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Updated on September 26, 2023
8 min read

Understanding Alcoholism: 5 Different Types of Alcoholics

Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease affecting millions of people worldwide. Although there are many stereotypes about what an alcoholic looks like or how they behave, alcoholism manifests differently in everyone. 

To understand this complex and unique disorder, it’s essential to learn the different types of alcoholics. It’s also critical to understand their experiences with substance abuse. 

This post discusses five distinct categories of people who suffer from alcoholism. By exploring each category in depth, you’ll better understand the complexities surrounding alcoholism. You’ll also know why it requires special treatment for successful recovery.

Are There Different Types of Alcoholics?

There are different types of alcoholics. Each type has symptoms and behaviors that separate themselves from each other.

The five main types of alcoholics include:

  • Young adult
  • Young anti-social
  • Intermediate familial
  • Functional
  • Chronic severe

These types are based on different factors, such as:

  • Your current age
  • The age you started drinking 
  • When alcohol dependence began
  • Family history of alcoholism
  • The presence of co-occurring mental health conditions
  • The presence of additional drug use and substance use disorders

The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveals that 28.6 million adults aged 18 and older (11.3 percent of this demographic) experienced alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2022.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
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The Five Types of Alcoholics

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) studied alcoholics and how they differ. Their research led to the development of five different subtypes. Each subtype is unique and offers a bit more insight into alcohol abuse. 

1. Young Adult Alcoholics

Young adult alcoholics are the most common type of alcoholic. Findings from the 2021 NSDUH reveal that 2.4 million young adults aged 18 to 25 (7.2 percent of the population) reported heavy alcohol use within the year.9

Approximately 1.3 million were males (7.7 percent in this age group), and 1.1 million were females (6.5 percent in this age group). 9 Moreover, the 2019 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey reveals that 12 percent of college students and young adults not in college partake in high-intensity or binge drinking.10

The NIAAA reports alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes, claim the lives of 1,519 college students aged 18 to 24. It’s also responsible for the death of 2,586 people in the same age group.1

Traits and Treatment of Young Adult Alcoholics

Other significant traits of young adult alcoholics include:1,2,6

  • They drink less often than the other types but binge drink more
  • The average age of dependency begins at 19 years old
  • Relatively few have mental health disorders
  • Only about 9 percent seek help for alcohol; when they do, it’s most often 12-step groups
  • Nearly 15 percent of adults aged 18 to 25 experienced AUD in 2020. Specifically, 13.8 percent of college students in this age group and 15.3 percent of others in the same age bracket met the criteria for AUD
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2. Young Antisocial Alcoholics

Young antisocial alcoholics account for 21 percent of alcoholics. Seventy-five percent are male.11 

These people have an underlying antisocial personality disorder, exhibiting various harmful behaviors. Criminal activity, disregard for safety, impulsiveness, deceitfulness, and a lack of remorse are the defining traits of this group.

Their average age is 26, and they begin drinking at 15. The start of their dependency begins at 18. This is the youngest onset of dependence of any of the categories.

Traits and Treatment of Young Adult Alcoholics

Other common aspects of young antisocial alcoholics are:6,12

  • Fifty-three percent have multiple generations of alcohol dependency
  • Thirty-seven percent suffer from major depression
  • Thirty-three percent experience bipolar disorder
  • Most abuse other drugs, including marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and opioids
  • Approximately one-third seek treatment
  • Young antisocial alcoholics commonly engage in other forms of substance abuse and suffer from psychiatric disorders
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3. Intermediate Familial Alcoholics

This group has a high rate of family addiction history. When heavy or binge drinking is the norm in a family, people tend to fall into drinking as normal behavior. 

Intermediate familial alcoholics are more likely to have been genetically predisposed to alcoholism. They account for about 19 percent of all alcoholics.11

They usually start drinking around age 17 and develop dependence around age 32. Their average age is 38, and sixty-four percent are male.11

Traits and Treatment of Young Adult Alcoholics

Other aspects of intermediate familial alcoholics include:3,6

  • Forty-seven percent have a family member with alcohol dependency
  • Twenty-seven percent seek help for their drinking
  • Forty-seven percent suffer from major depression, 22 percent from bipolar disorder
  • Nineteen percent from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and 15 percent from a generalized anxiety disorder

4. Functional Alcoholics

In many cases, you may not expect a functional alcoholic to have a problem. That's because they can balance their drinking with their personal and professional life. Moreover, many don't believe they have a drinking problem until they start experiencing health issues.

Functional alcoholics account for 19.4 percent of all alcoholics.13 They usually begin drinking at 18. However, functional alcoholics don't become dependent until around 37, and they're typically in their 40s.3

Traits and Treatment of Young Adult Alcoholics

Other prominent characteristics of functional alcoholics include:3,4,11

  • On average, this group drinks every other day, averaging 181 days a year. 
  • Nearly 50 percent are married. 62 percent work full-time, and 26 percent have a college degree or higher.
  • Thirty-one percent have a family member with alcohol dependence. They also have a 24 percent probability of major depression.
  • Seventeen percent of this group seek help for their drinking.

5. Chronic Severe Alcoholics

The chronic severe subtype is the least prevalent, accounting for only about 9 percent of alcoholics.13 However, this group is the most severe, with heavy drinking occurring almost daily.

Chronic severe alcoholics experience the highest alcohol-related emergency room visits, professional and social problems, and withdrawal. They're usually unable to stop drinking on their own. 

The average chronic severe alcoholic is 38 and male. Most had their first drink at 16, though they don't become dependent until around 29.13

Traits and Treatment of Young Adult Alcoholics

Other common characteristics of chronic severe alcoholics include:

Other prominent characteristics of functional alcoholics include:3,4,11

  • This group drinks the most often, with a 15.4 daily maximum drink average
  • The highest percentage of people struggling with co-occurring mental illness and other substance abuse issues
  • They have the highest rate of family members with alcohol dependency at 77 percent
  • This group has the lowest education levels and the lowest rates of employment
  • Nearly 66 percent seek treatment. They have the highest attendance in self-help groups, specialty treatment programs, detox programs, and inpatient programs

Alcoholism Treatment Options

If you or a loved one suffers from alcohol use disorder (AUD), you must seek addiction treatment. Luckily, there are several treatment options for all types of alcoholics.

The most common types of alcoholism treatment are:

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment provides 24-hour supervision and medical care. It allows you to focus on recovery in an environment free from triggers and distractions.

This type of treatment is the most intensive and effective. You receive all services in a facility where you stay overnight. Treatment typically includes individual and group counseling, medication, and other therapies.

Detoxification

Detoxification helps you withdraw from alcohol safely and comfortably. This process begins with medical evaluation and stabilization before beginning the detox process.

It typically includes medically monitored withdrawal, which helps reduce symptoms of withdrawal. It can also help prevent seizures or other complications that may arise.

Detoxification usually lasts a few days to a week, depending on the severity of your addiction.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient treatment but still effective for some people with AUD. It typically includes individual and group counseling and medication-assisted therapy like naltrexone (Vivitrol).

This type of treatment allows you to receive help in an outpatient setting while still attending to your everyday responsibilities. This is a great option for people with mild to moderate addiction and those who have already gone through inpatient treatment.

Support Groups

Support groups provide social support, encouragement, and accountability which can be beneficial during recovery. People in recovery from AUD who share their experiences, coping skills, and strategies typically facilitate these groups.

Examples of support groups include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, and Celebrate Recovery. Regular meetings can help you stay strong in your recovery and stick to important goals.

Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT uses medications approved by the FDA to treat AUD alongside counseling and behavioral therapies. These medications can help reduce cravings, block the effects of alcohol, and treat withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and insomnia.

Examples of these medications include Naltrexone (Vivitrol), Acamprosate (Campral), and Disulfiram (Antabuse). MAT is beneficial for long-term addiction recovery.

These treatment options can help you or your loved one take the first step toward sobriety and live a healthier, happier life. If you are looking for the right treatment option for yourself or someone you know, it is important to speak with a doctor or mental health professional about the best action plan.

Summary

Alcoholism is a serious problem that affects millions of people around the world. There are many types of alcoholism, including functional alcoholics, young adult alcoholics, and chronic severe alcoholics. Each type has its own unique traits and treatment options.

To recover from AUD, seeking professional help and attending support groups is essential. Treatment options such as inpatient, outpatient, detoxification, support groups, and MAT can all help those struggling with AUD.

If you or someone you know suffers from alcohol use disorder, seek treatment as soon as possible. Recovery is possible with the right treatment and support.

Updated on September 26, 2023
13 sources cited
Updated on September 26, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Harmful and Underage College Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.

  2. Hesselbrock et al. “Subtypes of Alcohol Dependence and 36-Year Mortality.Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2020.

  3. Müller et al. “Subtypes of alcohol use disorder in the general population: A latent class analysis.” Psychiatry Research, 2020.

  4. Alcohol Use in the United States: Age Groups and Demographic Characteristics." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.

  5. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2014.

  6. "Mental Health Issues: Alcohol Use Disorder and Common Co-occurring Conditions." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2022.

  7. What is a Standard Drink?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

  8. "Alcohol and Young Adults Ages 18 to 25." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.

  9. "Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States: Age Groups and Demographic Characteristics." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.

  10. "Monitoring the Future." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022.

  11. "Clinical Features Point to Five Alcoholic Subtypes." Psychiatric News, 2007.

  12. Kendler et al. "Transmission of alcohol use disorder across three generations: a Swedish National Study." Psychological Medicine, 2019.

  13. "Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes." National Institutes of Health.

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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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