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The Types of Alcoholics: It Can Happen to Anyone

Posted: May 5, 2019 by in Help Addiction Recovery Center


Did you know 6.2% of adults have alcohol use disorder? That’s over 15 million adults. So if you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol abuse, know that you are very much not alone.

But how does alcoholism start? Well, for starters, it’s different for everyone. But while the reasons for alcohol abuse may vary, they tend to fall into one of five categories. 

So, what are the five types of alcoholics? They are:

  1. young adult alcoholics
  2. young antisocial alcoholics
  3. functional alcoholics
  4. intermediate familial alcoholics, and
  5. chronic severe alcoholics.

So, what’s the difference? And what might it mean for you? Read on to learn more.

Young Adult Alcoholics

Young adult alcoholics are the most common type of alcoholic and represent 31.5% of all U.S. alcoholics. Young adult alcoholics are usually in their late teens or early 20s. They also tend to be college students.

In college, many young adults are away from home for the very first time. Additionally, its social culture often encourages excessive drinking. And 38% of college students engage in binge drinking.

But due to societal norms, many young adult alcoholics remain undiagnosed. It is incorrectly considered to be a normal part of this phase of life. Most family members assume it’s a temporary behavior and that their child will soon grow out of it.

Here are some common characteristics of young adult alcoholics:

  • They tend to be male.
  • Onset is early (19-20 years old).
  • Often, they also use tobacco or cannabis.
  • They drink less, but when they do drink, it’s usually binge drinking.
  • They don’t usually have other mental disorders.
  • They don’t typically have alcoholic family members.

Young adult alcoholics are very unlikely to seek help on their own. It’s highly likely you’ll need to stage an intervention for them.

Treatment for this group should be structured and provide social support. For example, try 12-step programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous) versus clinics or private practices.

Young Antisocial Alcoholics

About half of young antisocial alcoholics have antisocial personality disorder. Individuals with this disorder often lack remorse and do not consider others’ safety. They engage in criminal activities and are usually impulsive and irresponsible.

This group also has high instances of other psychiatric disorders. These include depression, OCD, and bipolar disorder. They also often abuse other substances, like cigarettes, cannabis, cocaine, and opioids.

It is likely that this group is self-medicating to try and improve these disorders on their own. More than half have a close relative that is an alcoholic, so a genetic basis is likely.

Here are common characteristics of young antisocial alcoholics:

  • They start drinking early (16 years) and become dependent on alcohol early on (18 years). 
  • They tend to be males.
  • Few complete college, and most have low family income.

They’re moderately likely to seek help on their own. But specialized therapy is needed to combat mental illness alongside addiction treatment. 

Treatment is going to have to be consistent, focused, and strictly monitored. It’s important to hold them accountable and provide random alcohol screenings. This group struggles with treatment compliance, so violations should be taken seriously.

Functional Alcoholics

Functional alcoholics stand in stark contrast to all the other groups. They tend to appear successful with a steady job and a stable family.

Because of this, it’s very difficult to get a functional alcoholic to admit that they have a problem. They may lead a type of double-life where they hide their drinking problem. Or, they may be adept at convincing others that their drinking is normal.

Here are common characteristics of functional alcoholics:

  • They tend to be older (usually in their 40s).
  • They usually drink every other day.
  • They have a full-time job and a high household income.
  • A large proportion also smoke cigarettes.
  • They’re usually married.
  • They often have comorbid mental health disorders as well, like depression and anxiety.

Because it’s so hard to get this group to admit that they have a problem, you’ll likely need to stage an intervention. By using a non-confrontational approach, they are more likely to listen to you. For treatment, they respond better to 12-step programs and private professionals.

Intermediate Familial Alcoholics

Intermediate familial alcoholics are named because about half have a close alcoholic relative. But not all do. Instead, some may have learned behaviors that lead to alcoholism from their upbringing. 

Additionally, they often have mental illnesses like depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Many smoke cigarettes, use cannabis, or use cocaine. It’s likely these individuals are using alcohol to self-medicate some of these disorders.

Here are common characteristics of intermediate familial alcoholics:

  • They are typically male.
  • They started drinking in their teens.
  • Alcohol abuse starts later in life (their early 30s).
  • They work full time.
  • They develop tolerance and/or withdrawal to alcohol.

It’s not very rare that this group recognizes that they do, indeed, have a problem. For treatment, they respond best to support groups, detox programs, and private healthcare. Other mental health or substance abuse problems should be treated at the same time.

Chronic Severe Alcoholics

Chronic severe alcoholics are the rarest subtype. They tend to embody classic alcoholic characteristics. This group almost always has a close alcoholic relative.

Most also suffer from some type of mental illness. Common comorbidities are depression, antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and social phobia. Most smoke cigarettes and cannabis, and many also use cocaine and opioids.

Here are common characteristics of chronic severe alcoholics:

  • They are male.
  • They are unemployed.
  • They don’t have a college degree.
  • They start drinking very young (often younger than 16 years).
  • They drink almost every single day of the year.
  • They experience withdrawal when trying to quit.

The good news is that most of the alcoholics in this group try to seek help for their addiction. The bad news is that they tend to improve the least in their symptomology once they begin treatment. Above all, their treatment should emphasize relapse prevention.

These individuals are most likely to benefit from an alcohol rehabilitation center. Being under constant supervision will help them avoid relapse and get through withdrawal. Additionally, treatment should address any other mental illness and substance abuse problems.

Even after rehab ends, a structured environment can help maintain positive change. Often, 12-step programs can help these individuals focus on sobriety once rehab ends.

Are You or a Loved One Suffering From Alcohol Use Disorder?

If you suspect you or a loved on fits into one of these five categories, it’s essential to get them help immediately. Whether you need to stage an intervention, put them into a detox service, or take them to an addition recover center, we can help.

Read about Help Addiction Recovery Center’s treatment program. Located in Pasadena, California, each patient’s treatment is custom-designed. Call us at (626) 460-3934 for a confidential evaluation today.

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