Types of Alcoholics

Explore the fascinating world of alcoholism typologies, from young adult to chronic severe alcoholics, and uncover the genetic and environmental influences.

Understanding Alcoholism

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic disease characterized by the compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol. It is important to understand the nature of alcoholism and its prevalence to address this widespread issue.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism refers to a pattern of alcohol consumption that leads to significant distress or impairment. Individuals with alcoholism often experience a strong craving for alcohol, have difficulty controlling their drinking, and continue to drink despite negative consequences. This chronic condition can have severe physical, psychological, and social implications.

Alcoholism is not simply a matter of excessive drinking or occasional heavy drinking. It is a complex disorder that involves both physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines specific criteria to diagnose alcohol use disorder, including the presence of symptoms such as tolerance, withdrawal, and unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop drinking.

Prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is a prevalent issue worldwide, with a significant impact on public health and society as a whole. In the United States, approximately 12.5% of males and 5% of females meet criteria for an alcohol use disorder in the past year, while an estimated 42% of males and 20% of females experience an AUD during their lifetimes [1].

Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with significant functional impairment and morbidity, ranking as the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. It affects people of all ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and its consequences can extend beyond the individual to impact their families, relationships, and communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the issue, leading to a rise in alcohol abuse and related problems. The stress, isolation, and uncertainty associated with the pandemic have contributed to increased alcohol consumption and potential alcohol use disorders, raising concerns across America.

Understanding the prevalence of alcohol use disorder is crucial for developing effective prevention and treatment strategies. By recognizing the scale of the problem, society can work towards reducing the burden of alcoholism and providing support for those in need.

Types of Alcoholics

When examining alcoholism, it becomes evident that there are different patterns and subtypes of individuals with alcohol use disorder. Understanding these types can provide insights into the characteristics, behaviors, and treatment needs of individuals struggling with alcoholism. The following section explores five common types of alcoholics: young adult alcoholics, young antisocial alcoholics, functional alcoholics, intermediate familial alcoholics, and chronic severe alcoholics.

Young Adult Alcoholics

Young adult alcoholics typically begin drinking in high school and often continue their excessive alcohol consumption into early adulthood. They do not tend to drink every day and do not show antisocial characteristics. Although they may not have a significant family history of alcoholism, they may have a history of depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety. Young adult alcoholics generally become alcoholics around the age of 20 and make up approximately 32% of individuals with alcoholism. They may drink less frequently than other subtypes but engage in heavy drinking when they do [3].

Young Antisocial Alcoholics

The young antisocial subtype of alcoholics makes up about 21% of individuals with alcoholism. They tend to become dependent on alcohol at a young age, typically around 15 years old. This subtype is characterized by a high rate of antisocial personality disorder and may also struggle with mental health issues. They are also likely to have a family history of alcoholism. Genetic predisposition to alcoholism is common among young antisocial alcoholics, and they may also struggle with other substance abuse disorders.

Functional Alcoholics

Functional alcoholics are individuals who appear to have everything under control despite their addiction. They are often successful professionals, typically middle-aged, with stable jobs and families. This subtype of alcoholics consumes alcohol daily while maintaining their responsibilities. Due to their ability to manage their obligations, functional alcoholics often deny their alcoholism. They make up approximately 19% of individuals with alcoholism and have a high rate of co-occurring psychiatric disorders.

Intermediate Familial Alcoholics

The intermediate familial subtype of alcoholics has a family history of alcoholism and typically starts drinking heavily in their early 30s. They may also have additional mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or antisocial personality disorder. The interaction between genetic and environmental factors plays a significant role in the development of alcoholism within this subtype.

Chronic Severe Alcoholics

Chronic severe alcoholics typically have a long family history of alcoholism. They experience a high prevalence of mental health issues and have the highest rates of divorce and job loss. This subtype of alcoholics often struggles with the most severe consequences of alcoholism due to prolonged and excessive alcohol consumption. Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of chronic severe alcoholism.

Understanding the different types of alcoholics helps to shed light on the complexity of alcohol use disorder. Each subtype has unique characteristics and challenges, which should be considered when developing appropriate treatment approaches. By recognizing these distinctions, healthcare professionals can tailor interventions to address the specific needs of individuals with alcoholism, ultimately improving their chances of recovery.

Genetic and Environmental Influences

Alcoholism is a complex disorder influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Understanding the interplay between genetics and the environment is crucial in comprehending the development and progression of alcohol use disorder.

Role of Genetics in Alcoholism

Research has shown that genetics plays a significant role in alcoholism. Twin studies have indicated that approximately 30% of the variation in liability to adolescent alcohol use is genetic in origin. This suggests that certain individuals may be more genetically predisposed to developing alcoholism than others.

Genetic factors can influence an individual's response to alcohol, including the likelihood of experiencing positive or negative effects. Variations in genes involved in alcohol metabolism and brain function can impact an individual's susceptibility to alcohol addiction.

Gene-Environment Interactions

While genetics can influence alcoholism, it is important to recognize that environmental factors also play a significant role. Gene-environment interactions are crucial in understanding the development of alcohol use disorder.

Studies have shown a significant genetic influence on adolescent friends' alcohol use, with a correlation of 0.60 to 0.70 between the genetic influences on friends' alcohol use and adolescents' own use and problem use of alcohol [6]. This suggests that genetic factors not only affect an individual's own alcohol use but also influence the alcohol use of their peers.

Additionally, common environmental influences, such as family and social factors, significantly contribute to alcohol use. Peer alcohol use is one of the strongest predictors of adolescent alcohol use, along with the perception of peers' attitudes towards alcohol use. The influence of friends and social circles can shape an individual's drinking behavior and increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder.

Influence of Peer and Social Factors

The social environment, including family, friends, and societal norms, can greatly impact an individual's alcohol consumption. Peer pressure and the desire to fit in can lead individuals to engage in excessive drinking or develop problematic drinking patterns.

Peer alcohol use has been found to have a significant correlation with adolescents' own alcohol use and problem use. In fact, common environmental influences were almost completely correlated for friends' alcohol use and adolescents' own alcohol use and problem use [6]. This emphasizes the influence of social factors on alcoholism.

In addition to peer influence, family dynamics, cultural norms, and societal attitudes towards alcohol can shape an individual's drinking behavior. Growing up in a family with a history of alcoholism or witnessing parental alcohol abuse can increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder.

Understanding the roles of genetics and the environment in alcoholism is crucial for developing effective prevention and treatment strategies. By acknowledging these influences, healthcare professionals can provide tailored interventions and support to individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder.

Treatment Options for Alcoholism

When it comes to addressing alcohol use disorder (AUD), there are various treatment options available to individuals seeking help. Healthcare professionals now provide up-to-date treatments backed by science, offering care at different levels of intensity in various settings to cater to individual needs. In this section, we will explore the levels of care for alcohol treatment, as well as outpatient treatment options and the utilization of telehealth services for alcohol treatment.

Levels of Care for Alcohol Treatment

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines four basic levels of care or intensity for alcohol treatment. These levels help healthcare professionals determine the appropriate level of care based on a comprehensive assessment of a person's alcohol problems and complications. The levels of care are as follows:

Outpatient Treatment Options

Lower intensity outpatient care options for alcohol treatment offer flexibility and accessibility for individuals seeking help. These options include building a custom care team, utilizing telehealth services for talk therapy or medical care, and exploring e-health tools developed with funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to help individuals overcome alcohol problems.

Outpatient treatment allows individuals to receive care while living at home and continuing with their daily responsibilities. This can involve regular sessions with a therapist or counselor, group therapy sessions, and participation in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Outpatient treatment provides individuals with the flexibility to maintain their work, education, and family commitments while receiving the necessary support to address their alcohol problems.

Telehealth Services for Alcohol Treatment

In recent years, telehealth services have become increasingly popular and accessible for various healthcare needs, including alcohol treatment. Insurance companies and Medicaid in many states now cover telehealth services for alcohol treatment, offering phone or video sessions. This can be especially helpful in locations with limited access to addiction health professionals.

Telehealth services provide a convenient and confidential way for individuals to receive therapy and medical care from the comfort of their own homes. It eliminates barriers related to transportation, distance, and time constraints. Through telehealth, individuals can engage in virtual counseling sessions, receive medication management, and access online resources and tools to support their recovery journey.

As individuals seek treatment for alcohol problems, it is important to look for evidence-based approaches. These are treatments backed by large, well-designed studies, ensuring the quality of care received. Consulting with healthcare professionals and treatment providers can help individuals navigate the available treatment options and find the approach that aligns with their specific needs and goals.

By understanding the various levels of care, exploring outpatient treatment options, and considering the utilization of telehealth services, individuals can find the support they need to address alcohol use disorder and embark on a path towards recovery.

Typologies of Alcoholics

Understanding the different types of alcoholics is essential in comprehending the complex nature of alcohol use disorder. Over the years, various typologies have been developed to categorize individuals with alcoholism based on different characteristics and factors. In this section, we will explore the historical development of typologies, including the works of E.M. Jellinek and Babor's classification of alcoholism.

Historical Development of Typologies

The development of typologies for alcoholics spans over 150 years and can be divided into three distinct periods: the prescientific period, the Jellinek era, and the post-Jellinek era. In the early stages, typologies were unsystematic and lacked empirical foundations and verification procedures. Nevertheless, they introduced the concept of treatment matching and helped identify important defining characteristics of alcoholic subtypes.

E.M. Jellinek's Typology

E.M. Jellinek is credited with creating the first scientific typology of alcoholism as a disease. His typology, developed in the mid-20th century, consists of five types: alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon. However, Jellinek considered only the gamma and delta types to represent true disease entities.

The gamma type, also known as the "dependent" alcoholic, is characterized by a loss of control over consumption and an inability to stop drinking once started. This type often experiences severe physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. On the other hand, the delta type, also referred to as the "prevalent" alcoholic, exhibits less severe symptoms and a more stable drinking pattern.

Babor's Classification of Alcoholism

Another notable typology of alcoholism is Babor's classification. Babor's system utilizes multiple characteristics to assign individuals to two categories: type A and type B. Type A alcoholism is characterized by less severe symptoms and a lower risk of adverse consequences, while type B alcoholism is consistently more severe and associated with a higher risk of negative outcomes.

Babor's classification takes into account various dimensions, including family history, personality, childhood behavior problems, severity of symptoms, and adverse medical and psychosocial consequences of alcohol and other drug use. This comprehensive approach allows for a more nuanced understanding of the different subtypes within the alcoholic population.

Typological studies often employ cluster analysis, which groups subjects within a population based on multiple dimensions. By utilizing this approach, researchers can identify distinct subgroups of alcoholics with similar characteristics and experiences. These findings contribute to the development of tailored treatment strategies and interventions for individuals with alcohol use disorder.

Understanding the typologies of alcoholics provides valuable insights into the etiology of alcoholism, treatment matching approaches, and advancements in alcoholism research. By recognizing the different subtypes and their unique characteristics, healthcare professionals can better address the diverse needs of individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder.

Implications of Typologies

The classification of alcoholics into different typologies has significant implications for understanding the etiology of alcoholism, treatment matching and approaches, as well as advancements in alcoholism research.

Understanding Alcoholism Etiology

Typological studies, such as those using cluster analysis, group individuals based on various dimensions such as family history, personality traits, childhood behavior problems, symptom severity, and adverse consequences of alcohol and drug use [9]. By categorizing alcoholics into different types, researchers gain insights into the underlying factors that contribute to the development of alcoholism.

These typologies provide a framework for understanding the etiology of alcoholism, including the role of genetic and environmental influences. They help identify common characteristics and risk factors associated with each type, allowing for a deeper understanding of why some individuals are more susceptible to alcohol use disorder than others.

Treatment Matching and Approaches

The classification of alcoholics into different typologies also aids in treatment matching and approaches. Different types of alcoholics may benefit from tailored treatment strategies that address their specific needs and challenges. For example, certain types may require more intensive interventions due to the severity of their alcohol use disorder, while others may respond better to outpatient treatment options.

By recognizing the unique characteristics of each typology, healthcare professionals can tailor their treatment plans to address the specific needs and challenges of individuals with alcoholism. This personalized approach increases the likelihood of successful outcomes and long-term recovery.

Advancements in Alcoholism Research

The typologies of alcoholics, such as E.M. Jellinek's typology and Babor's classification, have contributed to significant advancements in alcoholism research. These typologies serve as a basis for studying the different subgroups within the alcoholic population, allowing researchers to identify patterns, risk factors, and treatment outcomes specific to each type.

Babor's classification of alcoholism, in particular, has been applied not only to alcohol abuse but also to other substance abuse disorders such as cocaine, opiates, and marijuana [9]. This broader application has helped expand our understanding of addictive behaviors and the commonalities across various types of substance abuse disorders.

As alcoholism research continues to evolve, typologies provide a valuable framework for studying the complex nature of alcohol use disorder. By understanding the different types of alcoholics and their unique characteristics, researchers can develop more effective prevention strategies, treatment interventions, and contribute to the overall advancement of our knowledge about alcoholism.

The study of typologies in alcoholism has far-reaching implications, offering insights into the etiology, treatment, and ongoing research of this complex disorder. By recognizing and utilizing typologies, we can better understand and address the diverse needs of individuals struggling with alcoholism, paving the way for improved outcomes and support for those seeking recovery.


[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3192029/
[2]: https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/treatment/types-therapy-alcoholism/
[3]: https://deserthopetreatment.com/alcohol-abuse/types-of-alcoholics/
[4]: https://www.addictioncenter.com/alcohol/types-of-alcoholics/
[5]: https://www.addictioncenter.com/alcohol/alcoholism-causes-risk-factors/
[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1974773/
[7]: https://alcoholtreatment.niaaa.nih.gov/what-to-know/types-of-alcohol-treatment
[8]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6876530/
[9]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6876529/