The alcoholic definition was once grouped in as one type and considered a single condition.
Alcoholics – The Five Subtypes
Before there was a classification of types, alcoholics were all treated the same. Professionals in the medical field and scientists alike have since found that there are many variables involved.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) conducted research with a focus of people who suffer from alcoholism. The research determined that there were various types of alcoholics and that they each had their own distinct characteristics, behavioral drinking patterns, and risk factors. They took an in-depth look at dependence of alcohol, and included questions related to the family history of alcoholism, along with other substances, as well as personal character. Alcoholism is called alcohol dependence in the medical field so when defining the subtype of alcoholic, it may be labeled as such.
If you have a challenge with your drinking habits, you may see yourself sitting in one of the descriptions below. For each subtype of alcoholic, there is a treatment that is designed to work for your needs. Research on alcoholism has identified the five types of alcoholics. which includes an alarming percentage of young adults that are alcoholics.
Type 1: Young Adult Alcoholism
Recent research by the NIAAA that identified the five subtypes of alcoholism found something unexpected. Young adults are making up more than 50% of the alcoholic population in the U.S. While it was common knowledge that many young adults in the U.S. were involved in alcohol use, the way they drink made alcoholism definition unclear until recently.
The study said that the average age of alcoholics within the young adult type is 24, and they started drinking on average around 20. The study also found that 22% of the young adult alcoholism type interviewed had family members that were also alcoholics.
The young adult type of alcoholic makes up 32% of alcoholism in the U.S. Part of the issue is that young adults don’t ask for help when it comes to alcohol dependence. During the college years, the level of experimentation is high for many. It’s not anti-social drinking that would usually be red flagged by loved ones. This age group is away from home for the first time and are close to the legal drinking limit. It’s a long-time, natural occurrence in campus culture and over-indulging in alcohol is like a sport, with your peers edging you on.
While young adult types may drink less often than other types of alcoholics, they are more likely to binge drink. Binge drinking can be so excessive that a single sitting can make up the amount a different alcoholic type drinks throughout the whole day. This type will include alcoholic symptoms like:
- Intense cravings for alcohol when not drinking
- Having no control when drinking
- Symptoms of physical withdrawal when not drinking
- The need for more alcohol to achieve the same high
Type 2: Young Anti-social Alcoholism
The young anti-social subtype makes up 21% of alcoholics in the U.S. The average age is 26 and over 50% of this group have a anti-social personality disorder. The average age young anti-social types start to drink is much younger than that of the young adult alcoholic type. Usually, they start drinking at 15, and by 18, they possess alcoholic symptoms. Part of the alcoholic definition for this subtype is their likelihood to smoke cigarettes and pot.
About 50% of this subtype come from families of problem drinkers. One of the factors of anti-social disorder, which a high percentage of these subtypes have, is that it’s even harder for them to ask for help with alcoholism. To better understand someone with anti-social personality disorder, here are some of the main symptoms associated with it:
- The ability to act witty and charming although it’s not in their true character.
- Be good at flattery and manipulation.
- Willing to break the law repeatedly.
- Disregarding other people’s safety.
- Lying, stealing and fighting regularly.
- No sign of guilt or remorse for the things they do.
Most people with anti-social personality disorder won’t be diagnosed with the problem unless they’re arrested and ordered to seek out treatment. Those with the disorder intentionally engage in destructive behaviors when the opportunity presents itself with no remorse. Not everyone in this group has anti-social personality disorder. Some have other types of co-occurring disorders like anxiety disorders, extreme depression, or an addiction to other substances. It is estimated that 1/3 of the anti-social type alcoholic will seek out treatment.
Type 3: Functional Subtype Alcoholism
The functional subtype defies what society’s alcoholic definition is. This type takes up 19% of alcoholics in the U.S. and are often middle-aged, working adults with long-term relationships. They may have children, they’re often well educated and their incomes are higher than any other type of alcoholic. During the day, they hold their life together and may even seem happy.
A common factor of the functional subtype is that they don’t traditionally drink daily so it makes it difficult to pin point the problem. Many will drink every other day but on those days, they consume a minimum of five drinks. The reasoning behind the label “functional” is because they can maintain their relationships, and keep their job despite the fact that they’re an alcoholic. The excessive drinking doesn’t prevent them from living a normal life.
While they do function in society on nearly all levels, the problems are the same as any other type when it comes to health. The medical issues related to a high level of drinking are still causing health problems. About 19% of functional alcoholics will get help but many of them don’t perceive themselves as having a problem. Many alcoholics in this subtype are ashamed to ask for help because of the addiction stigma.
Type 4: Intermediate Familial Subtype Alcoholic
The intermediate familial subtype are usually those with a family history of alcoholism. Close to 50% of people in this category have alcoholic relatives. This type makes up close to 19% of alcoholics in the U.S. The intermediate subtype usually begin drinking early in life, typically around 17. It isn’t until 30 that alcohol becomes a problem in their lives.
Along with the standard alcoholic symptoms, this group may also abuse other substances like marijuana. Intermediate familial types are like the young anti-social group because many of them suffer from depression or personality disorders. A quarter of the group have bi-polar disorder. About 25% of intermediate familial subtype alcoholics will reach out to ask for help when it comes to their alcoholic drinking problem.
Type 5: Chronic Severe Alcoholic
When society thinks of the alcoholism definition, it’s the chronic severe type that often comes to mind. The chronic severe alcoholic is the rarest of all the five subtypes and makes up 9% of alcoholics in the U.S. The majority of people in this group are men, there is a high divorce rate involved, and many of the alcoholics under this type also use illicit drugs.
This type has a difficult, if not impossible time, keeping a job. Family and friends will have often abandoned this person due to their major destructive tendencies. This type is the kind of alcoholic you likely see living on the streets. While this type is the most likely to seek out help, many times they’ve run out of options.
The majority of people with chronic severe alcoholism came from families who also had problems with alcohol. Again, nearly 50% of chronic severe alcoholics have been diagnosed with a personality disorder. The rates of mental illness were higher than any other type of alcoholic. This group will tend to severely abuse drugs as well. Over 66% of chronic severe alcoholics will seek help of some kind.
Signs of alcoholism include:
- Using alcohol in larger amounts over a long period.
- The feeling that you should cut down or control your alcohol use with no success.
- A lot of effort and time is used to get alcohol, drink, and recover.
- A craving for alcohol
- Alcohol prevents you from maintaining your life and filling obligations like work, responsibilities at home or a disruption in your studies.
- Despite having social or interpersonal problems from alcohol, you continue to drink.
- Giving up or reducing activities you use to enjoy due to alcohol use.
- Using alcohol in situations that are hazardous like driving.
- Despite knowing that you have physical or psychological problems that have been caused by drinking alcohol, you continue.
- The tolerance of alcohol increases. You need more alcohol to get drunk as you begin to feel alcohol less than you did before even though you drink the same amount.
- You suffer from withdrawal of alcohol and need to drink, or take a substance that is similar, to relieve the withdrawal symptoms.
Once you know what type of alcoholic you, or a loved one is, it will be a good tool in figuring out how to manage the problem. The therapy or rehabilitation can be more acute which gives you a better chance of recovering successfully.