The Differences between Addiction and Alcoholism

There exists a great deal of unnecessary separation between the conditions of drug addiction and alcoholism. This distinction has been made for decades, spawning completely different groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous often vying for the same members. And while up until recently there was a clear distinction made in this regard at most treatment centers, today many experts in the field believe that there may not be any difference at all between addiction and alcoholism. In fact, alcoholism can really be (and often is) classified simply as “addiction,” because in reality the physiological and emotional traits and behaviors associated with the use of alcohol can also be associated with any other substance, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and ecstasy.

In order to determine if there is any difference between addiction and alcoholism, it is necessary to examine the three most critical components of these diseases:

1.) How addiction forms versus how alcoholism forms
2.) The symptoms and behaviors of addiction versus alcoholism
3.) Treatment for addiction versus treatment for alcoholism

#1A: How Addiction Forms

Addiction forms when a person uses a chemical substance to achieve an altered state of consciousness repeatedly. Over time, tolerance to the substance develops as the body seeks to mitigate its effects. With continued use physical dependence and addiction will occur, resulting in severe consequences.

#1B: How Alcoholism Forms

Alcoholism forms in exactly the same way as addiction. In fact, in the preceding paragraph you may simply replace each instance of the word “addiction” with the word “alcoholism,” and each use of the word “drug” or “substance” with “alcohol,” and the passage will retain its integrity. The fact of the matter is that alcohol is just another one of many substances to abuse.

#2A: The Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Addiction is indentified based on a set of 3 general behaviors rather than a set of “symptoms.”

*Loss of Control: People who are addicted lose control over how much of a substance they have used, what substances they used and how long ago, whether they used too much or not enough, and whether or not they should mix substances.

*Obsession: Addicted individuals tend to obsess about using. They’ll constantly think about using, plan when to use next, who to use with, how to get more of the drug, how to hide their drug use, and generally base their entire lives around procuring, using or glorifying the drug.

*Continuation despite Consequences: Despite the potential loss of family, friends, career, money or even personal freedom, an addict will continue using.

#2B: All of the above apply to alcoholism. There is no difference in these indentifying characteristics between alcoholics and drug addicts.

#3A: Treatment for Addiction

There are three general types of treatment for drug addiction or substance abuse:

*Residential Inpatient Treatment- Most intense type of treatment where clients live and receive therapy in the same supervised facility.
*Outpatient Treatment- An intermediate level of treatment where therapy is provided during the day and clean and sober living accommodations are given at night.

*Partial Hospitalization or Day/Night Treatment- A transitional level of treatment that prepares the individual to return to society.

#3B: The exact programs detailed above are the only types of programs available for people who suffer from alcoholism. In fact, most modern inpatient or outpatient treatment centers do not treat alcoholism or drug addiction any differently. The reason? There is no difference.

To find out how you can get help for even the most severe substance abuse or alcohol problem, pick up the phone for a confidential consultation right now.

About The Contributor

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers

The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More

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