When people think of an alcoholic, they typically imagine the stereotype of alcoholism that is prevalent in society. While there are individuals who fit that image, alcoholism does not look identical in every person.
In fact, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found 5 common subtypes of alcoholics, which include:
- Young adult subtype
- Young antisocial subtype
- Functional subtype
- Intermediate familial subtype
- Chronic severe subtype
The stereotype of alcoholism in America is most similar to the chronic severe subtype. However, studies have found that the young adult subtype of alcoholism is the most common, with 31.5 percent of U.S. alcoholics fitting the criteria.
With that being said, it is important to be familiar with the different types of alcoholics to allow easy identification and early intervention of alcohol use disorder.
1. Young Adult Subtype
The young adult subtype of alcoholism is the most common. The individuals who belong to this subtype are usually around 25 years of age and 2.5 times more likely to be male.
Young adult alcoholics usually begin drinking at around age 19 and develop a full-blown alcohol use disorder by the age of 24 or 25. These individuals are more likely to be in college than working a full-time job. Oftentimes, they tend to partake in frequent binge drinking rather than engaging in constant consumption of alcohol.
While they are less likely to have co-occurring mental health conditions than other subtypes of alcoholics, the young adult alcoholic is likely to smoke cigarettes and marijuana.
Unfortunately, only 8.7% of young adult alcoholics seek treatment. However, these individuals are more likely to prefer 12-step programs over specialty treatment programs.
Signs and Symptoms
The young adult subtype of alcoholics is usually a binge-drinker. This means that they consume large amounts of alcohol at one time rather than spreading their drinking out over a few days.
Other signs and symptoms of the young adult subtype of alcoholism include:
- Being male and around the age of 25
- Having an early onset of alcoholism, typically around the age of 19
- Having first-degree or second-degree relatives who also suffer from alcoholism
- Also using tobacco or marijuana products
- Abusing alcohol during hazardous situations (i.e. drinking and driving)
- Experiencing a physical dependency on alcohol
- Not experiencing co-occurring mental health conditions
- Refusing to attend professional treatment or denying that they have a problem with alcohol
The young antisocial subtype of alcoholics is the second most common type of alcoholics known. About 54% of these individuals also suffer from an antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).
These individuals are also young, with an average age of 26 years. The young antisocial subtype of alcoholics tends to have an earlier onset age than the young adult subtype, usually beginning their alcohol abuse at age 16 or younger.
This subtype of alcoholics binge drinks more frequently than any other subtype of alcoholism. Additionally, they drink the most amount of alcohol at once when compared to other subtypes, with a maximum of 17 drinks at once.
76% of young antisocial alcoholics are male, did not get a college degree, and work full-time. Additionally, most of these individuals have high rates of co-occurring disorders and polysubstance abuse.
Signs and Symptoms
The young antisocial alcoholic usually displays the symptoms of ASPD. For example, they may display behaviors of impulsiveness, irresponsibility, frequently lying, and having a lack of regard for the safety of others.
Additional signs and symptoms of the young antisocial subtype of alcoholism include:
- Being male and around the age of 26
- Beginning to drink excessively at a young age
- Being involved in criminal activities and physical fights frequently
- Suffering from depression, ASPD, bipolar disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Using additional substances like cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, opioids, or amphetamines
- Displaying aggressive behaviors
- Engaging in impulsive behaviors and risk-taking activities
- Binge drinking frequently
- Displaying a lack of regard for the feelings or safety of others around them
3. Functional Subtype
19.4% of alcoholics meet the criteria for the functional subtype of alcoholism. These individuals are usually middle-aged and had a later onset of alcohol dependency (typically around their late 30s). According to research, functional alcoholics drink every other day and binge drink half of the time.
The term “functional alcoholic” was coined due to these individuals’ ability to continue working and maintaining their responsibilities despite dealing with a severe addiction to alcohol.
Additionally, these individuals tend to earn the highest yearly salary when compared to all other subtypes of alcoholism.
Because these individuals tend to maintain their outward appearance, very few of them have legal problems.
Signs and Symptoms
The functional subtype of alcoholism is characterized by being able to remain successful in their work and social life. Because of this, the signs of functional alcoholism can be difficult to spot.
The signs and symptoms of functional alcoholism include:
- Being middle-aged and having a successful career
- Struggling with depression but masking the symptoms
- Not getting in trouble with the law or engaging in risky behaviors
- Commonly joking about having alcoholism
- Being in denial about their problem with alcohol
- Drinking larger amounts of alcohol than others and appearing “fine”
- Continuing to maintain responsibilities despite drinking often and heavily
- Drinking at work and on lunch breaks
- Hiding bottles of liquor inside of their work desks or around the home
- Getting defensive when their heavy alcohol consumption is brought up
4. Intermediate Familial Subtype
The intermediate familial subtype includes individuals with high rates of familial history of alcoholism. In other words, many of these individuals have parents or other close relatives who also suffer from alcoholism. Because of this, they tend to start drinking at an early age (around 17) and develop a dependency on alcohol by the age of 32.
Intermediate familial alcoholics are more commonly male and have a high probability of suffering from co-occurring mental health conditions and polysubstance abuse.
While they tend to have higher rates of employment than other subtypes, they are not considered similar to the functional subtype of alcoholism. Only 20% of these individuals have a college degree, causing them to have a lower annual income rate than functional alcoholics.
Many intermediate familial alcoholics seek close relationships with others. However, their family life as a child tends to be rocky, causing high rates of divorce among these individuals.
Signs and Symptoms
Intermediate familial alcoholics come from a family history of alcoholism and mental health conditions. This causes them to be prone to developing an addiction to alcohol and co-occurring mental health conditions.
The signs and symptoms of the intermediate familial subtype of alcoholism include:
- Having an immediate family history of alcoholism
- Beginning to drink in their teen years and developing an addiction to alcohol by their 30s
- Suffering from co-occurring disorders like depression, ASPD, bipolar disorder, and anxiety
- Abusing additional substances like cigarettes, marijuana, and cocaine
- Being in long-term relationships or experiencing a divorce
- Viewing excessive drinking as a normal behavior
- Having a history of childhood trauma
5. Chronic Severe Subtype
Typically, this subtype of alcoholism is closest to the stereotype of an alcoholic. Ironically, the chronic severe subtype of alcoholism is the least common subtype known (9% of all alcoholics).
These individuals usually begin drinking at around the age of 16 and develop a dependency on alcohol in their late 20s. This group of alcoholics has the highest rates of drinking, binge drinking 69% of the time and drinking on a total amount of 248 days per year.
Because of their frequency of drinking and long-term history of alcohol abuse, these individuals suffer from the most dangerous effects of alcohol addiction.
Chronic severe alcoholics are known to experience high rates of co-occurring mental health conditions and polysubstance abuse. Second to the young antisocial subtype, 47% of these individuals suffer from an antisocial personality disorder. Additionally, 75% of chronic severe alcoholics smoke cigarettes.
Signs and Symptoms
The chronic severe subtype of alcoholism aligns with the stereotype of alcohol use disorder in the U.S. These individuals tend to have difficulty holding a job, cannot conceal their alcohol abuse, and suffer from the more serious consequences of alcoholism.
The signs and symptoms of the chronic severe subtype of alcoholism include:
- Beginning drinking in their teen years and becoming addicted by their late 20s
- Having a hard time holding jobs, maintaining responsibilities, and functioning in their daily life
- Experiencing high rates of emergency room visits as a result of alcohol abuse
- Having severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
- Repeatedly attempting to recover from their alcoholism with several instances of relapse
- Experiencing high rates of co-occurring disorders and polysubstance abuse
- Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities due to their addiction to alcohol
Finding Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
The 5 subtypes of alcoholics prove that alcoholism looks different for everyone. While some alcoholics may continue attending work and maintaining their responsibilities, others have a difficult time functioning in their day-to-day life.
If you or a loved one identify with any of the types of alcoholics mentioned above, professional treatment is necessary. Moving Mountains Recovery Center understands that alcoholism is different for everyone. Because of this, we offer individualized treatment planning to address all of our patient’s unique needs.
Contact Moving Mountains Recovery Center today for more information on our alcoholism treatment programs.