5 types of alcoholics

5 Types of Alcoholics

Alcoholism is a severe condition that affects approximately 14 million people across the United States. Although social or occasional drinking is normal and not necessarily cause for concern, excessive drinking can lead to addiction, dependence, and severe damage to both the physical body and the mind. When talking about alcoholism, it’s essential to recognize that each person will have a different experience with the disease. Although there are many different versions of alcoholism one could experience, there are five general subcategories that most people find themselves in. Understanding the demographics and characteristics of each of these subtypes will help those suffering from addiction understand their relationship with the disease and enable them to overcome it.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a serious form of addiction characterized by frequent periods of heavy drinking. Alcoholics are dependent on alcohol for their emotional and physical functioning. Alcoholism is not just drinking a little too much with friends on the weekend by accident. It is understood by intense urges or desires to drink and frequently suffering from withdrawal symptoms if they don’t. People with alcoholism will place drinking at the top of their obligations, oftentimes putting it before friends, family, work, and hobbies. 

Alcoholism is a disease, and those who suffer from it feel as though they have no choice but to keep drinking. The urges are so intense it can feel like you physically need it to survive. Many times, alcoholism lays dormant for some time, and what feels like occasional drinking suddenly becomes a daily necessity. Once someone suffers from alcoholism, they will need professional treatment and long term care to regain and maintain sobriety. 

Who is at Risk for Alcoholism?

Anybody who drinks is at risk for developing alcoholism, but some factors could make someone especially prone to developing this disease. Family history, high-stress levels, childhood trauma, addictive personalities, peer pressure, low income, and mental health conditions can all lead to an increased risk of alcohol abuse. If you or a loved one experience any of these and drink, it’s essential to make sure your drinking habits don’t get out of line. 

Understanding the Subcategories of Alcoholics 

It can be challenging to put individuals into just five subgroups of alcoholics considering there are so many factors that play into the relationship someone has with the substance. Most people have a stereotypical understanding of what an alcoholic would look like, but in reality, there is no “one” type. Giving in to the stereotype makes other people invisible to the epidemic. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, along with other national groups dedicated to alcohol research, has concluded that there are five general subcategories of alcoholics.  

The point of identifying these subcategories is to characterize the different possible types of alcoholics to understand how many kinds of people come to develop this sort of addiction. It also enables us to recognize signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse in friends or loved ones that don’t match the typical “alcoholic” profile. By understanding how it started, you can better understand the path to ending it. The following are the five most common subtypes of alcoholics.

Young Adult

The young adult subtype makes up about 30% percent of all alcoholics and is characterized by those between the ages of 18 and 24. For this subtype, drinking usually begins at an early age (13-18), and dependence on alcohol usually follows soon after (18-24).

For the young adult alcoholic, many times, their alcoholism is ignored and pushed aside as being “just a phase.” It’s common for young adults to party and experiment with different substances and is even considered “cool” for them to drink in large quantities. This type of alcohol is typically a binge drinker, maintains a job/education/ normal family life, and is harder to diagnose than some of the other subtypes. 

This subtype poses a more significant threat for being ignored and therefore is likely not to seek treatment and end up with long term alcoholism and deeply rooted addiction. Although co-occuring mental health conditions are low for this subtype, they can develop over time and progress into another subset of alcoholics. 

Young Anti-Social Type 

This subtype makes up about 22 percent of all alcoholics and is typically composed of people in their mid-young twenties. People in this subgroup suffer from co-occurring alcoholism and anti-social personality disorder. Most individuals in this subtype began drinking in their early teens and have a strong family history of addiction. Many in this group also suffered from trauma or abuse in their childhood.

Almost 75% of this group is male, and only one third have received a formal education. This group has the lowest annual income and the highest unemployment rate. 

Since this group has a strong presence of co-occurring addictions and mental health problems, it’s common for them to have issues with law enforcement officials or trouble at their job. Treatment is often sought by the young anti-social type, whether willingly or through family interventions. Treatment for young anti-social type consists of both detox, alcoholic rehabilitation, and mental health counseling. 

Functional Subtype 

This subtype makes up about 19% of all alcoholics and goes along with the common saying “functional alcoholic” and is one of the more recognized groups of alcoholics. The basic understanding of this subtype is that although they are an addiction to alcohol and drink more than the recommended amount, people in this subgroup can maintain regular routines and lifestyles. More than half of this subtype kept a full-time job and received an education. Only one third has a family member with alcoholic tendencies. 

This group tends to be of middle age but can include some young adults as well. They commonly suffer from co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression but not to the extent of requiring professional help or medication. 

Since this subtype does not often get “drunk” but just maintains an even level of alcohol in the body, they are very rarely involved with legal issues, family issues, or professional issues due to their drinking (hence the phrase “functional alcoholic”). This subtype occasionally received professional treatment with about 17% on average, but more often than not, will stop drinking on their own or continue with moderate drinking for most of their lives. 

Intermediate Familial Subtype 

The Intermediate familial subtype makes up about 19 percent of alcoholics. This group tends to be of middle age, and likely began drinking in their early teens or twenties. Almost half of this group has a family member with alcoholism or drug abuse of some kind, making the peer pressure influence of drug abuse the leading cause for their alcoholism. This subgroup consumes more alcohol than the previous two, with an average of 5-10 drinks five nights or more a week. 

This subtype happens to have the highest rates of employment among all alcoholics and maintain good full-time jobs and income. This group is male dominant and has a lot of co-occurring mental health conditions associated with it. More than half of this group suffers from anxiety and depression, and a smaller percent suffer from more complicated mental health conditions like OCD and bipolar disorder. 

They also have higher rates of polysubstance abuse with co-occurring addictions such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. 

About one-third of this subgroup will seek help for their addiction, and of that percentage, almost all of them first receive professional detox. They tend to try group therapy or counseling programs that will help them work alongside others going through similar experiences. 

Chronic Severe Subtype 

This subtype is the least common but the most severe. It only accounts for about 9 percent of alcoholics and is typically characterized by middle-aged individuals who have been drinking most of their lives (early teens and on). This subtype has exceptionally high rates of co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders, with over half diagnosed with some personality disorder. 

This group drinks almost every single day and has up to 15 drinks. Most people in this subgroup will experience severe withdrawals if they go more than a few hours and require professional treatment for both their physical and mental addiction to alcohol. 

Get Help For Alcoholism Today

Every subtype of alcoholic deserves equal treatment and support through their addiction. Sobriety is achievable, no matter how long or how often you or your loved one has been drinking. Coastal Detox’s treatment facility offers professional detox to ensure you have the most pain-free and smooth detox possible, and are ready and prepared to take on your and the long term treatment plan. Call us today for more information at 1-866-802-6848. 

Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.