What Are the 5 Types of Alcoholics?
Last Updated: November 3, 2023
Not all cases of alcohol addiction develop similarly, so researchers have identified five types of alcoholics based on how they manifest.
You may think all cases of alcohol addiction look the same, but this isn’t always the case. Alcohol addiction can range in severity, with some people who struggle with addiction continuing to function well at work and in family life. Others may experience severe health problems and other consequences of alcohol misuse. Given the different presentations of alcohol addiction, researchers have classified alcohol addiction types.
5 Subtypes of Alcoholics
When someone has an alcohol addiction, the clinical term for their diagnosis is an alcohol use disorder. Those with an alcohol use disorder lose control over their drinking and experience different consequences related to alcohol misuse, but the severity of the condition can vary. Based on the different ways that alcohol addiction can manifest, researchers have identified “five subtypes of alcoholics.”
1. Young Adult Subtype
The young adult subtype of alcohol addiction may go unrecognized. According to research, 31.5% of Americans who struggle with alcohol addiction fall into this category; however, most who fit this mold do not seek treatment for their drinking problem. Individuals who fall into this subtype have low rates of co-occurring mental health disorders and are unlikely to misuse other substances. They also have low rates of alcoholism within their families.
Young adults in this category may not recognize they have a problem with drinking because alcohol misuse is normalized in this age group. After all, heavy drinking, even to the point of danger, is glamorized on most college campuses, so young adults with addictions may believe they are no different than anyone else their age.
2. Young Antisocial Subtype
This is a different presentation from the simple “young adult subtype” of alcohol addiction. In contrast, those in the young antisocial subtype are most often in their mid-twenties, over half of whom have a family history of alcohol addiction. These people begin drinking early in life and have an early onset of alcohol problems.
Half of those who fall into this subtype have antisocial personality disorder. Co-occurring mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, are also common. A majority of the young antisocial subtype smoke cigarettes and marijuana, and addiction to opioids and cocaine are also prevalent. Over one-third of this subtype seek treatment.
3. Functional Subtype
The functional subtype consists of middle-aged adults who are usually well-educated and have steady jobs. Around one-third have a history of alcohol abuse within their families, spanning multiple generations. Co-occurring depression is present in around one-quarter of those who fall under the functional subtype, and around half smoke.
The problem with the functional subtype of alcohol addiction is that because people in this category can still hold a job and care for their families, they may believe their alcohol use is not a problem.
4. Intermediate Familial Subtype
Around 19% of U.S. adults who struggle with alcohol addiction fall into this category, in which about half of people come from families with a multigenerational history of alcohol use disorder. Nearly half of people in this category have clinical depression, and around one-fifth have bipolar disorder.
Cigarette use is common in this subtype, and around one-fifth of the intermediate familial group also struggles with cocaine and marijuana misuse. Unfortunately, only one-fourth seek treatment for alcohol-related problems. Those in this group are middle-aged adults.
5. Chronic Severe Subtype
Just 9% of Americans who struggle with alcohol addiction fall into this subtype, and most are middle-aged adults who began drinking early in life. Antisocial personality disorder and criminal behavior are common in this subtype, and nearly 80% of these people have a multigenerational history of alcohol abuse in their families.
Among the five subtypes of alcohol addiction, this group has the highest rates of co-occurring mental health disorders, which can include depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. Cigarette smoking and marijuana, cocaine and opioid addiction are common in this group. Most people in this subtype seek treatment for drinking problems, making this subtype common in addiction treatment programs.
Get Help for All Types of Alcohol Addiction
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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2023. Accessed August 21, 2023.
National Institutes of Health. “Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes.” June 28, 2007. Accessed August 21, 2023.
Marshall, Brenda L., et al. “College Student Perceptions on Campus Alcohol Policies and Consumption Patterns.” Journal of Drug Education, February 6, 2012. Accessed August 21, 2023.