It can be tempting to believe that alcoholism is the same, no matter who it affects. However, as noted by the National Institutes of Health, research in recent years has demonstrated that this is actually not the case. and that there are five subtypes of alcoholics, based on severity of the issue, as well as: Age, Family history of alcoholism, other substance abuse and/or psychiatric disorders, and Socioeconomic status.
One of the major concerns when it comes to alcoholism is the fact that very few people who struggle with this mental health disorder seek help or treatment. In many cases, and with most of these subtypes, people are usually unaware or in denial that there is even a problem. However, not receiving medical treatment for alcoholism can be life-threatening, and alcohol abuse can lead to many types of physical and mental problems that can benefit from treatment and therapy.
For those who are unsure about whether or not they have an alcohol problem, understanding the five subtypes can help determine whether help is warranted. At the same time, this understanding can allow both researchers and treatment professionals to provide more specific treatment based on this detailed knowledge, helping to improve the chances for positive outcomes and long-term management of alcoholism.
Type 1: The Young Adult
According to WebMD, a surprising result of the study into the types of alcoholism showed that young adults account for more than half of the people who struggle with alcohol dependence. Those young adults fall partly into this type, accounting for about 32 percent of people who are dealing with alcoholism.
The young adult subtype generally began using alcohol at a young age, becoming dependent by about age 20. They are more likely to binge drink than to use alcohol frequently. They rarely seek treatment for alcoholism, and they also generally have low incidence of other substance abuse or mental illness.
Type 2: The Young Antisocial
The other group of young adults that makes up more than half of people with alcoholism includes this subtype, the young antisocial. Unlike the previous group, these young adults are more likely to have come from a family background of alcoholism or to have some form of mental health disorder.
According to Psych Central, these account for about 21 percent of all people with alcoholism, and they have also smoked or used marijuana, cocaine, or heroin. About half are also diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, while the rest may have some form of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness. They drink more regularly, and about one-third of them will seek help for their drinking problems.
Type 3: The Functional
The remainder of the subtypes involve typically middle-aged people. In this group, the functional subtype, a multigenerational family history of alcoholism is likely to have existed for about one-third, and one-quarter may have experienced severe depression. This group accounts for about one-fifth of all people struggling with alcoholism. However, they are not likely to realize or accept the fact that they are struggling with the disease.
Most of the people in the functional subtype have stable family lives and jobs, and they are able to function well in most parts of their lives, according to an article from Everyday Health. However, they may not recognize that they’re dealing with some form of anxiety or depression, which they are self-medicating through drinking. Nevertheless, they are often able to drink a lot in the evening, and then get up and function relatively normally throughout the rest of the day. Drinking becomes an increasingly dangerous issue, but the person doesn’t recognize that there’s a problem.
Type 4: The Intermediate Familial
Intermediate familial type alcoholism is also considered to be somewhat high-functioning, according to the original study from Drug and Alcohol Dependence. However, this subtype is more likely to have engaged in other drug use, has higher incidence of mental illness, and is more likely to have a familial history of substance abuse.
This group has high occurrence of depression or bipolar disorder, and may have used cigarettes or marijuana, cocaine, or heroin. They make up about 19 percent of all people struggling with alcoholism, but only about 25 percent of them seek help for their addictions.
Type 5: The Chronic Severe
This is the image most people conjure up when they think of people who struggle with alcoholism; however, it accounts for only about 9 percent of people who are alcohol-dependent. As described by the National Institutes of Health, this is the chronic, heavy alcohol user who may have a severe mental illness, like antisocial personality disorder, psychosis, or other disorders, and who is likely to have abused or been addicted to other drugs as well.
Chronic, heavy alcohol use is not only dangerous when in progress, but can also pose challenges for treatment. In any of these subtypes, someone who has been engaging in this type of use for a long period of time may risk severe withdrawal symptoms, and should seek professional help. This can avoid dangerous symptoms, such as seizures or delirium tremens. It can also help the person take the path toward recovery and learn to manage the disorder.
While some of these five subtypes can be more challenging to treat than others, all can improve with treatment. Seeking help with alcohol abuse and alcoholism is a first step toward overcoming the problems that arise through abusing alcohol, including relationship problems, financial issues, and deterioration of health that could occur if drinking continues. Treatment can provide tools and skills for the individual to learn to manage drinking triggers, overcome cravings, and maintain abstinence from alcohol for the long-term. As a result, people who seek treatment for alcoholism can move forward into happier, more meaningful lives in recovery from the disorder.