Types of Alcoholics

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Are There Different Types of Alcoholics?

For many, the term “alcoholic” brings about a certain image or idea. But not all alcoholics are the same. 

Alcoholics can be separated into five different categories based on different factors.

These include:

  • 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

Young adults under the age of 30 represent the largest groups of alcoholics in the United States, with college drinking and binge drinking being a major problem.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

The Five Subtypes 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. 

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1. Young Adult Alcoholics

Young adult alcoholics are the most common type of alcoholic, making up almost 32 percent of the total.

The average age of a young adult alcoholic is 24 years old. They're generally in college. They are 2.5 more times likely to be male than female.

Four out of five college students drink alcohol, often engaging in binge drinking.

The NIAAA reports over 1,500 college students die each year due to alcohol-related causes.

Other major traits of young adult alcoholics include:

  • They tend to drink less often than the other types, but binge drink more.
  • Average age of dependency begins at 19 years old.
  • Less than 22 percent have family members with a history of alcoholism
  • Relatively few have mental health disorders.
  • Only about 9 percent seek help for alcohol and, when they do, it is most often 12-step groups.

2. Young Antisocial Alcoholics

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

This group is characterized by an antisocial personality disorder, which includes behaviors such as criminal activity, lack of regard for safety, impulsiveness, deceitfulness, and lack of remorse 

Their average age is 26 and they begin drinking at 15, with the start of dependency at 18.

This is the youngest onset of dependence of any of the categories.

Other common aspects of young antisocial alcoholics are:

  • Fifty-three percent have multiple generations of alcohol dependency
  • Thirty-seven percent suffer from major depression
  • Thirty-three percent from bipolar disorder
  • The majority abuse other drugs, including marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and opioids.
  • Approximately one-third seek treatment

3. Intermediate Familial Alcoholics

This group has a high rate of family addiction history. When heavy 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.

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

Other aspects of intermediate familial alcoholics include:

  • 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.
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4. Functional Alcoholics

In many cases, you may not expect a functional alcoholic to have a problem. That's because they're able to balance their drinking with their personal and professional life.

Many of them don't believe they have a drinking problem until they start experiencing health issues.

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

Other main characteristics include:

  • 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 in 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. However, this group is the most severe, with heavy drinking occurring almost daily.

Chronic severe alcoholics experience the highest rate of 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 didn't become dependent until around 29. 

Other common characteristics include:

  • This group drinks the most often. Their daily maximum drink average is 15.4
  • 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 - 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.

If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD), it’s important that you seek addiction treatment.

Contact a health professional or a local treatment center to review your rehabilitation options.

Alcoholism Treatment Options

Luckily there are a number of treatment options for all types of alcoholics.

The most common types of alcoholism treatment are:

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is the most intensive and effective type of addiction treatment.

Patients sleep at the treatment facility and undergo all portions of the program from detoxification to aftercare with medical supervision.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is a good option for people who have responsibilities that they cannot give up (such as family, work, or school), as well as a high level of motivation for getting sober.

Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT)

If you are a good candidate, it may be advisable to undergo MAT.

A psychiatrist may prescribe medications (such as disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate) that are to help reduce cravings and encourage sobriety.

Updated on November 24, 2021
7 sources cited
  1. “College Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 19 Aug. 2016.
  2. Moss, Howard B, et al. “Subtypes of Alcohol Dependence in a Nationally Representative Sample.Drug and Alcohol Dependence, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Dec. 2007.
  3. Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 29 Sept. 2015.
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/.
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/.
  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders.pubs.niaaa.nih.gov.
  7. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What is a Standard Drink?pubs.niaaa.nih.gov

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