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The 5 Types of Alcoholics

Alcoholism is a complex disease that is difficult to understand fully. When you hear the word “alcoholic,” it may conjure a specific image in your brain based on stereotypes commonly associated with alcohol abuse and addiction. However, things aren’t so cut and dry. Alcohol addiction affects people differently and there are many types of alcoholics.

To better understand alcoholism and the various ways it manifests, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), collected data from nearly 1,500 survey respondents who met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence. The survey also included responses from individuals in treatment as well as those not seeking treatment.

This research helped scientists identify several different types of alcoholics. Understanding these categories provides more insight into alcohol addiction and the effective treatment options for people suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Related post: Is Addiction Genetic?

Types of Alcoholics

The researchers at the NIAAA identified five alcoholic subtypes with their research.2 Each subtype is based on the respondents’:

  • Family history of alcoholism
  • Their current age
  • The age they started drinking
  • The patterns of symptoms of alcohol abuse and dependence
  • The presence of any other substance abuse or mental health conditions.

We’ll explain the results of their research findings below.

Young adult alcoholics

Young adult alcoholics are the biggest subtype of alcoholics in the United States. These drinkers are about 24 years old, and their alcohol dependence started relatively early, around the age of 19. Young adult alcoholics also have low rates of co-occurring substance abuse and mental disorders and low rates of family alcoholism. They tend to drink alcohol less frequently than the other subtypes. However, binge drinking is more prevalent among this group. According to the study, they have five or more alcoholic beverages on 73% of the days that they drink.

Young adult alcoholics don’t typically seek out help for their drinking behaviors. When they do, it’s more frequently through 12-Step groups rather than professional addiction treatment centers.

Young antisocial alcoholics

This subtype of alcoholics is relatively young, about 26 to 27 years old, with 75 percent being male. They began drinking the earliest of all five types, at around 15 years-old, with the average age of dependency starting at age 18. More than half of young antisocial alcoholics come from families with alcoholism, and about half have been diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. People with this disorder are more likely to be impulsive, lack remorse, engage in criminal behavior, have legal problems, and manipulate others.3 Many individuals in this subtype also have major depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

Additionally, young antisocial alcoholics have a high probability of having other substance use disorders. About three-quarters of them are regular smokers, and 66 percent meet the marijuana abuse/dependence criteria. Many also have a high probability of cocaine use disorder and opioid use disorder.

About one-third of young antisocial alcoholics seek treatment for alcohol addiction. They tend to go to self-help groups, specialty treatment programs, detox programs, and treatment with individual health care providers.

Functional alcoholics

The functional alcoholic subtype accounts for about 19% of alcoholics and includes individuals in their early ‘40s. They start drinking around 18 years old but develop alcohol dependence later in life around the age of 37. This type of alcoholic can balance their personal and professional responsibilities while living with addiction. Often, they don’t seek help for their drinking until they experience significant health problems.

About half of functional alcoholics are married, 62 percent work full-time, and 26 percent have a college degree. On average, they drink alcohol every other day, and they consume five or more drinks on an average of 98 of those drinking days. About 31 percent of functional alcoholics have a family member with alcohol use disorder. Although they have low rates of anxiety disorders, they have about a 24 percent probability of having major depression.

About 17 percent of functional alcoholics have ever sought help for their alcohol dependence. They typically participate in 12-Step groups or are treated by private healthcare professionals.

Intermediate familial alcoholics

This subtype accounts for about 19 percent of alcoholics. About 64 percent are male. Generally, this group tends to view drinking heavily as a normal behavior. Intermediate familial alcoholics are about 38 years old and started drinking around the age of 17. Their onset of alcohol dependence occurs around age 32. They have a high likelihood of a family history of addiction.

Nearly half of intermediate familial alcoholics (47 percent) suffer from depression, and other mental health conditions are also fairly common. Examples may include anxiety, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

About 27 percent of intermediate familial alcoholics have ever sought help for their drinking. When they do seek help, most go to self-help groups, specialty treatment programs, detox programs, and private healthcare providers.

Chronic severe alcoholics

This subtype only makes up about 9 percent of alcoholics. Individuals in this group are about 38 years old and initially started drinking around the age of 16. However, for this group, alcohol dependence typically develops at around 29 years old.

These types of drinkers tend to drink heavily almost every day. Not surprisingly, alcohol affects just about every aspect of their life. They have the highest rate of emergency room visits for their drinking, and they’re likely to suffer medical problems due to alcohol abuse.

About 77 percent of chronic severe alcoholics have family members with alcohol dependency. Of the five types of alcoholics discovered in the study, they have the lowest education levels and employment rates of all. They are also likely to be regular smokers and use other substances, including marijuana, cocaine, and opioids.

About 66 percent of chronic severe alcoholics seek treatment for their alcohol dependence. This subtype has the highest attendance rate at self-help groups, specialty rehab, detox, and inpatient programs.

Related post: What Is the Addiction Treatment Process?

Alcohol addiction treatment options for all types of alcoholics

As you can see, there are several different types of alcoholics, and not every person experiences alcohol addiction in the same way. Fortunately, there are many types of treatment for alcoholism. Some of the most common research-based and evidence-based treatment methods include:

  • Medical detox: Before attending a rehab program, many people need to detox first. Treatment professionals may use medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help individuals cope with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. It can also reduce cravings and prevent relapse. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), depending on the individual’s treatment needs, professionals may also recommend MAT treatment alongside ongoing treatment in rehab.4 Medically-assisted detox can set people up for success because it helps them achieve a stable state of sobriety before continuing their treatment in rehab.
  • Residential rehab for alcohol addiction: In residential rehab, clients live onsite at the treatment facility for the duration of their program. Treatment professionals created individualized care plans for each client. Programs include evidence-based treatment methods like cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, individual and group counseling, and 12-Step facilitation therapy. Other holistic methods like art therapy, music therapy, and animal-assisted therapy may also be a part of a rehab program, depending on where you go for treatment.
  • Intensive outpatient rehab: An intensive outpatient program (IOP) offers flexible treatment for addiction that allows clients to attend treatment sessions several times a week at a clinical location or online. Programs also include evidence-based and research-based treatment methods to help people achieve lasting success in sobriety.

The best type of treatment will depend on your treatment needs and individual circumstances. There’s no single solution for alcohol addiction, and treatment is highly individualized. Suppose you’re unsure of the type of care you or a loved one needs. In that case, it’s best to speak with your doctor or an addiction treatment professional at a reputable detox or rehab center like Nova Recovery Center.

Get help for alcoholism today

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder, you should seek help right away. Alcoholism is more common than you think, and you’re not alone. The first step to creating a better life for yourself is getting professional help.

The caring addiction treatment professionals at Nova Recovery Center are here for you. Please call (888) 427-4932 for a fresh start.

References:

  1. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/researchers-identify-alcoholism-subtypes 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2094392/ 
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/antisocial-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353928 
  4. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment 

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