The Five Types of Alcoholics

Alcoholism affects 17 million Americans every year, per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. For some, it starts as social drinking that goes too far; for others, it may be a case of binging to cope with emotional discomfort or even physical pain. There are a myriad of reasons that alcoholics start abusing the substance, but once tolerance develops, the reasons most continue are likely much the same.

Among them, those who fit at least three of the following diagnostic criteria within a year’s time are likely dependent on alcohol:

  • Alcohol consumption that causes personal distress and physical or cognitive impairment
  • Tolerance that requires increased consumption to achieve the same effects
  • Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal when abstaining
  • Setting limits on how much or how often one will drink and surpassing them
  • Drinking to deter withdrawal
  • Wanting to stop drinking, but repeatedly failing at attempts to do so
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about drinking or arranging for situations in which to drink
  • Preferring to spend time drinking rather than taking care of responsibilities, going to work, or even spending time with loved ones
  • Continuing to drink despite life consequences

Here we review the five classes of alcohol dependence including young adult type, young antisocial type, functional type, intermediate familial type and chronic severe type.

1. Young Adult Type

oung adult alcoholics account for 31.5 percent of all people with alcohol dependence, the National Institutes of Health reports. Unfortunately, they are also the least likely to seek help for their condition.

While alcoholism is usually fairly equal among both genders, most alcoholics of this type are male. A 2001-2002 NIAAA survey notes past-year alcohol use among 19 million young adults, with 10 million of them being male and 9 million being female. That being said, when dealing strictly with college-aged individuals, binge drinking and excessive alcohol consumption are more common among women than men. U.S. News reports rates of excessive drinking among first-year college students reached 60 percent for males and 64 percent for females. These alcoholics are usually the stereotypical young twenty-something, and most do not have any dependency on other substances. The majority of young adult alcoholics have a family history of alcoholism.

2. Young Antisocial Type

Next in line are young antisocial alcoholics, which are essentially exactly what they sound like. This group makes up 21 percent of all alcoholics, per Psychology Today. Often being in the same age bracket as young adult alcoholics, it can be easy to confuse the two. That being said, this group is more likely to have started drinking at a young age. The Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependency claims 54 percent of young antisocial alcoholics suffer from antisocial personality disorder — a mental illness that comes with unpopular character traits, such as irresponsibility and rudeness.

Many of these alcoholics also have family members who have battled alcohol dependence. Poly-drug abuse isn’t uncommon for the young antisocial type. Fortunately, they are more likely to seek treatment than their young adult counterparts.

3. Functional Type

Functional alcoholics may be the most difficult type to treat. They rarely think they have a problem. Likewise, they’re so good at keeping their lives in tact while abusing alcohol that others often don’t see them as having a problem either. According to PsychCentral, about 19.5 percent of alcoholics fit this subtype. Age has a great deal to do with alcohol consumption behaviors, and it shows in the functional alcoholic, who is generally a bit older than the young adult and young antisocial types.

Binge drinking may be a regular part of their lifestyle. In a society where a few drinks every day is considered acceptable, it’s easy for a functional alcoholic to pass himself off as being just like everyone else. The functional type generally has a job — a good one — and even a spouse and kids at home. He may drink to cope with stress or emotions. He often has a college degree that only further negates the stereotype of alcoholism being akin to laziness and a lack of willpower. Only 17 percent of functional alcoholics bring themselves to ask for help, Dr. Neurosci notes.

4. Intermediate Familial Type

Right behind the functional alcoholic at roughly 19 percent — per ABC News — is the intermediate familial alcoholic. These addicts often aren’t inclined to seek treatment, as only a quarter of them do. They often suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression at a rate of 50 percent and bipolar disorder at 20 percent, as published in The Brain, the Nervous System, and Their Diseases.

The intermediate familial alcoholic is usually a bit older. The average age is 38 years old and most began drinking by the time they were 17, according to the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

5. Chronic Severe Type

Chronic severe alcoholics comprise the smallest group among all people with alcohol use disorders at 9 percent, according to the South Coast Today. A family history of alcoholism is highly common in this group. Most of these individuals started drinking at an early age and continued to dive deeper into their addiction for years on end.

Antisocial personality disorder and schizophrenia are common among chronic severe alcoholics. As a result, many are homeless.

Despite accounting for fewer alcoholics than any other group, more of them get professional treatment than any other kind of alcoholic. They have the highest risk of adverse health events stemming from their alcohol abuse.

Getting Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Treating alcoholism starts with detox. Many people make the mistake of thinking they can do it alone. After all, alcohol is a legal substance. It’s not as serious as an addiction to something like heroin or cocaine, right? Wrong. Withdrawal from alcohol is not only painful, but it can also be life-threatening in some cases. The biggest risk of morality comes in tow with delirium tremens, which UpToDate notes 5 percent of withdrawing alcoholics suffer from — and 5 percent of those who have delirium tremens die from it. Typical symptoms of the withdrawal experience include:

  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling

At The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, you’ll be under the supervision of highly skilled staff members, and you may be prescribed certain medications, such as benzodiazepines, that can alleviate much of the discomfort withdrawal brings. Call today to join the millions of others who have reached sobriety and are now living life to its fullest.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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