The 5 Types of Alcoholics

Alcoholism can be a truly devastating chronic disease. But not all alcoholism is the same. To the contrary, there are different types of alcoholics who require different types of care.

Types of Alcoholics

A joint study from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions created a list of five types of alcoholics. In alphabetical order, these are the categories:

  • Chronic Severe
  • Functional
  • Intermediate Familial
  • Young Adults
  • Young Antisocial

Assigning someone to one of these groups involves looking at several factors, including the following:

Remember, though, that no one is ever formally diagnosed into one of these categories. And every person’s struggle with alcoholism is different, comprised of a unique set of circumstances and experiences.

What these categories are intended to do, then, is help researchers understand alcoholism more comprehensively. They may also aid medical experts in finding new forms of prevention and treatment.

With those caveats in mind, let’s take a look at these groupings and what they entail.

Chronic Severe

It’s the smallest group: Only about 9.2% of alcoholics could be classified as chronic severe. These patients are often middle-aged, and they’ve frequently been drinking for many years.

Nearly eight out of 10 people in this category have immediate family members who struggle with alcoholism, a higher rate than the other groups. And almost half of them show signs of antisocial personality disorder.

Indeed, people in this group are the most likely to face serious mental health challenges such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety, bipolar disorder, and severe depression.

Rates of other substance dependencies are particularly high in this group as well. Cocaine and opioid addictions are two common types.

Alcohol addiction seems to take the hardest toll on this group. It has the highest divorce rate of the five categories. It has the highest rate of alcohol-related trips to emergency rooms. On top of that, many chronic severe alcoholics have criminal records or other legal troubles to contend with.

In short, alcohol tends to interfere the most with this group’s day-to-day activities. And chronic severe alcoholics often drink more alcohol at one time than they mean to.

One bright spot is that members of this group are the most likely to get help for their addiction. About two of every three chronic severe alcoholics will do so.

Functional

To many people, “functional alcoholic” is a familiar phrase. Approximately one of every five alcoholics fits this category. Functional alcoholics are typically middle-aged, and they often became dependent on alcohol later in life — in their late 30s or thereabouts.

What makes this group “functional” is that they’re able to work full-time jobs and engage in personal relationships and family life. In part, that’s because other substance abuse issues and mental health disorders are rare among these individuals.

People in this category seldom have problems with the law, and they frequently earn high incomes; it’s the most educated of the five groups. And about six of 10 functional alcoholics are male.

Yes, so many functional alcoholics seem successful in the ways society often judges success. And, because they’re doing well in their careers and in other areas of life, many functional alcoholics minimize their substance abuse in their own minds. They dismiss it as no big deal. Thus, these individuals are the least likely to seek treatment.

Intermediate Familial

People in the intermediate familial group tend to have a few things in common. First, at least one member of their nuclear family has an alcohol dependency. Moreover, alcoholism afflicts multiple generations of their family.

This group has a high rate of other mental health issues as well, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. In fact, many intermediate familial patients use alcohol as a means of counteracting their depression and easing their mood swings.

Very frequently, these patients suffer from at least one other addiction. Marijuana, cocaine, and nicotine addictions are especially common within this group.

About 19 percent of alcoholics could be classified as intermediate familial. As a group, they often experience alcohol addiction for the first time in their early 30s.

In addition, these patients have the second-highest incomes and educational levels of the five groups; only functional alcoholics are ahead of them in these areas. And approximately 64% of the people in this group are male.

Young Adults

Young adults, those in their late teens and early 20s, make up the largest group of alcoholics. Almost one out of every three people who battle alcoholism is a young adult. People in this category often have an alcohol dependence by the time they’re 24.

In some cases, college life leads to alcoholism. At many colleges and universities, students encourage one another to drink, sometimes heavily. Drinking can be a major part of the college social culture.

Young adult alcoholics tend to consume alcohol less often than those in other categories, but they’re more likely to binge drink when they do. Binge drinking accounts for about 90 percent of this group’s total alcohol intake.

A man is more than twice as likely as a woman to be a young adult alcoholic. And, especially alarming, young adults rarely seek treatment for their alcoholism. Instead, they often believe that their heavy drinking is something they’ll grow out of.

Young Antisocial

Generally speaking, people in the young antisocial category are in their mid-20s, and they started drinking alcohol at a young age: perhaps 15 or so. Their dependence probably developed at a young age as well, maybe when they were about 18.

Heavy drinking at a young age can alter the development of the brain, making addiction more likely in later years.

Approximately 21 percent of alcoholics fit this subtype. And more than 75% of this group’s members are male.

Antisocial personality disorder is prevalent among this group, hence its name. And, when people are dealing with an antisocial disorder, they may rely on alcohol to lower their inhibitions, making them feel more social. As a result, their alcohol dependence can worsen significantly.

Other mental health issues that are widespread in this category are social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression.

Likewise, additional addictions are common within this group, including addictions to opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamines. Many of its members smoke cigarettes, too.

Overall, this group consumes the most alcohol. They don’t drink the most often, but they tend to take in large amounts of alcohol whenever they do.

Approximately 35% of those in this group seek treatment for alcoholism. Among the five groups, that’s one of the higher rates.

Help Is Available

If you suspect that you or a loved one is facing alcoholism, there’s no time to delay. Alcohol dependencies only deepen as time progresses. The sooner you seek treatment for yourself or someone else, the more likely you are to prevent a severe accident or another devastating consequence.

The Garden State Treatment Center in northern New Jersey assists all types of alcoholics. Our attentive and caring specialists offer personalized and effective treatment plans. And we address the root causes of our patients’ addictions, allowing them to slowly put their lives back together. Please feel free to contact us at any time. We’re always ready to help.