Difference between Alcoholics and Addicts

Key difference: Alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. Addicts are addicted to a substance, which can be anything, including alcohol.

An addict is a person who is addicted to a substance. The addiction is a chemical dependence upon the substance. An addict cannot remain away from the substance for a considerable period. If he does, he develops withdrawal symptoms, which can range from craving the substance to diarrhea, shaking, nausea, etc. This worsens to a point where the person cannot live without consuming the substance. If a person exhibits this behavior, then he is an addict.

According to Merriam Webster dictionary, addiction is defined as, “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.”

The American Society of Addiction Medicine’s definition of addiction identifies five other aspects of addiction: inability to abstain consistently, impairment of behavioral control, cravings, diminished recognition of significant problems, and dysfunctional emotion responses.

Alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. They are addicts; the only difference is that their addiction is to alcohol, while addicts can be addicted to any kind of substance. This may include alcohol, narcotics, prescription drugs, women, cigarettes, food, gaming, television, shopping, etc.

Alcoholics exhibit the same symptoms as any other addict. Their need for the addiction is the same, as are their withdrawal symptoms. 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. Basically, alcoholics are synonymous with any other kind of addicts.

Dr. John Sharp, an addiction-focused psychiatrist who specializes in the integration of mood disorders and addictions, told The Fix that, “Alcoholism shows up like all addictions do. The only difference is that alcohol is more prevalent. It’s the most widely used drug in the world, and it’s a normal part of many cultures. But people who are vulnerable to addiction run into trouble with it in the same way they would run into trouble with substances that they might need to reach out for more, like illegal drugs which aren’t as widely available.”

Dr. Sharp continues, “There are many alcoholics who become addicted to other substances, and there are a lot of people who are addicted to drugs and when they stop the drugs, they become addicted to alcohol.”

According to Recovery First, addiction is identified based on a set of 3 general behaviors:

  • 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.

Most addicts and alcoholics know that they are addicted to the substance, but they can not turn away from that act or substance even if they want to. During an addiction, a person is willing to go to great lengths in order to consume that substance. Once an addict or alcoholic starts, it becomes almost impossible to stop or to control the using as the compulsion to continue is just too strong. An addict, including an alcoholic losses the power to choose to stop, there is no option. 

Image Courtesy: inthecapital.com, alcoholrehabadvice.com

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