohol to feel the same effects as you’ve become more and more desensitized to its effects. You’d think this is the perfect time to quit, but tolerance is usually paired up with withdrawal symptoms.

  • Withdrawal Symptoms: The second major warning sign of alcohol dependence is withdrawal symptoms. They can be as mild as needing a drink to steady your shakiness in the morning to outright delirium tremens, which can be life-threatening. Drinking to relieve various withdrawal symptoms is a huge red flag that you’re alcohol dependent. You’re not supposed to have these symptoms normally.

    When you’re a heavy drinker, your body can get used to alcohol to the point of getting withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking for about a day or less. Severe cases of alcohol withdrawal involve things like agitation, fever, seizures, confusion, and hallucination. You might need to talk to your doctor or enter a rehab facility in order to properly quit drinking at this point.

    What Are the Other Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence?

Finally, here are the other signs and symptoms that you’re addicted to alcohol in both physical and mental levels.

  • Lost Control of Drinking: When you’ve lost control of your drinking to the point that you tend to over-drink, then you might be an alcoholic. This is when you drink more alcohol than you intended to and for longer than you wanted, despite telling yourself to stop.
  • You Can’t Quit Drinking: You’ve passed mere signal addiction and graduated to process addiction if willpower or discipline alone isn’t enough to get you to reduce or stop drinking. Your persistent desire to cut down your drinking has resulted in countless unsuccessful attempts to quit or reduce your consumption.
  • You’ve Given Up on Other Activities for Alcohol: You’ve replaced activities you used to enjoy like painting, videogames, watching Netflix, or working on the betterment of your career, with simply drowning your sorrows away with the bottle. You might not even be using alcohol for the sake of coping with stress yet you still can’t help drinking. Alcoholism is now your priority.
  • Drinking Is Causing You Problems But You Still Won’t Quit: If you’ve lost your job, gotten into a vehicular accident, or became estranged with your family because of alcohol but you still can’t quit, then you’ve become alcohol dependent. It’s not just a mental obsession any longer. Even if it makes your depression worse, your body is still compelling you to keep drinking regardless, much to your chagrin.

In a Nutshell

Alcohol abuse is abusive drinking or a drinking pattern of excessive drinking that can lead to you failing to fulfill your responsibilities at home, work or school. This also includes drinking in situations where it’s physically hazardous, like when driving a vehicle or operating heavy machinery. Abuse of alcohol can lead to both alcohol addiction and alcohol dependence. Alcohol addiction can occur psychologically or as a signal addiction, which can then progress to physical addiction (also known as alcohol dependence or process addiction).

Alcohol dependence is characterized tolerance to alcohol, such that you need to drink more in order to get more of a buzz. Also, when you stop drinking for a day or so you suffer from withdrawal symptoms that push you to consume more alcohol to feel “normal” once again. There’s also having unsuccessful attempts at cutting down or quitting drinking altogether, losing control of alcohol use, and consistently drinking more for longer than you intend. In short, alcohol addiction is about mental obsession and alcohol dependence is about physical compulsion.

Travel to Clarity Rehab Now and Treat Your Alcoholism and Dependence

The effects of alcoholism, alcohol dependence, and alcohol abuse can be devastating to both your health as well as your relationships with friends and family. If you feel like everyone around you has abandoned you, stay strong and keep your hope alive. There is a proven way out of the sinking black hole that is addiction and despair. Call Clarity Rehab right now in order to start your road to healing through the help of counselors who are ex-addicts themselves along with experienced doctors and therapists.

You can get good quotes and package deals most suitable to your budget when it comes to either emergency help or long-term rehab service for drug and alcohol addiction. They’re available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

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