The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has identified five types of alcoholics based on alcohol abuse patterns. Although the term “alcoholic” may bring to mind a particular image, there are different levels of severity and other factors at play, and they may not appear how one expects. These categories can help individuals or their loved ones who have alcohol use disorders better understand this condition and also help rehab centers to treat it more effectively.
The 5 Alcoholic Subtypes
Young Adult Alcoholics
Young adult alcoholics (average age 24) comprise the largest subset of individuals with alcohol use disorders, with nearly one-third (32%) falling into this category. The age group is closely associated with a time in life when many people are attending college. College and university campuses are well-documented as common settings for students and others of similar ages to start binge drinking, which refers to drinking more than four to five alcoholic drinks within a two-hour time frame for women and men.
For many people, being in an environment where excessive drinking is common can support the notion that this behavior is relatively normal, and they are often less likely to admit they have a problem. And because they view their drinking as occasional fun, they rarely seek help for their problematic drinking patterns.
Young Antisocial Alcoholics
Persons in this group are in their mid-twenties, primarily male, and became dependent on alcohol around the age of 18. There is a strong correlation between their alcohol abuse and that of a close family member. Most suffer from comorbid disorders, such as depression, bipolar, social anxiety, or antisocial personality disorder, the last of which is characterized by assaults, criminal activity, lack of remorse, and an overall disregard for the safety of others.
There is a high rate of abuse of other substances with this type of alcoholic, including that which is related to tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, meth, and opioids. The maximum number of drinks persons in this category consume is around 17, the highest of all the groups. Only about one-third of the individuals in this category seek treatment.
About 20% of alcoholics fall into this category, which comprises middle-aged men and women from families with a history of alcohol abuse. About half also experience depression or bipolar disorder. Functional alcoholics, as the name would imply, often have steady employment, are in stable relationships, have achieved a higher level of education and family income than more severe alcoholics. They tend to drink several days a week. About 25% of people in this group seek treatment.
Intermediate Familial Alcoholics
At first glance, functional and intermediate familial alcoholics appear to be almost identical. Still, one of the defining qualities between these two types of alcoholics is the latter is more likely to have a biological/genetic predisposition for alcoholism than the former and more often are raised in families with high rates of alcohol abuse.
Intermediate familial alcoholics typically develop alcohol use disorders earlier in life (often in their early 30s) than functional alcoholics. They have relatively higher instances of cigarette/tobacco smoking and marijuana and cocaine use in this group. This subgroup has the highest employment rate of all the types of alcoholics, with about 68% holding full-time jobs. About one-third seek treatment for their dependence.
Chronic Severe Alcoholics
Although this group accounts for less than 10% of alcoholics, it includes individuals with the most harmful drinking patterns. It has the highest rates of antisocial and criminal behavior, divorce, comorbid mental disorders, and other types of substance abuse.
This group also has the highest incidence of alcohol-related ER visits, problems in their personal lives, and episodes of drinking more than they originally intended. It is represented primarily by males 38 years old on average who have been alcohol-dependent for a decade or longer. However, of all the types of alcoholics, persons in this group are the most likely to seek treatment for their condition, with about two-thirds doing so in the form of support groups, detox programs, and residential stays.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
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