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4 Key Differences Between the Heavy Drinker/User and the Alcoholic/Addict

By Cheryl Steinberg

It can be quite difficult to determine the key differences between the heavy drinker/user and the alcoholic/addict because the look so similar. In fact, there are many more similarities than differences, between the two categories of substance abusers. But, here goes…here are the 4 key differences between the heavy drinker/user and the alcoholic/addict.

#1 Motivations

A problem drinker is usually motivated to drink because of certain reason. Likewise, the problem drug user is motivated to use for similar reasons. These include:

  • You need alcohol and other drugs to feel comfortable in social situations.
  • You need alcohol and other drugs to feel good about yourself.
  • You need alcohol and other drugs to feel happy.
  • You need alcohol and other drugs to have a good time.
  • You need alcohol and other drugs to escape from your problems or worries.
  • You need alcohol and other drugs to feel important or to inflate your ego.

One of the key differences between the heavy drinker/user and the alcoholic/addict in this case though is that, the true alcoholic/ addict may have started out drinking or using drugs for these reasons but, eventually none of these mattered anymore. The addiction was really at the root of the problem. Take away any or all of these motivations and the alcoholic/addict will still drink or use.

#2 Consequences

Another similarity between the heavy drinker/user and the alcoholic/addict is that each will continue to drink or use despite negative consequences, such as:

  • The substance abuse will cause you to miss class or work.
  • The substance abuse will cause you to avoid family and friends or become isolated because you want to drink alone.
  • The substance abuse will cause you to feel depressed.
  • The substance abuse will cause you to become angry or violent.
  • The substance abuse will cause you to spend money that you don’t have, creating financial problems.
  • The substance abuse will cause you to take risks with your life or the lives of others.
  • The substance abuse will cause you to have unsafe sex with strangers.
  • The substance abuse will cause you to lose friends or may cause you to ditch your old friends for new friends who drink/use regularly.
  • The substance abuse will cause you to have blackouts.
  • The substance abuse will cause you to drive drunk/high.
  • The substance abuse will cause you to get arrested due to your behavior.

The key difference between the heavy drinker/user and the alcoholic/addict when it comes to negative consequences is that the problem drinker/user is able to up and quit when faced with enough motivation to do so while the real-deal alcoholic/addict simply cannot, even if they genuinely want to.

#3 Denial

In both situations, the problem drinker/user and the alcoholic/addict, there is a level of denial that comes with the territory. This can be very frustrating for the family members and other loved ones because they can see what is going on long before the person who uses and struggles with substance abuse. When confronted about their drinking and drug using, the person will most likely become defensive, argumentative, and even angry. They may avoid that person thereafter, not wanting to have that conversation in the future.

The difference in the true alcoholic/addict is that they will defend their addiction fiercely. They will use many tactics such as justification, manipulation, minimization, and flat-out lying about their drinking and drugging. They will be unable to see the true nature of their problem until they are truly ready to see it. And that happens when they are completely miserable; what’s often referred to as being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

#4 Physical Dependence

Lastly, an area of both similarity and difference between the hard drinker/user and alcoholic/addict is that of physical dependence. In the case of the problem drinker/user, they do not necessarily become dependent on the substance. What that means is that they can go days without drinking or using without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

In the case of the true blue alcoholic/addict, withdrawal symptoms are common territory. If they do not drink or use first thing when they wake up, they will begin to experience withdrawals. This goes for most substances and especially alcohol, benzos, and opiates.

Now, physical dependence is not specifically a sign of addiction. It can be an aspect of problem use, too. If you are unsure whether you have a substance abuse problem or addiction, or whether a loved one of yours is struggling with a real addiction, you can call us toll-free at 1-800-951-6135 to speak directly with an Addiction Specialist. We are available around the clock to answer your questions.

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