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5 Main Types of Alcoholics

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Main Types of Alcoholics

Alcoholism can lead to serious long term consequences.
The majority of those who fit into
one of the five types of alcoholics are young.

Young Adult Subtype, Functional Subtype, Intermediate Familial Subtype?, Young Antisocial Subtype, Chronic Severe Subtype, Rehab is Your Best Chance

Scientists from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Institute of Health (NIH), and the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) conducted a national, clinical study to identify the various subtypes of alcoholism.

By deriving from various studies on alcoholics, the scientists were able to define five major subtypes of alcoholics. The result puts to rest the stereotype of the “typical alcoholic”.

The study defined these five subtypes as the following: Young Adult Subtype, Functional Subtype, Intermediate Familial Subtype, Young Antisocial Subtype, and Chronic Severe Subtype.

These subtypes were categorized based off the individual’s age, the age they started drinking, and the age they developed alcohol dependence. Scientists also considered family history of alcoholism, and whether or not the patient had any co-occurring disorders. The research aims to support further study of alcoholism by guiding future prevention efforts.

Scientists believe that the subtypes can help in the treatment of alcoholism because different types of alcoholics will suffer for different reasons. Some groups, for example, may not even realize that their drinking is a problem, thinking it is just a part of who they are.

Regardless of the subtype, alcoholism can lead to serious long term consequences. Taking a closer look at each one may help gain a better understanding of a loved one’s situation.



Young Adult Subtype


The majority of those who fit into one of the five types of alcoholics are young. In fact, researchers found that 31.5 percent of alcoholics fall into the category of young adults. This is the single largest group among the five subtypes.

This group tends to begin drinking at an early age of around 19. They also develop alcohol dependence early, usually by the age of 24. This group has comparatively low rates of co-occurring mental health conditions. They have moderate rates of other substance abuse disorders and family members with alcoholism.

While the young adult subtype is less likely to have a full time job, they are also more likely to be in college than other groups. This group is also unlikely to have ever been married.

The young adult subtype drinks less frequently than others, but are more likely to engage in binge drinking when they do. When an alcoholic in the young adult subtype seeks treatment, they usually go for 12-step programs. However, it is very unlikely for members of this group to seek out treatment at all.

Functional Subtype

The functional subtype refers to functional or “high-functioning alcoholics”. They make up 19.5 percent of alcoholics. This is the group that can hold down jobs and maintain their relationships even while struggling with alcohol use disorder. This group tends to be in their 40s.

Most members of this group started drinking and developed alcohol dependence later in life. This group suffers from moderate rates of depression, but lower rates of most other co-occurring disorders. Many members of this group smoke cigarettes, but few have other substance use disorders.

Nearly 60 percent of all functional alcoholics are male. Half of the members of this subtype are married.

The functional subtype is the least likely to have legal problems, and they are the least likely to report problems due to their drinking. Because of their high education levels and income, they tend to underestimate the gravity of their drinking problem. They are the least likely to recognize their addiction.

While they may appear to have their lives together, their addiction still needs to be treated. Less than 20 percent of this subgroup has sought help from medical professionals and addiction experts. When they do seek treatment, they most often turn to 12-step programs or private health care professionals.



Intermediate Familial Subtype


18.8 percent of alcoholics belong to the intermediate familial subtype. This group tends to start drinking around the age of 17 and develop alcohol dependence earlier, around the age of 32. This subgroup is very likely to have had immediate family members with alcoholism.

Alcoholics in the intermediate familial subtype are the most likely to have anti-social personality disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions.

This group also suffers from high rates of marijuana, cigarette, and cocaine addiction. This subtype is 64 percent male. Their education level is higher than most, but not higher than those of the functional subtype. Many members of this group have full-time jobs, but their income level tends to be lower than the functional subtype.

This group is not likely to seek treatment, but those who do tend to prefer self-help groups, specialty treatment programs, detox programs, and private health care professionals.

Young Antisocial Subtype


Young antisocial subtypes are those who started drinking at the youngest age of around 15 and also developed alcohol dependence at the earliest age of around 18. Surprisingly, 21.1 percent of alcoholics fall into this subtype. More than 50 percent of the members of this group have traits of antisocial personality disorder. They have high rates of depression, bipolar disorder, social phobia, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

This group also has the highest rates of other substance abuse disorders like marijuana, meth, opioid, and cocaine addiction. More than 3/4 of the members of this group are male.

This group has the lowest levels of education, employment, and income out of all five groups. This subtype also drinks more at one time and more overall than other subtypes.

However, this group is one of the most likely to seek help. 35 percent of the members of the young antisocial subtype have sought out some form of assistance in overcoming alcoholism. This group has the highest treatment rate from private health care providers. They also often choose self-help groups, detox programs, and specialty treatment programs.

Chronic Severe Subtype


This subtype is the smallest out of the five, with only 9.2 percent. This group starts drinking at a young age of around 15, but typically develops alcohol dependence at an intermediate age of around 29. Most members of the chronic severe subtype—around 77 percent—have close family members with alcoholism. This is the highest percentage of any subtype for family members with alcoholism.

Nearly half of this group exhibits antisocial personality disorder, which is the second highest rate of any subtype at 47 percent. This subtype is the most likely to experience major depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, dysthymia, and panic disorder.

At the same time, this group also has a high rate of co-occurring substance abuse disorders such as marijuana, cocaine, and opioid addiction. More than 80 percent of the chronic severe subtype experiences acute alcohol withdrawal when quitting alcohol. They may persistently make efforts to cut down on their intake, but may fail because of severe withdrawal and intense cravings. When they do relapse, they tend to drink larger amounts and for longer than intended.

The chronic severe subtype has the highest rate of emergency room visits due to drinking. This group also has the highest rates of divorce and separation out of the five subtypes.

Not only do they have one of the lowest education levels of any subtype, but they also have the lowest employment rate.

It is worth noting that while this group drinks more frequently than any other, their total alcohol intake is less than the young antisocial subtype. 66 percent of this subtype have sought help for their alcoholism at some point, making them by far the most likely to have done so. They tend to seek out self-help groups, rehab programs, and detox programs.

Regardless of the subtype, help is available for everyone who needs it.

If someone in the family is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it is important to seek help. A combination of medical detox and behavioral therapy can go a long way in the fight against substance abuse. But because every individual is affected by addiction differently, a comprehensive program tailored to their specific needs is necessary. Look for a nearby addiction treatment facility today and find out how drug treatment programs work.

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 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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