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Clinical Psychology Associates of NorthCentral Florida

2121 NW 40th Terrace Suite B,Gainesville, FL32605  CPANCF.COM      (352) 336-2888

What is the Difference Between Alcohol or Drug Abuse and Dependence?

by Kay Hurlock, Psy.D.*

Alcohol or drug abuse is used to describe frequent use that leads to interference or problems in work, school, home, health, interpersonal or legal involvement.  An individual may put themselves in harms way without regard for their safety.  Harmful use may result in physical or psychological damage.  

Those who meet the defintion of alcohol or drug dependence meet all of the criteria of abuse, but the will also exhibit some or all of the following:

·       Tolerance – having to drink increasing amounts to achieve the previous desired effect

·       Noticeable diminished effect when using the same amount as previously used

·       Withdrawal symptoms - physical symptoms after going a short period without drinking

·       Using alcohol or drugs to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms – such as “hair of the dog” – drinking to cure a hangover

·       Previous attempts to cut down or stop with little or no success

·       A significant amount of time is spent in trying to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover form its effects

·       “Seeking behavior” - only going to events that will be conducive to drinking or using drugs

·       Knowledge of the compulsion to drink or use, with or without admitting it to others

·       Relapse - returning to drinking or using after a period of abstinence

Briefer interventions incorporating assessment, education, cognitive-behavioral techniques, and stress management can be appropriate for alcohol or drug abuse, depending on risks and possible consequences involved.  Sometimes more intensive intervention including groups, formal substance or alcohol treatment, AA/NA and treatment of other conditions which may co-occur may be necessary. In addition to these more intensive intervention, individuals who have become dependent may require medical detoxification, family or marital involvement in treatment, and other rehabilitation strategies.

If you wonder if you may be suffering and alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence problem, consult with a licensed psychologist experienced in dealing with alcohol and addictions.  For more information, you may wish to examine some questions and bring the responses to a psychologist, your family physician or other health professional.

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Clinical Psychology Associates of NorthCentral Florida   (352) 336-2888

Dedicated to providing quality psychological assessment, consultation, & treatment services to the NorthCentral Florida Community.

*Kay Hurlock, Psy.D. wrote this article while a psychology resident with Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida. She is now in private practice as a licensed psychologist in Humble, Texas.

Contact:  Kay Brumbaugh, Psy.D., W. Lake Houston Suite 310 , Humble, TX, 77346  Ph. (832) 800-9558  Website:  

Readings or products below are not endorsed by the author of this article or by CPANCF  All decisions about assessment and treatment should be made in consultation with a licensed professional.


Related articles:  Alcohol and Substance Abuse in the United States: Evermore Grave 

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