Are There Different Types of Alcoholics?

A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) establishes five different types of alcoholics. Each category represents a unique group, but they are all determined by the same factors. Understanding the language used in the study is important for understanding the differences between each group.

Understanding the Terminology

According to the NIAAA “More than 10% of US children live with a parent with alcohol problems…” (Alcohol Facts). Generational alcoholism describes a family environment that normalizes the presence of alcohol and its abuse. It can lead to an increased likelihood of alcoholism later in life. Another factor is whether or not someone is also addicted to other drugs. This additional substance abuse is noted as co-occurring substance dependence, which can be caused by alcoholism or go on to cause alcoholism. The type of alcoholic can also be determined by any additional mental health diagnoses.

Poor mental health can allow substance abuse to develop if those substances help alleviate the symptoms of any current mental illnesses. Some of the types describe people dealing with fewer mental health issues outside of their alcohol abuse, whereas others suffer from depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, and more.

The 5 Types of Alcoholics

Young Adult Type

Making up 31.5% of alcoholics, this is the largest type in the US. These young adults usually don’t have diagnosed mental disorders, substance-related or otherwise. Most people falling within this type do not seek help in their dependence on alcohol and they usually come from families with little to no alcohol abuse problems.

Young Antisocial Type

This classification represents 21% of US alcoholics. Again, these dependents are all young adults in their mid-twenties. Unlike the previous type, this group is defined by the co-occurrence of mental disorders. They come from families where alcohol dependency may be common, leading to early exposure and abuse. This detrimental exposure can create or aggravate existing mental health disorders like major depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Along with the abuse of alcohol, many young antisocial alcoholics also form dependencies on tobacco and marijuana. A smaller group also form habits related to more extreme drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Functional Type

This alcoholism type represents 19.5% of alcoholics in the US and includes mostly those who are middle-aged. The likelihood of additional mental disorders is less than the young antisocial type, but around one quarter of this group reports having dealt with depressive disorders at one point or another. Nearly half of those within this category smoked before their alcohol abuse and one third came from families with generational alcohol abuse issues. Because their homes and jobs are generally stable, functional alcoholics often choose not to pursue help with their alcoholism.

Intermediate Familial Type

Nearly the same size as the last type, this group represents 19% of US alcoholics. The incidence of mental health disorders is much more common within this type. Around half suffer from clinical depression and an equal amount come from families with generational alcohol dependency. A minority, around 20%, reported having issues with dependence on marijuana or cocaine alongside alcohol. Around one quarter of those in this category seek help for their alcoholism.

Chronic Severe Type

This is the smallest type, representing around 9% of US alcoholics. Those within this group most likely would have fit into the Young Antisocial type earlier in their lives. Generational alcohol abuse is extremely common in chronic severe cases along with the highest rates of mental health disorders out of any type. On top of alcohol abuse, many people in this category abuse tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, or opiates. Researchers found that more people in this type reach out for help for their alcohol dependence than any other type. Nearly two thirds of chronic severe alcoholics seek out rehabilitation for their dependence.

Why Create These Types?

Alcoholism is a serious substance abuse issue facing more than 15 million Americans, and treating all alcoholics the same has provided unsatisfactory results. Healthcare specialists know that alcoholism can affect people differently for a range of reasons. Studies like this one help expand the ways we can approach alcoholism to help those in need the most effectively. If no two people are alike, then no 15 million people can possibly be alike either. These new types help scientists and healthcare specialists create more appropriate prescriptions to treat this deadly disease.

Do You Need Help?

Many of those in the grips of alcoholism choose not to seek help, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you or a loved one fall into one of these types of alcoholism, know that there are options. Support is available and reaching out to a treatment provider is one of the first steps in the healing process.

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