The Ultimate Glossary of Terms About Alcoholism  

Terms About Alcoholism

The Ultimate Glossary of Terms About Alcoholism  

Understanding alcoholism is difficult due to the many ambiguous terms that are often used interchangeably.  For instance, what are the differences between alcoholism, alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, and alcohol use disorder?  Depending on the source of information, any of these terms will be used in reference to alcoholism. Understanding these terms about alcoholism can aid in preventing future alcohol abuse or addiction.

Terms About Alcoholism

Below is a glossary of terms about alcoholism that will prove helpful in understanding the subtle differences between the various stages of alcoholism.


  • Alcohol – The main psychoactive ingredient in alcohol is ethanol (ethyl alcohol).  Alcohol and ethanol can be used interchangeably to describe an alcoholic drink.
  • Alcoholism – Known as alcohol dependency, a person consumes alcohol to an extent that it interferes with mental and physical health and affects all areas of a person’s life.
  • Alcohol Abuse – A person drinks too much on occasion and exhibits risky behavior and poor judgment, but is not dependent on alcohol.
  • Alcohol Addiction – The same as alcohol dependence.  A person qualifies for a diagnosis of alcohol addiction if the following issues appear within a year.  Tolerance, inability to quit, and withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is withheld.
  • Alcohol Dependence – A condition that comprises behavioral, physiological, and cognitive factors, including a strong desire to drink and difficulty controlling alcohol use.  The person will continue drinking despite the consequences. He or she will also prioritize alcohol over other daily responsibilities and activities.
  • Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) – Covers a range of mental health problems such as hazardous and harmful drinking and alcohol dependence, according to the DSM-IV.
  • Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) – A screening test used to determine whether a person is drinking harmful or hazardous amounts of alcohol. May also be used to identify a person who may need further tests for alcohol dependence.
  • Alcoholic Brain Syndrome – A range of disorders due to the effects of alcohol on the brain. Includes acute intoxication, pathological intoxication, DTs, withdrawals, amnesic syndrome, psychotic disorder, and dementia.
  • Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy – A disorder seen in individuals who have a history of hazardous alcohol consumption.  Includes damage to the heart muscle that causes shortness of breath, palpitations, swelling, abdominal distension, atrial fibrillation.
  • Alcoholic Cirrhosis –  Alcoholic liver disease characterized by necrosis of the liver.  Usually occurs after about 10 years of hazardous drinking. Also known as portal cirrhosis or Laennec cirrhosis.  Other liver conditions caused by alcohol are fatty liver disease and hepatitis.
  • Alcoholic Dementia – Progressive or chronic impairment of memory, thinking, comprehension, orientation, learning, and judgment.  Also includes deterioration in social behavior, motivation, and emotional control.

B – Z

  • Binge Drinking – Sessions of heavy drinking that exceeds the recommended units of alcohol per day per session.
  • Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) – The amount of alcohol concentration in the blood.  BAC is recorded in milligrams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.  In the U.S., the BAC of .08 is the legal limit for driving for people over 21 years old.
  • Harmful Drinking – Defined as a pattern of drinking alcohol that causes mental or physical damage.
  • Hazardous Drinking – Defined as a pattern of alcohol consumption that increases the risk of harm, although this is not a diagnostic term.
  • Intoxication – The state of functional impairment due to alcohol consumption.  Many individuals can become intoxicated after ingesting a small amount.
  • Withdrawal –  Symptoms that occur when a heavy drinker suddenly stops drinking alcohol.  Symptoms can include anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability, mood swings, shaking, confusion, headache, sweating, insomnia, and more.  Severe withdrawal can cause fever, seizures, hallucinations, and more.

Most people who have alcohol addiction did not develop the problem in a few weeks.  It is a progressive disorder that gets worse over time. It’s also important to note that a person does not have to display withdrawal symptoms to be diagnosed as having alcohol dependence or addiction. However, once a person develops physical signs of tolerance and withdrawal, their addiction can quickly spiral out of control.

Finding Help for Alcoholism

Learn more about the terms about alcoholism by contacting us at our toll-free number today.  We can also provide valuable information about treatment for alcoholism.


ncbi.nlm.nih.govAlcohol Use Disorders

medlineplus.govAlcohol Withdrawal

niaaa.nih.govDrinking Levels Defined

niaaa.nih.govAlcohol Use Disorder:  A Comparison Between DSM-IV and DSM-5

Leave a Reply