The different types of alcoholism may not all look how you’d expect. Knowing the different subtypes of alcohol use disorder and the signs associated with them can help you or a loved one get the help you need.

The Different Types Of Alcoholism & Alcohol Use Disorder

While the term “alcoholics” may bring to mind a particular image for each of us, there are a lot of different types of “alcoholism.” And they may not all look how you’d expect. Knowing the different categorizations of alcoholism and the signs and criteria associated with each can help you recognize an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in yourself or a loved one.

The 5 Alcoholic Subtypes

Many people consider alcoholism to be an umbrella term for anyone dealing with an alcohol abuse disorder. However, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) categorizes alcoholics into five types of alcoholism.

Young Adult Alcoholics

Young adult alcoholics are the largest subset of alcohol use disorders. Of all alcoholics, 32 percent fall into this category, in which the average age is 24. Most members of this group tend to binge-drink on weekends rather than drink consistently throughout the week, and because they view their drinking as weekend fun, they rarely seek help for their disordered behavior. Many members of this group also have parents or other family members who have a form of alcoholism.

Young Antisocial Alcoholics

The average age of this subtype is slightly older than a young adult, at 26 years old. However, young antisocial alcoholics are also likely to have a co-occurring disorder such as antisocial disorder, which can prevent them from seeking help. This group typically started drinking in their mid- to late teens and likely also uses tobacco, or one or more other drugs. Young antisocial alcoholics are usually male, and they make up about 21 percent of the alcoholics in the U.S. Half of the members of this group have a parent or other family member with alcoholism.

Functional Alcoholics

Also known as a high-functioning alcoholic, a member of this group can be slightly harder to identify. People with this type of alcohol use disorder consume multiple drinks just about every other day, but are able to maintain relationships, keep a job and otherwise live a seemingly normal life in spite of their drinking. Even so, their excessive amount of drinking (up to five drinks a day) can lead to alcohol-related health issues, such as liver disease, immune system suppression and memory loss. Members of this category tend to be middle-aged, and they make up about 19 percent of alcoholics in the U.S. Because of their ability to maintain a stable life, they may feel they don’t have a problem, but it’s essential that they are given the help they need to keep health issues at bay.

Intermediate Familial Alcoholism

This type of alcohol use disorder gets its name from the high number of first- and second-degree family members who also have or had a form of alcoholism. People with this form of the disorder often begin drinking in their late teens but develop a true disorder later on, in their thirties. Many also experience co-occurring disorders such as depression and substance abuse. They may regularly consume other unhealthy substances such as tobacco products or even cocaine. This alcoholic subtype makes up about 19 percent of U.S. alcoholics.

Chronic Severe Alcoholism

While this group is the smallest subset, making up just 9 percent of alcoholics, they are the most at-risk. This is due to the high rate of co-occurring disorders, such as personality disorders, and other severe drug abuse issues. Many come from families that also suffered from alcoholism. Because of the severity of their condition, this group is actually the most likely to seek help of any subset, but the sooner a loved one can convince them, the better — they could experience irreversible organ damage if their high level of abuse continues.

Recognizing The Types Of Alcoholism

Now that you are aware of the five types of alcoholics, you may be wondering how you can tell if either you or a loved one is experiencing the disorder — and if so, which subset of the disorder. However, it’s less important to understand the types of alcoholism someone could have and more important to recognize that there may be a problem, even if it doesn’t fit the image in your head. So what are the signs of a problem?

Part of the reason that recognizing the different types of alcoholics can be a challenge is that “alcoholism” itself is a non-medical term. That can make it hard to define or officially “diagnose.” Instead, professionals can diagnose and treat alcohol use disorders. You can use their criteria to determine whether you or a loved one may be experiencing a form of the disorder. If so, the next critical step is to seek help.

What Is An Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

When comparing alcohol abuse vs. dependence and addiction, the symptoms can all begin to bleed together. The term “alcohol use disorder” refers to the full spectrum of alcoholism, from mild to severe. A professional can determine your level of severity and identify which AUD subset you belong to, but you can use the information below as a starting point.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which is used nationwide by mental health professionals, offers eleven symptoms that a person with an AUD may experience.

  1. Drinking more or for longer than you had originally intended.
  2. Having difficulty cutting back on the amount of alcohol being consumed.
  3. Experiencing extended periods of sickness due to excessive drinking.
  4. Problems concentrating because of distracting alcohol cravings.
  5. Difficulty maintaining relationships, keeping a job or performing well in school.
  6. Losing ties to friends and family due to drinking, but continuing to drink anyway.
  7. Decreased interest and participation in enjoyable or important activities.
  8. Exposure to dangerous or harmful situations as a direct result of drinking (such as drunk driving, fights, operating machinery, swimming).
  9. Continuing to drink in spite of physiological or psychological problems (such as depression or blacking out).
  10. Drinking more due to increased alcohol tolerance.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if one should attempt to cut back on or stop drinking.

If you or a loved one experience two to three of these alcohol use disorder criteria, you may have a mild disorder. Four to five symptoms indicate a moderate disorder while six or more symptoms could mean you have a severe disorder or true alcohol addiction.

Seek Help From An Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center

Addiction to alcohol is a difficult disorder to manage on one’s own. Daylight Recovery Services’ alcohol treatment program can help.

As a licensed alcohol treatment center, we offer our clients a safe and comfortable place to detox, a 30-day inpatient program, as well as access to 12-step programs. The support and care we offer inside the treatment facility and out helps our clients overcome their alcohol addiction and lead happier, healthier lives. Reach out today to learn more and start down the road to recovery.

Alcoholism Resources