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5 Types of Alcoholism: Understanding the Alcoholic Subtypes

Last Updated on May 7, 2020 by Inspire Malibu

Alcohol is one of the most socially acceptable drugs in the United States and, likely, the world over.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that more than 86 percent of people 18 and older admit to drinking in their lifetime and nearly 60 percent say they had a drink in the past month.

While not everyone who drinks alcohol develops a dependency or addiction to it, researchers at the NIAAA conducted a survey that dispels the stereotype of a “typical alcoholic.”

In a study of 1,484 people, scientists identified five types of alcoholism subtypes and their findings might come as a surprise.

  1. Young Adult Alcoholic
  2. Young Antisocial Alcoholic
  3. Functional Alcoholic
  4. Intermediate Familial Alcoholic
  5. Chronic Severe Alcoholic

“We find that young adults comprise the largest group of alcoholics in this country,” Dr. Howard B. Moss, a lead author on the study, said in a press release, “and nearly 20 percent of alcoholics are highly functional and well-educated with good incomes.”

5 Types of Alcoholism: Understanding the Alcoholic Subtypes

What are the 5 Alcoholic Subtypes Revealed in the NIAAA Study?

1. Young Adult Alcoholic Subtype

At 31.5 percent, young adults are the largest group of problem drinkers in the country.

The Young Adult Alcoholic Subtype, however, has a relatively low rate of mental health disorders along with alcoholism, a condition called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.

Generally, this group does not have a family history of alcoholism and seldom seeks help or treatment for their own drinking.

2. Young Antisocial Alcoholic Subtype

The Young Antisocial Alcoholic Subtype makes up the second largest type of alcoholics, with 21 percent of this group usually in their mid-20s.

These are people who began drinking at a much younger age and developed alcohol dependency issues.

More than 75 percent of this group also battles addiction to other substances too, including drugs like nicotine, marijuana, cocaine and opioids.

Over half of this subtype have a family history of alcoholism and suffer from antisocial personality disorder. Around one-third of these alcoholics end up seeking treatment for addiction.

3. Functional Alcoholic Subtype

The Functional Alcoholic Subtype group makes up 19.5 percent of alcoholics in the country. People in this subtype are sometimes referred to as a “high functioning alcoholic,” or a “working alcoholic” because they are able to conceal their illness.

These are mostly people with stable families and jobs, who are well educated and middle-aged.

Around 50 percent of this subtype also smokes cigarettes, with a third of them having a family history of alcoholism and a quarter of them struggling with episodes of major depression at least once in their lifetime.

4. Intermediate Familial Alcoholic Subtype

The Intermediate Familial Alcoholic Subtype category is comprised of middle-aged people, 50 percent of which come from families that suffered from alcoholism. 19 percent of all alcoholics fall into this category.

A majority of this group are cigarette smokers and about one in five have also struggled with marijuana and cocaine use.

This group has a high rate of co-occurring mental illness, with roughly half of them coping with clinical depression and 20 percent with bipolar disorder.

It’s estimated that only 25 percent of this type of alcoholic ever seeks treatment.

5. Chronic Severe Alcoholic Subtype

The Chronic Severe Alcoholic Subtype makes up the smallest group of alcoholics, at approximately 9 percent.

This subtype is mostly comprised of middle-aged people who developed alcohol use disorder at an early age, suffer from high rates of antisocial personality disorder and have had problems within the criminal justice system.

Anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorder are common among this demographic, as well as addiction to cigarettes, cocaine, marijuana and opioids.

About two-thirds of this alcoholic subtype seek help for their alcoholism and comprise the most common group in rehab facilities.

Treatment For Alcoholism

As mentioned in the statistics above , many people with an alcohol dependency or addiction continue drinking for a lifetime without ever seeking treatment.

While it’s possible for some to live a long life without quitting alcohol, the odds are stacked against many others who will eventually encounter serious health issues related to alcohol.

There is no cure for the disease of alcohol addiction although it can be successfully treated and managed with professional help from an alcohol rehab treatment center.

After treatment, there are a wide variety of support group options to connect with others and avoid relapse, such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, alcoholism group programs, and SMART Recovery.

Many alcoholics, like those addicted to other substances, either live in denial or rely on alcohol to cope with other conditions like depression or PTSD.

Proper treatment can help overcome these issues and offer those with an alcohol addiction live a happier and healthier life for many more years.


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