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Understanding alcohol use disorder (AUD) makes it easier to get the help you need if you have a drinking problem and allows you to help a loved one who is struggling. Different types of alcoholics require different treatments. Categorizing the disorder allows you to understand the root of the problem and find the right treatment in a given situation.
The designation of mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use disorders is the terminology used in official medical diagnoses.
The three main types of alcohol problems are commonly described as:
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has further defined different types of alcohol problems by categorizing five different types of alcoholics. These include:
The effort was made to categorize different types of alcoholics, in part, to dispel the myth that there is a typical alcoholic. Identifying the category into which a person with a drinking problem falls also makes it easier to understand the root of the problem and choose rehab and treatment options that will be most effective. The categories acknowledge a person’s:
In the past, any effort made to categorize alcoholics focused primarily on hospitalized individuals or those receiving treatment. But since only about one-fourth of people with alcoholism received treatment, the previous information did not represent many with alcoholism.
A study by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), analyzed 1,484 survey respondents who met certain diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence. The study included people both in treatment and not seeking treatment. The results revealed five different types of alcoholics, which are as follows:
The five different types of alcoholics include young adult, young antisocial, functional, intermediate familial, and chronic severe alcoholics:
Young adult alcoholics make up about a third of the alcohol use disorders in the United States. Age 24 is around the time they develop alcohol dependence. Young adult alcoholics tend to drink less frequently than older alcoholics, but they binge drink – sometimes more than a dozen drinks in one situation.
Any young person can have a drinking problem, but the majority of young adult alcoholics tend to be male and single. Many are still in school. In most cases, they have low rates of COD, moderate rates of other SUD and family members with AUD, and rarely seek treatment. Some young-adult alcoholics outgrow their problem drinking while others develop an addiction to alcohol as they get older.
Young adult alcoholics comprise 31.5 percent of U.S. alcoholics.
The next category of alcoholics also includes young people. This group starts drinking around 15 and develops alcohol dependency around 18. But they are different in that young antisocial alcoholics do not drink as a social activity with peers. Instead, antisocial alcoholics drink alone and typically struggle with other issues.
Unlike regular young adult alcoholics, antisocial alcoholics tend to have family members with alcohol addiction. They also typically suffer from co-occurring mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder, depression, antisocial personality disorder, or social anxiety disorder. Many of them also abuse other substances, including cigarettes, marijuana, and opiates. On average, this type of alcoholic will consume 17 drinks at a time. Three-quarters of this group are males.
Young antisocial alcoholics comprise 21 percent of U.S. alcoholics.
Functional alcoholics account for about a fifth of all alcohol addictions. This means despite their addiction to alcohol, they hold steady jobs, are in relationships, have decent family incomes, and tend to have a higher level of education. Most are middle-aged (around 41) and started drinking around age 18. They consume alcohol daily or at least several times per week. While they might not binge drink, they do drink more alcohol than someone without a problem would consume. This group suffers moderate depression, but low rates of other COD. Sixty percent of this group are males.
Functional alcoholics comprise 19.5 percent of U.S. alcoholics.
Intermediate familial alcoholics are similar to functional alcoholics, but the former is more likely to be born with a genetic predisposition to alcohol. This started drinking around 17 and developed dependency around 32. About half of them come from families where there are other people with alcohol problems. They have a high probability of suffering from an antisocial personality disorder, depressing, generalized anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder. Also, high rates of cigarette, marijuana, and cocaine addiction.
Intermediate familial alcoholics comprise 19 percent of U.S. alcoholics.
This group accounts for the fewest number of alcoholics. It is one of the most devastating types of alcoholism and includes people struggling with the highest percentage of antisocial personality disorder of any group, divorce, co-occurring mental health disorders, and other substance abuse issues. This group experiences the highest rate of alcohol-related emergency room visits, problems at work, and in their personal lives, and withdrawal experiences.
The majority of people in this group are men in their late 20s, around 29, who started drinking around age 15. The good news is people in this group seek treatment at a higher rate than other groups and are most likely to participate in detox programs, inpatient treatment, and rehabilitation programs.
Chronic severe alcoholics comprise 9 percent of U.S. alcoholics.
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“Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), 29 Sept. 2015, www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/researchers-identify-alcoholism-subtypes. Accessed 10 Dec. 2018.