Alcohol abuse can effectively range across a whole spectrum of behaviours and individuals, and can refer to a wide spectrum of dysfunctional or antisocial types of activity.
Alcohol abuse can also be used as a term for people who are alcoholics, where the term alcoholic is seen as somewhat judgement or a bit too intense or heavy-handed for people to accept.
The term alcohol abuse is normally taken to mean an assessment of someone who uses too much alcohol to the point where it has an impaired affect on their judgement or character, and can potentially lead them into awkward, embarrassing or dangerous situations that they would not otherwise let themselves get into.
This does not necessarily mean they are an alcoholic, but it does bring up the question of why they are letting themselves use alcohol to get into situations that can be detrimental to them, their health or the well-being of their family.
People use alcohol for many different reasons, and the term alcohol abuse is one that can be applied to people who would normally consider themselves social or moderate drinkers. It may be that in certain situations they lose control, or feel they are losing control of their lives and alcohol gives them some sense of relief or management of that situation.
It is important to note that there is a difference between someone who is abusing alcohol, someone who is a heavy drinker and someone who is an alcoholic. The distinctions may be fairly meaningless to those suffering the effects of someone else drinking, but there are important because they happen to be true.
Understanding who or what an alcoholic is can often be a hugely complex and difficult task, but is quite often recognised by those closest to them as being someone who is completely out of control with alcohol and unable to stop, and can often in complete denial of the fact that have a problem.
Someone who is a heavy drinker and is abusing alcohol as well may well have some of the same outward behaviours and characteristics as those of an alcoholic. The main difference is that they will be able to stop, albeit with a high degree of difficulty, if the need arises.
Someone who abuses alcohol and does not fit into either of the above categories may well simply need a jolt of some sort to make them realise what they are doing. In any event if an individual is using alcohol to a point that is detrimental to them or those closest to them, then the term alcohol abuse can mostly be applied, and the proper type of help sort and hopefully obtained.