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In 2022, you don’t hear the term ‘alcoholic’ being used in formal settings much anymore – but the general definition of ‘alcoholic’ is somebody with an alcohol problem.

But what exactly does alcoholic mean – excessive drinking? Binge drinking? Alcohol misuse? Or simply being addicted to alcohol? And why don’t medical professionals use the term ‘alcoholic’ or ‘alcoholism’?

Read on to learn more about alcohol addiction, including alcohol abuse and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. We’ll also talk about how alcoholics can get help for their addiction, and what to expect from the alcohol rehab process.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

You may have heard the terms ‘alcoholic’, ‘alcoholism’, ‘alcohol addiction’, and ‘alcohol dependence’. In 2022, most medical professionals will avoid these terms as they are considered harmful – they can stigmatise those with alcohol use disorder.

Instead, professionals will use the term ‘alcohol use disorder’ to describe the above terms. Alcohol use disorder, frequently shortened to AUD, can vary in severity – ranging from mild to moderate to severe.

Alcohol addiction is the more severe form of addiction and can have many negative and lasting health consequences.

AUD is characterised by the urge to drink alcohol, despite the negative effects that may occur – for example, relationship and financial issues, or poor health. It involves the lack of control over alcohol consumption.

For example, people with AUD may feel unable to control how much they drink, how often they drink, when they start drinking or stop drinking, or even what they drink.

It is a chronic and relapsing brain disorder that can affect all aspects of a person’s life. Over 14 million adults had AUD in 2019 – and over 414,000 young people aged between 12-17 had alcohol use disorder.

Whether it be an addiction to alcohol, alcohol abuse and/or binge drinking, or alcohol dependence, it’s important to seek help for your alcohol problem. At Help4Addiction, we can find the right rehab centre for you.

In England, there are roughly 700,000 people who are dependent on alcohol. This is the same as around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 30 women showing signs of alcohol dependence. Read on to learn more about alcohol addiction and alcohol abuse.

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Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction is a form of AUD – it can affect all areas of your life, from your finances and relationships to your mental and physical health.

People with alcohol addiction will have a physical dependence on alcohol – and find it hard to control their alcohol use or stop drinking.

People with alcohol addiction may wish to stop drinking, but find it difficult to – or end up relapsing. Alcohol addiction is not the same as alcohol abuse – however, the two are linked: both being forms of alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol Abuse

Binge drinking is a dangerous drinking habit that is a form of alcohol abuse – it not only damages your health in the long term, but excessive alcohol consumption can also have dangerous short-term effects.

When drinking alcohol, it’s important to follow the drinking limit recommendations. The NHS and the UK Government recommend that you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, within the span of three days. This equates to around six medium glasses of wine, or six 4% pints of cider or beer.

Following these guidelines can lower the risk of developing alcohol-related health problems. However, it’s important to note that no level of drinking is considered 100% safe. When drinking alcohol, try to remain mindful, and drink in moderation.

People who abuse alcohol may only drink alcohol once or twice a week – however, they may consume a dangerous amount of alcohol during this time, so their blood alcohol concentration/ level is unusually high.

This can put you at a higher risk of developing physical health problems, both in the short term and the long term.

Alcohol abuse and binge drinking can also increase the chance of you developing alcohol poisoning – also known as an alcohol overdose.

This should be considered a medical emergency and can be extremely dangerous – sometimes even fatal.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are linked – although they are not the same thing, they are both forms of alcohol use disorder.

Abusing alcohol or drinking too much alcohol can lead to alcohol addiction – and most people with alcohol addiction will abuse alcohol.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

If you have a physical dependence on alcohol, then you’ll likely experience uncomfortable and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if you were to stop drinking or lower the amount you typically drink.

As well as physical withdrawal symptoms, you may also experience mental withdrawal symptoms/ psychological withdrawal symptoms such as periods of depression or anxiety.

There are several reasons why you may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking alcohol. One of these reasons is because of the GABA effects – GABA is a neurotransmitter.

Alcohol can leave you feeling relaxed and calm as it increases the GABA effects – however, alcohol also decreases glutamate levels, lowering your excitability levels.

If you drink lots of alcohol, over time your body can get used to these changes. This means that your body will produce less GABA and more glutamate, affecting your mood and mental health.

This is why quitting alcohol cold turkey can be dangerous. Your body will continue producing less GABA and more glutamate, leaving you feeling shaky, restless, anxious, and hyperactive.

Withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person – and can range in severity from mild to severe. The general rule of thumb is that the worse the addiction, the worse the withdrawal symptoms will be.

Some common physical withdrawal symptoms you may experience include:

As well as physical withdrawal symptoms, you may also experience psychological withdrawal symptoms/ mental withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking or lower the amount you usually drink.

Some common psychological withdrawal symptoms include:

The withdrawal symptoms you experience may come on gradually and worsen over time – typically within the span of a few days. However, everybody’s experiences are different, with many factors affecting the withdrawal process.

With more severe addictions, a medical detox/ medically supervised detox may be recommended. This means that you’ll detox and undergo alcohol withdrawal with medical supervision by medical professionals.

This can help to alleviate some of the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. You may also be given detox medication, which can ease the process for you.

So, What is an Alcoholic?

People with alcohol use disorder may be informally referred to as an alcoholic – however, medical professionals avoid the term as it can stigmatise those with addiction.

Alcoholism is now referred to as alcohol use disorder – which is a condition characterised by the desire ur physical urge to drink alcohol despite the negative impact it can have.

The terms ‘alcoholic’ and ‘alcoholism’ are considered negative terms – and are seen as unhelpful labels. Instead, health professionals use the term ‘alcohol use disorder’.

‘Alcoholic’ is a pejorative term that describes somebody that has an addiction to alcohol or has unhealthy drinking habits – for example, lack of control over their drinking.

Help for Alcohol Use Disorder

If you think you are an alcoholic, or a loved one may be suffering from alcoholism, getting help is the best thing you can do.

Alcohol-related problems can be debilitating, and heavy drinking, substance abuse, and alcohol use disorders can take their toll on your wellbeing – so it’s important to address the problem sooner rather than later.

Taking the first step toward treatment can feel daunting – especially if you don’t know what to expect. However, the process is sure to feel a lot less scary if you know what to expect.

There are different types of rehab out there, from private rehab treatment to NHS-operated rehab. The three key forms of rehab include outpatient rehab, inpatient rehab, and quasi-residential rehab.

Outpatient rehab involves attending treatment sessions as an outpatient and travelling from your home to a facility to receive treatment. Inpatient rehab, also known as residential rehab, involves living in a residential facility throughout the treatment process.

You’ll attend treatment sessions at the facility you’re temporarily living in. Many people prefer inpatient rehab/ residential rehab as it removes some of the temptations that were present in their everyday lives.

Quasi-residential rehab treatment essentially combines inpatient and outpatient rehab. You’ll temporarily live in a residential rehab facility, but attend some of your sessions at another facility.

Some people prefer this form of treatment as it can break up the day a bit more and offer something a little different.

One size certainly doesn’t fit all when it comes to addiction treatment – and different centres offer different facilities and treatment plans. However, the rehab process generally looks like this – detox, therapy, and aftercare.


The detoxification process aims at dealing with the physical aspects of addiction. During the first stage of rehab, you’ll have no access to alcohol so your body can free itself from the substance.

This is the stage where you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms, as discussed in the ‘Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms’ section.

The withdrawal symptoms you experience can vary from person to person, as can the length of time it takes to detox. Factors such as your height, weight, addiction history and alcohol tolerance can impact how long it takes for you to physically withdraw from alcohol.


Upon successfully detoxing from alcohol, you can move on to the next stage of alcohol addiction treatment – therapy.

As the detox process aims at dealing with physical addiction, therapy aims to manage the behavioural, social, and psychological aspects of addiction.

Different rehab centres offer different facilities and therapy options – however, the majority of rehab centres will offer at least two of the following:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Counselling

Some people find that private rehab centres offer a wider range of therapies – for example, holistic therapies such as art therapy, sports therapy, or mindfulness and meditation.

Therapy can not only treat symptoms of existing mental disorders such as depression and anxiety but can be effective at treating addiction. Therapy aims at not only promoting your well-being but improving your strength and confidence.

During or after receiving therapy for addiction, you may learn lots about yourself and your addiction – for example, your addiction triggers or any root causes of your addiction.


Treatment doesn’t have to end once you leave the rehab facility. The recovery process isn’t linear, and you’re sure to be met with obstacles along the way.

However, secondary treatment or aftercare aims at streamlining the recovery process, and the transition from rehab to recovery.

Aftercare can provide you support throughout your recovery and can help to prevent relapse. Some forms of secondary treatment include group therapy, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and counselling.

Contact our team today to learn more about alcohol rehab, and alcohol addiction, and to stop drinking and start your recovery journey.

We don’t just help those with alcohol abuse and alcoholism – we can also help with drug use – if you’re addicted to prescription drugs or illicit drugs, we can find the right drug rehab for you.

There is help out there for you if you have an alcohol addiction or drug addiction – call us today to get the ball rolling.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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