A recent study shows that 13.9% of the American population aged 18 and older experiences an alcohol use disorder — the clinical term for alcoholism — within a given year. While a significant proportion of the population experiences alcoholism, it does not look the same in every affected person. In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recognizes five distinct subtypes of alcoholics. These types have different signs to look for and likelihoods of seeking treatment for their alcohol use disorder.
Young Adult Alcoholic
The prevalence of alcohol use disorder was highest among young adults: 26.7% of young adults met the criteria for a diagnosis within the 12 months preceding the study. In an earlier NIAAA study, the young adult alcoholic subtype accounted for 31.5% of those with an alcohol addiction.
Young adult alcoholics are less likely to have co-occurring addictions and mental health disorders than other subtypes. Furthermore, individuals in this subtype have low rates of alcoholism within their families. They are unlikely to seek treatment for their alcohol addiction.
It may be helpful to understand that according to the DSM-5, a person only has to meet two criteria to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. One of the criteria is tolerance, meaning that a person needs larger quantities of alcohol to achieve the same desired effects. Another one of the criteria is drinking larger quantities than intended. Consider the fact that alcohol abuse tends to be glamorized on college campuses. It is easy to understand how many young adults could meet the criteria for alcoholism but fail to seek treatment because their behavior has been normalized.
Young Antisocial Alcoholic
The following alcoholism statistics are true of this subtype:
- 21% of alcoholics in the United States fall under this category.
- Most of those under this category are in their mid-20s and began drinking early in life.
- Around half meet diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder, and over half have a family history of alcoholism.
- Depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder are common in this group.
- Abuse of other substances, including marijuana, cocaine and opioids, is common in this subtype; but, over one-third of those who fall into this category seek treatment.
You have probably heard someone at some point referred to as a “functional alcoholic.” This means they have a problem with alcohol abuse but can still function at work and participate in family life. This is a third category identified by the NIAAA study, and 19.5% of those with alcoholism fall into this category.
According to the NIAAA report, individuals in this category tend to be middle-aged, well-educated and employed with stable families. About half are smokers, and one-quarter of them suffer from depression at some point during their lives. Finally, there is a history of alcoholism within multiple familial generations for one-third of alcoholics in this subtype.
Intermediate Familial Alcoholic
Nineteen percent of people with an alcohol addiction fall under this fourth category of alcoholism. They tend to be middle-aged, and about half have a family history of alcoholism in multiple generations.
Co-occurring mental health disorders are also common in this group. Consider the following alcoholism statistics from the NIAAA study:
- Nearly 50% of intermediate familial alcoholics have depression.
- About 20% have bipolar disorder.
- Almost 20% abuse cocaine and marijuana.
- Many intermediate familial alcoholics smoke cigarettes.
- Most do not get treatment, as only 25% seek help for alcohol addiction.
Chronic Severe Alcoholic
The final and perhaps most dangerous category of alcoholism is the chronic severe subtype. According to the NIAAA, 9% of alcoholics in the United States fit into this subtype. Most of them are middle-aged and began abusing alcohol early in life. Nearly 80% of those in this category have a multigenerational family history of alcohol addiction. Both antisocial personality disorder and criminal behavior are common in this subtype.
When individuals who fit the profile for chronic severe alcoholism enter treatment, they generally present with a multitude of co-occurring disorders. For example, chronic severe alcoholics have the highest prevalence of psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder compared to the other four subtypes. They are also likely to depend upon marijuana, cocaine or opioids.
While the other types of alcoholics are not particularly likely to seek treatment, two-thirds of those in the chronic severe subtype reach out for professional help. As the most recent data shows, severe alcoholism is likely to result in significant disability. This means that individuals in this subtype are likely to have difficulty functioning within the community. They may need help from multiple supportive services, such as housing and vocational training. Those who fall into lower income levels are also at increased risk of experiencing severe alcoholism.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
If you or a loved one is displaying signs of any five types of alcoholism, treatment can help. There are several treatment options available, including inpatient care, in which patients reside at a facility while receiving treatment for alcohol addiction. Those with a less severe form of alcoholism or those who have finished inpatient rehab may attend outpatient rehab. Patients live at home or in a sober living community in outpatient care and report to a treatment facility several days per week for appointments.
Whether you select inpatient or outpatient care, seeking professional detox under medical supervision when giving up alcohol is important. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can result in severe symptoms, like seizures and a potentially fatal condition called delirium tremens.
The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers comprehensive alcohol treatment services in South Jersey, and we are qualified to treat co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. We offer medical detox, inpatient and outpatient care. Our 90-bed inpatient facility offers a multitude of services, including individual and group therapy, medical support and case management. Our amenities also include a fitness facility and yoga room, entertainment lounges and basketball and volleyball courts.
If you or your loved one is struggling with an alcohol addiction, you aren’t alone. Join the thousands of people we’ve started on the road to lifelong recovery. Give us a call today to discuss your situation, verify your insurance or begin the admissions process.
- Grant, Bridget F., et al. “Epidemiology of DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder: Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III.” JAMA Psychiatry, August 2015. Accessed December 11, 2021.
- Marshall, Brenda L., et al. “College Student Perceptions on Campus Alcohol Policies and Consumption Patterns.” Journal of Drug Education, February 6, 2012. Accessed December 12, 2021.
- National Institutes of Health. “Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes.” June 28, 2007. Accessed December 11, 2021.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.” July 2, 2018. Accessed December 12, 2021.
- Sachdeva, Ankur, et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond.” Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, September 2015. Accessed December 11, 2021.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.