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Types of Alcoholics

The concept of classifying alcoholics into distinct types has been debated and is not universally accepted among researchers and experts.

Navigation: Alcohol Abuse: What Are the 5 Types of Alcoholics?, Young Adult Alcoholics, The Functional Alcoholic, Intermediate Familial Alcoholics, Young Antisocial Alcoholics: What is Antisocial Personality Disorder?, Chronic Severe Alcoholics, Treatment is Available for Any Type of Alcohol Use Disorder, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic and progressive condition characterized by an individual’s excessive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol. It is considered a substance use disorder and is diagnosed when someone’s drinking habits cause significant distress or impairment in their daily life.

While it can affect people of any age, race, or gender, there are ways to classify those who are struggling with this condition.

The concept of classifying alcoholics into distinct types has been debated and is not universally accepted among researchers and experts. However, classifying alcoholics into distinct types can have some potential benefits in terms of understanding and treating AUD.

Classifying alcoholics into distinct types can help identify patterns of behavior, psychological factors, and underlying causes that are specific to each group. This information can aid in tailoring treatment approaches to address the unique needs of individuals within each category. For example, certain types may benefit more from cognitive-behavioral therapy, while others may respond better to medication-assisted treatment.

It can also provide insights into the diverse nature of AUD. Classifications can help researchers and healthcare professionals better understand the range of factors that contribute to the development of alcohol addiction, such as genetic, environmental, and psychological influences.

It can even help in assessing the risk factors associated with each subgroup, which can go a long way in terms of preventive efforts.

One model that has gained some recognition is the typology proposed by Dr. Howard J. Shaffer, who is an addiction expert.

According to his model, there are five subtypes of alcoholics based on different characteristics and patterns of alcohol consumption. Today we will break down these five common subtypes and learn more about each of them. Let’s take a closer look.


Alcohol Abuse: What Are the 5 Types of Alcoholics?

Although we are going to talk about the five types of alcoholics according to Dr. Howard J. Shaffer’s model, it is important to note that this topology is not a definitive categorization of all alcoholics. Because alcoholism is a complex condition with diverse manifestations, many individuals may not neatly fit into any specific subtype. More importantly, each person’s experience with alcohol use disorder can vary.

While these classifications have their benefits, they also run the risk of oversimplifying the condition, creating generalizations, or supporting stereotypes that empower the stigma against alcoholics.

It is challenging to capture the full range of individual experiences and variations within each category. People’s relationship with alcohol can be influenced by multiple factors, including genetics, environment, and personal circumstances. It is impossible to fit everyone into predefined categories.

That said, classifications can also create opportunities for risk assessment. It can help improve understanding of the condition based on common patterns. It can even lead to the development of tailored treatment methods that are based on established types of alcoholics.

It is highly recommended that these classifications be used cautiously in order to fight stigmatization and oversimplification. Even with these established classifications, individual assessments and personalized treatments are still important when addressing the complexities of alcohol use disorder.

With that out of the way, the five types of alcoholics are the following:

  • Young Adult Subtype
  • Functional Subtype
  • Intermediate Familial Subtype
  • Young Antisocial Subtype
  • Chronic Severe Subtype

This comes from a national, clinical study conducted by the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Epidemiological Survey On Alcohol And Related Conditions (NESARC), and the National Institute Of Health (NIH) that explored previous studies on people suffering from alcoholism.

The subtypes were established based on the person’s age, their age when they first started drinking, and their age when they became alcohol dependent. Other contributing factors include: their family’s history with alcoholism, the existence of co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, and the presence of other substance use disorders.

These classifications are meant to study alcohol use disorder and act as a guide for future prevention efforts.

According to this classification, alcoholics may suffer for various reasons depending on what category they fall under. If you drink alcohol excessively and you fall under a certain type, then your relationship with the substance may be influenced by other factors. This may pave the way for serious long-term consequences that can damage not only your health but also your relationships.


Young Adult Alcoholics

The young adult alcoholic subtype typically includes individuals who start drinking heavily in their late teens or early twenties. They tend to have a lower prevalence of family history of alcoholism and may not exhibit significant physiological dependence on alcohol.

Researchers estimate that around 31.5% of people with alcohol use disorder fall under this category. This makes it the single largest group out of the five types.

When it comes to co-occurring mental illnesses, this group has generally lower rates. Their substance abuse disorders are also at moderate rates. Due to their age, most members of this subtype do not have a full-time job nor have they ever been married. Instead, a lot of them are still studying as college students.

Compared to the other types, they tend to drink less frequently. But when they do, they are more likely to binge drink. Binge drinking is when you engage in heavy drinking within a short period of time. The people in this subtype are 2.5 times more likely to be male.

It is highly unlikely for this group to seek treatment, but when they do, they usually go for 12-Step programs.

Although AUD can affect people of all age groups, there are factors that may contribute to the development of alcoholism in young adults. As they transition into adulthood, they face peer pressure, academic stress, the pressure to find a job and build a career, and co-occurring mental health issues like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.

Young adults are facing new and unique challenges that come with their newfound freedoms. They must learn how to navigate various social situations and figure out their identity. Additionally, they face a higher risk of alcohol use disorder because they have limited knowledge and experience about the potential risks of excessive alcohol consumption.

Treating alcoholism in young adults typically involves a comprehensive approach, including individual counseling, support groups, behavioral therapies, and, in some cases, medication.

It’s important for young adults struggling with alcohol use disorder to seek professional addiction treatment to address their specific needs.

The Functional Alcoholic

Individuals in the functional alcoholic subtype are generally middle-aged and well-educated with stable jobs and families. You may have already heard of this subtype as the alcoholics who are capable of maintaining a relatively high level of functioning despite their struggles with alcohol use disorder.

Functional alcoholics are people who exhibit signs of alcoholism but are still able to maintain their daily responsibilities and meet societal expectations. Due to their productivity, it may seem as though they have their lives together even though they are actually suffering from addiction.

Because of their high level of functioning, people around them may not even detect the fact that they have a drinking problem. Even if they are aware of it, they may brush it off seeing how the individual is capable of living as normal anyway.

Functional alcoholics represent 19.5% of the population of people with AUD, and they are able to keep their jobs as well as their relationships. They tend to be around 41 years old and they typically start drinking later in life. Some of them started drinking around 18, developing alcohol dependence even later at around 37.

When it comes to depression, the functional alcoholic subgroup is known to have moderate rates. However, not many of them have a co-occurring disorder. Many individuals in this category smoke, but very few have problems with other substances. Almost 60% of the subgroup is male.

This subtype has the lowest odds of having legal problems. They also have the highest levels of education as well as income levels out of all subtypes.

With 50% of this group being married, it is easy to believe that they have their lives together, but they are still in fact suffering from AUD.

Despite what the surface level suggests, they are still exposed to significant health risks and potential negative consequences of excessive alcohol use.

They will consume large amounts of alcohol without displaying overt signs of intoxication. This is why they are prone to episodes of heavy drinking, typically on weekends or during social events. During these periods, they consume excessive amounts of alcohol, but they may maintain control over their drinking during the week.

When confronted about their drinking habits, they often deny or downplay the extent of their alcohol consumption, both to themselves and others. They may hide bottles, drink alone, or find ways to cover up the consequences of their drinking.

They may justify their drinking by attributing it to stress relief, celebration, or reward for their hard work. They may even compare their drinking habits to others and convince themselves that they are not as severe as those who experience more visible consequences.

It’s important to note that functional alcoholism is still a serious issue, even if the individual appears to be maintaining their lifestyle. Over time, the health risks and negative effects of alcohol can accumulate, leading to severe consequences, both physical and psychological. Just like any other type, functional alcoholics need professional medical assistance too.

Intermediate Familial Alcoholics

Individuals with a family history of alcoholism and a moderate level of alcohol dependence fall under the intermediate familial alcoholic subtype. They may have experienced various consequences due to their drinking but may not have reached the severe stages of alcohol-related problems.

This subtype represents 18.8% of people with AUD and they tend to get exposed to alcohol at a younger age (around 17 years old). They also have a tendency to develop alcohol dependence at a relatively earlier age (around age 32).

The common theme within this category is that the members typically have had close relatives or immediate family members with alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction. This group has a high likelihood of struggling with bipolar disorder, depression, antisocial personality disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

Men make up 64% of this subgroup. Although they have a higher level of education than most other types, they are still only second to functional alcoholics.

There is a recognized genetic component to alcoholism. Studies have shown that individuals with a family history of alcoholism have a higher risk of developing AUD compared to those without a family history. Genetic factors can contribute to the vulnerability to alcoholism, but they do not guarantee that an addiction will develop.

Despite the huge contribution of genetic factors, environmental factors still play a significant role in the development of alcohol addiction.

Young Antisocial Alcoholics: What is Antisocial Personality Disorder?

The young antisocial alcoholic subtype includes individuals who have a history of antisocial behavior along with their substance abuse issues. They may exhibit impulsive and aggressive behavior and often have co-occurring psychiatric disorders.

Antisocial Personality Disorder or ASPD is a mental health disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others. People with ASPD often have a lack of empathy, a disregard for social norms and rules, and a tendency to engage in manipulative and exploitative behaviors. People with ASPD may show a consistent lack of remorse or guilt for their actions, even when they have harmed others. They may rationalize their behavior or blame others for their actions.

It is important to note that a diagnosis of ASPD is typically made by a mental health professional based on a thorough evaluation of an individual’s symptoms, behaviors, and history.

Researchers say that 21.1% of people with alcoholism fall under the young antisocial alcoholic subtype. They tend to start drinking at around 15, which is the youngest starting age for alcoholism across all these categories. Additionally, they also develop alcohol dependence the earliest, at around 18.

Over 50% of the members of this group have characteristics that are consistent with having an antisocial personality disorder. This group has high rates of depression, social phobia, bipolar disorder, and obsessive compulsive personality disorder. They also have the highest rates of co-occurring substance abuse disorders. Men make up over 3/4 of this subgroup.

This subgroup also has the lowest levels of education, income, and employment. Although they drink slightly less often, they will drink more than any other group when they do.

Interestingly, the members of the young antisocial subtype are among the most likely to seek help for their alcoholism.

Due to their age and behavioral problems, this particular group faces unique challenges on their way to sobriety. For example, this age group is particularly susceptible to experimentation with alcohol and other substances. Like other young adults, they are exposed to factors such as peer pressure and stress.

Their antisocial behaviors may also get in the way of their progress towards sobriety. They may exhibit a lack of empathy towards other people, meaning they will struggle to recognize the effects of their actions. They will also display aggression, impulsivity, deceitfulness, disregard for rules, and a general disregard for the well-being of others.

Therefore, addressing the complex needs of young antisocial alcoholics requires a comprehensive approach. Treatment may involve a combination of medical interventions, therapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or motivational interviewing), support groups, and family therapy.

It’s crucial to involve a multidisciplinary team of professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, addiction counselors, and social workers, to provide appropriate support and treatment.

Chronic Severe Alcoholics

The chronic severe alcoholic subtype is characterized by individuals who have a long history of alcohol dependence. They experience significant physical, psychological, and social problems because of their drinking. Members of this subtype often have co-occurring psychiatric disorders and require intensive treatment.

With only 9.2%, this is the smallest of the five subgroups. They tend to start drinking at around 15, but develop dependence at an intermediate age of around 29. But as you can tell from the name, this group drinks more frequently than any other subtype.

A large percentage of this subgroup (77%) have close family members who have alcoholism. This is the highest percentage of any subtype, but at the same time, they also have a high percentage of members who exhibit antisocial personality disorder (47%).

This is the subgroup that has the biggest likelihood of developing major depression, bipolar disorder, dysthymia, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.

Over 80% of this group goes through acute alcohol withdrawal due to their persistent efforts to reduce their drinking. They also have the tendency to drink larger amounts of alcohol and for longer than intended.

They spend a significant amount of time just recovering from their alcohol abuse. Most notably, the chronic severe alcoholic subtype is also the most likely to be sent to the emergency room due to their excessive drinking.

This group has one of the lowest employment and education rates of any subtype. They even have the highest rates of separation and divorce.

Individuals in this subtype often consume large quantities of alcohol on a regular basis, leading to severe intoxication. They will typically develop a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol, requiring increasing amounts just to achieve the desired effects.

Despite repeated efforts to cut down or stop drinking, individuals in this subtype still struggle to maintain abstinence or control their alcohol intake. When attempting to cut back or quit alcohol, they experience withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, anxiety, sweating, and even seizures.

Many individuals in this subtype have co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or personality disorders, which can exacerbate their alcohol use disorder.

A person with a chronic alcohol use disorder may even struggle with their personal relationships, work or school performance, and other important aspects of their life. They may experience legal issues or financial difficulties due to their alcohol-related behaviors.

On the bright side, this group has the highest rate of seeking treatment at an inpatient program. Inpatient programs are known for being comprehensive and focused. They offer the highest recovery rates out of all the treatment programs used for addiction treatment. But bear in mind that different types of alcoholics will respond better to different treatment approaches.

Treatment for the chronic severe subtype of alcoholics often involves a comprehensive approach that combines medical management, behavioral therapy, and social support.

Detoxification may be necessary to manage withdrawal symptoms safely. Inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment programs can provide a structured environment for recovery, followed by ongoing outpatient therapy and support groups.

Treatment is Available for Any Type of Alcohol Use Disorder

Regardless of the type, and whether or not someone falls into one of these categories, help is available for everyone who struggles with alcohol addiction.

People with alcoholism need proper treatment so they can break the cycle of addiction. In a rehab setting, patients can focus on their recovery because they are removed from their usual environment. They can receive round the clock care from medical professionals who can monitor their symptoms as they gradually detox from alcohol.

Medical detox is often used to lower the patient’s alcohol intake. This process involves managing their withdrawal symptoms as they are slowly weaned off of their excessive alcohol use.

Medications like benzodiazepines may be used to treat certain withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, and seizures. Medications can also help keep cravings under control.

In rehab, healthcare professionals are also able to address co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and personality disorders that serve as obstacles in the path to sobriety.

After detox, patients can go through behavioral therapy and other treatment methods that will address the root causes of their drinking problems. During this process, they will learn to recognize their triggers, temptations, and unhealthy thought patterns. They will also learn to use healthy coping mechanisms.

Rehab doesn’t just help you get sober. It also teaches you how to minimize your risk of relapse and hold on to that sobriety for the long term. Rehab gives you everything you need to start fresh and begin a new chapter in your life—one that does not involve alcohol abuse or addiction.

If you or someone you love is dealing with the effects of alcoholism, look for a rehab center near you today and learn more about the various treatment options that are available.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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