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When Does Alcohol Use Become Alcohol Abuse?

There’s a thin line between alcohol use and abuse. Often, alcohol use and abuse are misinterpreted to mean the same thing. You might have a drink on a night out with your friends or while watching TV. This constitutes alcohol use. But when you can’t stop drinking and start making excuses for your behavior, it is an abuse.

Moderate alcohol drinking isn’t terrible for most adults. However, when consumption gets out of order, you may find yourself on a path of dependence. Not only is this dangerous to your health, but your livelihood is also affected. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 17 million American adults have alcohol use disorders. This alcoholism didn’t start overnight. It is the result of long-term alcohol misuse. 

One way to determine if you have become an alcoholic is by knowing the signs of alcohol abuse. Knowing the signs will help you in seeking medical assistance before it becomes an addiction. This post will define alcohol abuse and answer the question, “When does alcohol use become alcohol abuse.”

Contact DetoxLA today to learn more about how our Los Angeles drug and alcohol detox center can help you overcome addiction.

What’s Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is the excessive consumption of alcohol in a way that impacts the person’s physical, mental, and social well-being. It involves drinking in a harmful manner that may result in physical and mental dependence.

Alcohol abuse is not the same as alcohol dependence. While alcohol abuse may lead to addiction over consequently, the two terms represent specific stages of alcohol-related problems.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

What constitutes Alcohol Abuse? Alcohol abuse has particular characteristics. Some of the signs include:

  • Binge drinking: Consistently taking large amounts of alcohol and surpassing the recommended limits is a sign of alcohol abuse.
  •  Loss of control: If you can’t control or stop drinking after the first sip, you have alcohol abuse. This often leads to binge drinking problems.
  •  Negative interference in daily life: Alcohol abuse may impact your work, school, or home functions. It may also affect your relationship and financial and personal obligations.
  • Continued use despite adverse effects: Despite experiencing negative consequences on various aspects of your life, individuals may continue to drink excessively.
  • Health issues: Continued and excessive drinking can cause various physical and mental health problems, such as liver disease, heart issues, depression, anxiety, or alcohol addiction.
  • Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms: When alcohol use becomes alcohol abuse, the person develops tolerance and experiences withdrawal symptoms. The individual will need larger amounts of alcohol to attain the desired effect. When they attempt to quit the habit, they experience withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors and headaches.


Other signs include drinking to cope with emotional problems, legal problems, and lying to maintain your drinking habit. Not drinking daily doesn’t mean you don’t have an alcohol use disorder. If you only binge drink on weekends or certain days, it is still an abuse that could lead to addiction.

Alcohol abuse can affect an individual’s life and health gravely. Therefore, seeking professional help is essential if you have this issue.

When Does Alcohol Use Become Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol use becomes alcohol abuse when a person’s drinking patterns take a toll on their physical and mental health, relationships, work, school, and overall functioning. Several indicators, such as the ones mentioned here, pinpoint that an individual may be transitioning to alcohol abuse.

As mentioned, one doesn’t become an alcoholic overnight. They undergo different stages before finally ending up as an addict.

The first stage is binge drinking. It is also called the experimental stage because young adults want to test their limits and try different alcohol. While these experimental drinkers may not drink regularly, they consume incredibly large amounts in one go. How do you know if you have taken beyond the recommended quantity?

For men, drinking five or more in two hours is binge drinking. For women, it’s four or more. Binge drinking isn’t safe, even if you do it occasionally. You could end up abusing it.

The second stage is increased drinking. Drinkers abandon the experimental stage when they start to consume alcohol more frequently. Instead of drinking on specific days or special events, they drink more constantly. Drinkers increase their drinking rate to combat loneliness, alleviate stress, or consume out of boredom. As drinking continues, you become increasingly dependent on alcohol and are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism.

The next stage is problem drinking. Problem drinking arises due to uncontrollable drinking behavior. Drinking becomes a habit, and resisting the urge becomes more complex every day. After a while, you start to experience the effect of drinking.

You may become depressed, develop insomnia, or feel sick from drinking too much. You may have decreased social activity and act erratically sometimes. However, you may crave more because the euphoria supersedes any negative effect. Many abusers at this stage are more likely to experience legal troubles.

The fourth stage is dependence. It is the point where you have become attached to alcohol so much that it has become part of your routine. You acknowledge the effects, but you have no control over your consumption. Dependence also means you have become more tolerant of alcohol.

The final stage is addiction. It is the point where drinking is at its peak. You no longer drink for enjoyment but need to drink alcohol. People with alcohol addiction crave the substance frequently and have an insatiable appetite.

Treating Alcohol Abuse

A combination of different approaches, such as therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes, can treat alcohol abuse. Each treatment is peculiar, according to the individual’s needs and the severity of the abuse. Below are ways to treat alcoholism: 

You can’t reverse the damage of alcohol abuse. However, you can seek professional help to alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. If you or someone you know has alcohol abuse problems, consult with a healthcare specialist at DetoxLA. Our professionals will help you to determine the most appropriate course of action based on specific circumstances and needs.