Understanding the Different Types of Alcoholics

Severe alcoholism has many outward signs and symptoms, so it’s usually quite obvious when someone has reached this point. But many people don’t realize that there are five different types of alcoholism, and severe is only one.

We all know someone who seems to have a problem with alcohol. Maybe they are prone to binge drinking, or they’ve gotten multiple DUIs. These are obvious signs that someone has an alcohol problem, but alone they aren’t enough to make a diagnosis.

In a 2007 edition of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers identified five distinct types of alcoholics.

  1. Young Adult

According to the study, young adults account for 31.5 percent of U.S. alcoholics. This makes young adults the largest subgroup of alcoholics. They stand out for another reason too: Young adult alcoholics do not tend to drink as often as people with other types of alcoholism.

Those in the young adult group average about 24 years old and, on average, they were alcoholics by the time they were 20. Although they don’t drink as often, they are much more likely to binge drink when they do consume alcohol.

The good news is that this group may be getting smaller. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption have declined among 12-20-year-olds between 2007 and 2016.

  1. Young Antisocial

The 2007 report puts this group at 21 percent of all U.S. alcoholics. The people in this group tend to be in their mid-twenties and started drinking alcohol early in life. More than half of the young adults in this group have a family history of alcoholism and about half have been diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. Many within this group also have major depression, anxiety problems, and bipolar disorder. This group is also likely to be afflicted with other conditions, such as cocaine and opiate addiction.

Possibly one of the most interesting takeaways about this group is that two-thirds of them also smoke cigarettes. Since cigarette smoking has declined substantially in the past two decades, a young person’s choice to smoke today may be telling about other habits too.

Since teenage drinking seems to drive Young Antisocial and Young Adult alcoholism, it’s important to note that there are a couple of things we can do to address this problem.

  1. a)Teach kids to be self-aware – Armed with this knowledge, and the statistics to back it up, teens may be less likely to follow a path that would lead them towards alcoholism.
  2. b)Let them know you disapprove of teenage drinking – Believe it or not, parents play a vital role in teen drinking. Teach your child to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, and they will be less likely to make mistakes.
  3. Functional

According to the report, a staggering 19.5 percent of alcoholics are functional alcoholics. This group is generally middle-aged, highly educated and have stable jobs with families. Only about one-third of this group has a family history of alcoholism, but nearly one-quarter had a major depressive illness in their lifetime. About half of this group considered themselves smokers at one point in their lives.

Functional alcoholics essentially act out normal functions while under the influence. They typically drink at work without being detected. Even people who are close to them may not know the extent of their alcoholism. If you suspect someone is a functional alcoholic, look for signs that he or she is hiding alcohol and/or making a habit of day-drinking.

  1. Intermediate Familial

The intermediate familial alcoholic accounts for 19 percent of all alcoholics. They tend to be middle-aged with about half having a family history of alcoholism. Half of this group also has had clinical depression, and 20 percent have had bipolar disorder. Nearly all of this group is comprised of cigarette smokers, and many have also used cocaine and marijuana. Unfortunately, the Drug and Alcohol Dependence study notes that only 25 percent of intermediate familial alcoholics ever sought treatment for their drinking problems.

  1. Chronic Severe

Although this is the smallest group, accounting for 9 percent of alcoholics, it is also the most life-threatening. People in the chronic severe group tend to be middle-aged and have been drinking since they were teens. Most of the people in this group have a family history of alcoholism. Fortunately, two-thirds of this group seeks help for drinking problems. This is why the smallest group of alcoholics often accounts for the largest group in treatment.

If you know someone who seems to fit the profile of one of these five types of alcoholics, it’s important to start talking about the problem.