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Learning To Identify The Many Types Of Alcoholism

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

February 4, 2019

Alcoholism has been broken down into five different subtypes which group people based on various factors, including their age, behaviors, and the severity of their addiction.

Types Of Alcoholism – Which Do You Have?

If you suffer from an addiction to alcohol, you may be surprised at how different your experience was than that what you were expecting. Television, movies, literature, and various other forms of entertainment have bred a cliché of alcoholism that rarely, if ever, matches up with reality. Everybody’s addiction is different, and they can’t be treated in the same way across the board.

However, alcoholism has been broken down into five different subtypes which group people together based on various factors, including their age, their behaviors, and the severity of their addiction. Before you can successfully recover from addiction, you need to understand which group you fall under, from where your addiction may stem, and what you can do to combat it.

Identifying The Subtypes

In 2007, the National Institutes Of Health, led by Dr. Howard B. Moss—the Associate Director for Clinical and Translational Research at NIAAA—released a report that identified five different types of alcoholism among the population. Their mission with their report was to help break the myth that alcohol addiction was a problem that only affected certain people in certain ways.

“Our findings should help dispel the popular notion of the ‘typical alcoholic,” Moss said in his report. “We find that young adults comprise the largest group of alcoholics in this country, and nearly 20 percent of alcoholics are highly functional and well-educated with good incomes. More than half of the alcoholics in the United States have no multigenerational family history of the disease, suggesting that their form of alcoholism was unlikely to have genetic causes.”

This was a bombshell revelation that shook up the way that alcohol addiction recovery was approached in this nation. No longer was it assumed that all people with an alcohol problem were the same. The denigrating and insulting idea of the “town drunk” was thrown out the window and expanded to include people of both genders, multiple generations, and all walks of the socioeconomic world.

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It also broke the recovery world from its focus on people who were hospitalized or receiving some form of addiction treatment. Not that these people don’t matter (they do), but that there was a much broader range of alcoholism types sweeping across the nation. Another part of the study discovered the sad fact that only about 25 percent of all people who suffered from alcohol addiction ever received treatment.

This new subtype-focused treatment helps identify where you fall on the alcoholism spectrum and works to provide you with new and promising methods for treatment. The five different subtypes of alcoholism are: young adult, young antisocial, functional, intermediate familial, and chronic severe. The following information will delve in depth into each type and give you a feel for where you fall.

Young Adult Subtype

One of the most troubling finds in the above-mentioned survey was the fact that the young adult subtype made up a majority of people suffering from alcohol addiction. A full 31.5 percent of all people fall under this range (from 18-25) and the average age that a person in this group first becomes dependent on alcohol averages out to about 20 years old.

If you are in this age range and believe you have an alcohol problem, you are probably drinking less frequently, but drinking heavily when you do drink. Young adults with alcoholism tend to drink five or more drinks on days when they do drink, but often drink as much as 14 in one sitting. You are about 54 percent likely to be working and about 36.5 percent likely to be in school (whether high school or college) and may also suffer from an addiction to cigarettes (32 percent) or marijuana (25 percent).

These troubling numbers are often caused by young adults finally breaking free of their parents’ control and experiencing the ability to make their own decisions. These young addicted individuals are also surrounded by people their own age who are looking to have a lot of fun, and their definition of fun is centered on drinking heavily. The peer pressure at this age is severe and for many people, it’s impossible to combat.

The saddest part about this subtype is that it’s the least likely to receive treatment. Only 8.4 percent ever seek help, as most of them either think they don’t have a problem (“everybody else is doing it”), feel like they’re “invincible,” or simply don’t understand the severity of their problem. As a result, the saddest stories of alcoholism often begin here.

Young Antisocial

When a young adult suffers from antisocial personality disorder, they differ from the above-mentioned category in a variety of ways. This subset (21.1 percent of all alcoholism cases) is often paired with mental health problems (about 50 percent of the time) beyond antisocial personality disorder. However, the interesting thing about this category is that about one-third of them actually actively seeks help, perhaps because of the severe problems antisocial personality causes.

According to the National Library Of Medicine, the symptoms of this disorder are severe and create a person who is unable to fit into society. Typical symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Charming personality paired with flattery and manipulation
  • Disregard for the law and safety of others
  • Lack of emotions, beyond arrogance and anger
  • Personality conflicts with others (inability to “fit in”)
  • Addiction

People with antisocial personality disorder often fall victim to alcohol addiction due to the reckless way in which they live their lives. The difficulty of treating this type of co-occurring disorder is high, because it isn’t a condition that can be cured. There are no medicines that help a person feel empathy or understand the rules of society. Only behavioral adjustments and educational treatments work.

With these types of treatments, they can better understand the needs of others and the ways their behaviors impact society. It can give them a better understanding of how dangerous and problematic their addiction is, and create a more stable lifestyle. As mentioned before, about one-third of all people in this category seek help, so while it will be tough, it’s definitely manageable.


Alcoholism comes in many different shades and colors, not all of which appear as severe as others. For example, functional alcoholism often seems sustainable by many people, but it is just as troubling. It takes up 19.4 percent of all alcoholism types and is usually developed in middle age. The reasons for this include more free time on their hands (after children move out of the home, or they retire) or the taming of their wilder drinking behaviors in the past.

Just about one-quarter of all people with functional alcoholism suffered from problem drinking behaviors in the past, with another one-quarter suffering from clinical depression. Family alcoholism also tends to be a problem here.

People with a functional alcoholism go to work every day, own their own homes, have families, and appear to be highly successful in every way. However, when they come home at night, they drink to excess. Often, they have tamed their binge drinking behaviors and believe that drinking “just” six beer every night is a good compromise from wilder drinking patterns.

However, they are still doing serious damage to their bodies and creating an example of problematic drinking that might impact their family and especially their children. They may also be using alcohol to self-medicate other personal problems. Recovering from this type of alcoholism is difficult because most people with functional alcoholism believe they have no problem. After all, they are living their life in a successful way. Sadly, the rehab rate of this group is often very, very low.

Intermediate Familial

People who have a family history of alcoholism often suffer from this category of alcoholism. About 18.8 percent of all alcoholism cases fall under this heading. Typically, there are a few causes of intermediate familial alcoholism. First of all, when a person is raised in a culture of heavy drinking, they are likely to emulate it. It displays the behavior patterns they know and accept, and may follow in their family’s footsteps no matter how harmful it is to their lives.

However, people with family histories of alcoholism may also be genetically predisposed to addiction. Although the concept of “addictive personality” is complex, it is often related to a person whose body chemistry naturally flows down the road of alcohol addiction. This makes quitting incredibly hard for these people, especially if they use their family history as an explanation or excuse for their behavior and don’t try to change it.

Another common problem that impacts people under this subtype is mental health. Though researchers aren’t quite sure why, at least 50 percent of the people in this group suffer from severe clinical depression, while another 20 percent have bipolar disorder. That’s nearly three-quarters of the people in this group. Perhaps growing up in a family with a history of alcoholism is more difficult emotionally, but for whatever reason, they suffer from a high rate of comorbidity.

Breaking free under this category requires understanding that a family history of alcoholism doesn’t automatically make addiction your destiny. It also requires distancing yourself from family members who either drink heavily or whom actively try to get you to continue drinking. Like you, they may think that heavy drinking is acceptable and may feel judged by your attempts to quit. This complex interaction is hard to escape, but it can be done.

Chronic Severe

The most problematic of all alcohol addiction types is chronic severe. People that fall into this range are likely daily drinkers of an excessive amount of alcohol. Their dependency has likely already caused a variety of social and health problems which have derailed their lives. In spite of these problems, people with chronic severe alcoholism continue drinking.

There are a few reasons for this continued drinking pattern. At this stage of alcoholism, the level of physical addiction is very high. You are going to have withdrawal symptoms if you fail to drink alcohol every day, making you sick to your stomach, mentally agitated, and even severely ill. Beyond the physical addiction, chronic severe alcoholism is most likely to occur in people who suffer from comorbidity or co-occurring symptoms.

If you’ve never heard of this problem, but believe you fall under the “chronic severe” label, it’s worth taking some time to understand it. Comorbidity or co-occurring disorders are the simultaneous existence of alcoholism with one or more mental health disorders. Problems as diverse as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can contribute to alcoholism. People under the chronic severe subtype have the highest rate of comorbidity among the various addiction types.

The National Comorbidity Study compiled information about the various types of alcoholism in order to gauge just how many people suffered from co-occurring mental health problems and addiction. What they found was telling: 29.6 percent of people with mental health disorders also suffered from a chronic severe alcohol addiction. It was also found that 80 percent of these people had a family history of alcohol dependency.

The one advantage to falling in this alcoholism range is that your addiction will be apparent and troubling enough to cause you to reach out for help. As a result, about two-thirds of all people who fall under this range go on to seek treatment for their addiction to alcohol. While we know this doesn’t necessarily make your severe addiction any easier to handle, it’s good to know that rehab centers near you will have plenty of experience dealing with a problem like yours.

Learning To Identify The Alcoholism Types

By now, you should have a pretty good idea of where you fall on the alcoholism spectrum and should better understand how you can receive the help you need to recover. You’re also likely aware of how difficult your recovery will be. We can’t promise you that this will be a cakewalk because we know from firsthand experience how difficult it is to beat alcohol addiction.

However, we do know that people like you master their addiction every day and dedicate themselves to a life of full-time sobriety. Finally making that breakthrough is one of the most important things you’ll ever do in your life and we are ready to help you make that change. Please contact us today at to receive guidance, free information, and help finding a rehab center near you that can help you get your life back on track.

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