Five Types of Alcoholics: Criteria, Features, Treatment

Last Updated: August 7, 2019

different types of alcoholics

Alcoholism is a huge problem in the United States, and these issues must be addressed appropriately. There are many types of alcoholics which complicate the situation as alcoholism is not a one-type-fits-all. Sub-categories are important and reveal a true representation of alcoholism and negative drinking patterns within the U.S.

The Criteria of Alcoholism

Data collated by the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2015 revealed that over 86.4% of those over the age of 18 admitted they had drunk alcohol at some point.  Many people start drinking at a young age with or without permission; however, it’s important to understand the criteria for alcoholism as not everyone who drinks alcohol develops a dependency. Many people go out drinking sensibly but, there is cause for concern when it comes to peer pressure, social issues or, personal circumstances which may lead to a reliance on alcohol. There is no denying the fact that approximately 88,000 people die through alcohol-related causes on an annual basis.

Alcoholism is the third preventable cause for death in the US, and the early signs and symptoms of alcoholism must be taken seriously as the following statistics confirm:

  • 56% of those interviewed reported they had been drinking alcohol within the previous month
  • 26.9% confirmed they had partaken in binge drinking within the previous 30-days.
  • 7% reported that they had consumed heavy alcohol levels within the previous 30- days.

Is drinking alone a sign of alcoholism? Speaking about the moderate levels of alcohol intake, drinking alone from time to time cannot serve as the sign of alcoholism. However, this pattern impedes receiving treatment in time. Unfortunately, less than 10% of those adults with negative drinking patterns or who were alcohol-dependent received professional support for different stages of alcoholism in 2015.

The Typology of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a serious disease and one often treated with a single label and yet, there are many characteristics which should be considered including personality traits, age, financial means, drinking patterns and of course, the types of alcohol dependence. For 150 years, attempts were made to categorize alcoholics. E. M. Jellinek created the first scientific typology which referred to alcoholism as a disease, but, these have since evolved.

There are three periods of classification to consider including:

  • The prescientific period (1850–1940)
  • The Jellinek era (1941–1960)
  • The post-Jellinek era (1960– present)

Alcohol Addiction and Its Treatment was written in 1940 by psychiatrist Karl Bowman and Biometrist E.M Jellinek which formed a detailed review of the treatment of alcoholism and contained 24-typological formulations. Further sub-category types were created.
drunk man holding an empty glass with whiskey shots on table

Alcoholism in the Young Adult Type

There are five different types of alcoholics, but the young adult subtype is the most widespread. It accounts for approximately one-third of all types. Dependency on alcohol begins around the age of 20 years when drinking becomes more regular but, the average age for alcohol dependency is 25 years. Binge drinking is the norm with 5 or more drinks being consumed in a single session increasing to 14 as a maximum.

  • Within this subtype, there is a reasonable likelihood of alcohol dependency in close blood relatives, and this includes aunts and uncles, nephews or nieces
  • There is less probability of an individual having existing mental health disorders
  • There are more than twice as many males than females in this dependency group, although alcohol abuse in women is also widespread
  • There is a greater potential for individuals to indulge in dangerous levels of alcohol and to experience extreme withdrawal symptoms
  • When help is sought for alcoholism, they typically strive for 12-step support groups
  • Although those in this subcategory may drink less overall, binge-drinking is hazardous and likely to do the most damage on a physical level

Alcoholism and the Young Anti-Social Type

The second of the five types of alcoholics are the young antisocial subtypes. This group equates to more than one-fifth of those with significant drinking problems. Slightly older at 26-years of age, approximately 50% have antisocial personality disorders and could suffer from bipolar disorder, social phobias or other mental health conditions.

  • Males predominately make up over two-thirds of this subtype
  • Less than 20% are married, and almost two-thirds of individuals have never been married
  • Less than 50% are in full-time employment
  • Individuals may have started drinking in earnest in their mid-teens becoming dependent on alcohol by the time they reached 18-years of age.
  • Other potential addictions include tobacco, cocaine, opioids or even, amphetamines.
  • Less than 50% of those in this category will have sought professional help for their drinking, but they do have the best rate for participation within private recovery providers.

Features of the Functional Subtype of Alcoholics

The third of the five different types of alcoholics accounts for approximately 19% of those who have a dependency on alcohol in the U.S. By contrast; these tend to be adults who are working and who are usually in their mid-years. They often do not consider drinking to be a problem and are often in denial. It is sometimes hard for families to realize that one is a functioning alcoholic.

  • There are approximately 60% ratio men to 40% women in this subtype
  • Approximately 50% are married
  • Almost every third of them have a college degree or higher qualification
  • This subtype has the highest level of those who have retired from work
  • These individuals typically drink alcohol on alternate days
  • Drinking patterns lead to having 5 or more drinks of alcohol at a time.

yound couple drinking beer and smoking marijuana at party

Intermediate Familial Subtype of Alcohol Addiction

People in this category-type typically start drinking during their late teens – age 17 and onwards but, develop a dependency on alcohol by the time they reach their 30’s.

  • Over 60% of individuals in this subtype are male
  • Almost 1/5 individuals will have gained a college degree or higher qualification
  • Almost 70% are working in a full-time capacity
  • Close family members may be alcohol-dependent, and many suffer from clinical depression.
  • Approximately one person in 5 will have obsessive-compulsive disorders or bipolar or a similar mental health issue. Most will smoke, and every fourth may use marijuana or cocaine.
  • Less than 1/3 of those in this subtype will have tried to gain professional help for their recovery.

Chronic Severe Subtype

Different types of alcoholics become so due to environmental, social or, personal circumstances and those in the chronic severe subtype category make up only 9% of those who are dependent on alcohol in the US. Research indicates that these are typically men who are in their middle years, perhaps divorced and using illegal drugs.

  • Individuals in this subtype have the highest divorce rate
  • Less than 10% achieve a college education
  • Just under half are employed full-time
  • Drinking is excessive with up to 15 drinks being taken within one session
  • Many within this category have genetic or familial links to heavy drinking and alcohol dependency.
  • The individuals in this subtype have the highest attendance levels at self-help groups but often seek private treatment.

This is the rarest type of alcohol-dependent individuals, and yet, it is the category that many people think of in respect to alcoholism.

Getting Help for All Types of Alcoholism

When it comes to types of alcoholics, there are many factors to consider to choose the best alcohol addiction treatment. Categorization of alcohol dependency enabled consideration of those who were type 1 alcoholic, or, social triggers as well as alcoholic personality types. When subcategories were created, it progressed diagnostic methods as no two types of alcohol dependency are the same. Due consideration to the cause including social, environmental or even genetic factors all aid potential treatment and choosing between inpatient and outpatient alcohol treatment centers.


Marixie Ann Manarang-Obsioma

Content Writer

Marixie Ann Manarang-Obsioma is a licensed Medical Technologist (Medical Laboratory Science) and an undergraduate of Doctor of Medicine (MD). She took her Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Technology at Angeles University Foundation and graduated with flying colors.

The combination of having a good medical background, being a mom, and wanting to help people, especially the elderly has cultivated her passion for working in remote areas with love and compassion.
Marixie likes to travel, read, and watch movies.

Medical review by Brian Obodeze

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