The 5 Types of Alcoholics


Published On: November 3, 2023

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcohol addiction, is a disorder that affects individuals from all different backgrounds, cultures, and demographics.

Anyone can develop an alcohol addiction, though the reasons for this may vary greatly.

In England alone, it is estimated that there are around 600,000 individuals currently struggling with alcohol dependence, though only a small percentage of these individuals are seeking help for their condition (1).

By definition, an alcoholic is an individual who consumes alcohol to a dangerous level, above the government’s recommended 14 units a week, and who may be struggling in other areas of their lives as a result of this.

When in the cycle of addiction, an individual’s career/school life, finances, and relationships, can all be affected, often worsening as the individual is left untreated.

Alcohol Dependence

A group of people saying cheers with various drinks

Alcohol, although legal in most areas of the world, is one of the most dangerous drugs in the world.

Especially in the UK, the heavy drinking culture means that individuals may not often consider alcohol to be a dangerous substance, but its widespread availability is a factor that contributes to this.

Alcohol is a physically addictive substance, similar to heroin and other opioids.

This means that once it is in the body for long periods, it can begin to make serious changes and alterations to the everyday functioning of an individual.

It is often a substance heavily correlated with mental health, but it has other significant impacts on the brain, too.

For example, alcohol is heavily associated with serotonin production in alcoholics, meaning that the longer an individual is addicted to and consumes alcohol, the more dependent this system becomes on alcohol, causing serious issues when it comes to cutting down or withdrawing.

Because of its physically addictive nature, going ‘cold turkey’ can be life-threatening.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Two glasses of whisky being poured

Addiction is a disease that holds a lot of stigmas. Often, individuals may try to hide their behaviours surrounding substance abuse, but this makes it far more difficult for those around them to detect these behaviours and encourage further help and support.

However, there are a few behaviours that those around an individual with a suspected addiction can look out for:

  • Drinking more than the recommended amount regularly
  • Drinking more at social events/gatherings for confidence
  • Evidence of attempts to hide traces of alcohol, e.g., throwing away empty bottles before family or friends find them
  • Becoming agitated or annoyed when confronted about their alcohol consumption

In addition to this, an individual may begin to display specific symptoms that are associated with alcohol addiction.

These can include losing colour in their skin, increased sweating, trembling or shaking of the hands and/or body, as well as seeming confused or disorientated.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

pain

As alcohol is a physically addictive substance, as mentioned above, this makes the withdrawal process slightly more complex than other substances such as cocaine and cannabis (both of which are non-physically addictive substances).

When going through an alcohol withdrawal, it is essential that individuals do not go through this process alone and that medical and professional support is accessible if needed. Alcohol abuse can be life-threatening if not properly managed.

If an individual does not withdraw safely, then they risk a host of issues. This can include the development of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) – a broad term that includes multiple severe withdrawal symptoms and can make future rehabilitation a far longer and more complex process (2).

Symptoms within AWS include the development of delirium tremens (body tremors and confusion), alcoholic seizures, insomnia, and a threat to life.

What Increases the Risk for AUD?

Men chatting at a table with their backs turned

This is a question that has ongoing research, with scientists and medical professionals often debating whether or not AUD could be developed as a result of genes and inherited factors or whether it is due to the environment in which an individual exists.

Although strong links have been drawn between alcoholic parents and children growing up to be alcoholics (3), there are many other reasons why someone may turn to alcoholism.

Some of the most common reasons are listed below:

  • drinking as a coping mechanism, e.g., to deal with stress at work or home
  • drinking for confidence, e.g., at social events or just to meet up with others
  • drinking due to peer pressure that then becomes a habit
  • drinking culture surrounds an individual’s everyday life, e.g., working in a bar, friends/family drinking constantly

Although there are many other reasons why an individual may develop an AUD, these are the most common.

The 5 Types of Alcoholics

Beer

When seeking help for alcoholism, it may be beneficial for some individuals to determine the category of alcoholic that they, or someone they know, may fall under.

It is a common misconception that all alcoholics are the same. However, for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph, as well as due to differing individual factors, this is simply not the case.

Researchers have defined five types of alcoholics based on their age, drinking habits, reasons for this, presence of other mental health disorders, and their family’s history with alcoholism (4).

These different categories of alcoholism affect individuals differently, with different consequences. Because of this, determining which category an individual may fall under can help massively in the future treatment and management of their symptoms.

The following subparagraphs outline these five types of alcoholism, highlighting how they differ from one another and the origins and/or reasons for the development of this disorder.

1. Young Adult Alcoholics

Binge drinking

In the UK, the legal drinking age is 18, meaning that individuals in this category often fall into this age group or are younger.

Common demographics within this category include university and college students – individuals who may be living on their own for the first time and are experiencing stress, pressure, and other factors that they may not be familiar with, sometimes leading to the development of an AUD.

It is thought that most individuals in this category regularly engage in binge drinking – consuming a high volume of alcohol over a short period, well above the recommended daily amount.

Individuals who fall into this category are some of the least likely to seek help for AUD, as the strong drinking culture mentioned earlier may counteract this. In addition, this level of drinking may be normalised within an individual’s social circle, meaning that they may not think anything is wrong because everyone around them may also be in the same boat.

2. Young Antisocial Alcoholics

A man turning away

Similar to the previous type of alcoholic, individuals in this category are often of similar age, around their young to mid-twenties.

However, these individuals are likely to have already been drinking for a long period, perhaps since they were very young, and this alone can cause serious health issues later in life.

Young antisocial alcoholics also engage in binge drinking, heavy drinking, or excessive drinking regularly.

Individuals in this category are not fully developed, meaning that the brain can undergo significant developmental damage as a result of high alcohol consumption. This can lead to an ongoing addiction, severely impacting the individual’s quality of life as they get older and seriously impacting their physical and mental development.

Most of these individuals will have a family history of AUD, meaning that they were more likely to be exposed to this behaviour as a young child or adolescent.

Additionally, these individuals are often far more likely to have a co-occurring mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.

3. Functional Alcoholics

Wine

This is a unique category of alcoholism, referring to adult alcoholics or individuals of middle age who are typically well-educated and outwardly appear to have a ‘normal’ and put-together life.

These individuals may not appear as ‘typical alcoholics’.

Although these individuals generally have a good job and a family and do not fit into the traditional stereotype of someone who is addicted to alcohol, these can be some of the most affected when it comes to long-term recovery and rehabilitation.

In the large majority of cases, functional alcoholics seem to have a ‘normal’ life, though, behind the scenes, this can be a very different story.

This can cause additional stress and strain on the individual, as they are often hiding their behaviours from close friends and family, creating a sense of loneliness and isolation that can worsen the issue exponentially if left untreated.

Individuals who classify as functional alcoholics often struggle with mental health, and many individuals in this category commonly report depression and other mood disorders as a result of their behaviour.

4. Intermediate Familial Alcoholics

Alcohol

As the name suggests, this category of alcoholism refers to individuals who have developed an addiction as a result of those around them – their close friends and, more often, their family. They have a history of alcoholism within their family.

Often, individuals who are classified as intermediate familial alcoholics have a long family history of AUD, meaning that they have grown up around this behaviour, and it is often considered to be normalised within their home lives.

In addition, this type of alcoholism can co-occur with smoking cigarettes, marijuana, and/or cocaine abuse. With a history of alcoholism, there are known to be serious risks.

This comes with its risks, as the interaction between alcohol and other substances is highly documented as being dangerous behaviour, often having serious long-term impacts on the individual’s physical and mental health.

These individuals are also more at risk of major depression and bipolar disorder, adding to the time spent in rehabilitation and treating these co-occurring mental health issues.

5. Chronic Severe Alcoholics

Alcohol addiction

This type of alcoholic represents the smallest percentage of alcoholics of all the categories.

Generally, these individuals started drinking at a young age, though they are now middle-aged or older and often struggle with antisocial personality disorder and/or trouble with the law.

Individuals who drink chronically are shown to exhibit far more aggressive behaviours than other types of alcoholics, meaning that they often engage in antisocial behaviours and/or crime.

This can lead to massive issues within the individual’s personal life, including negative effects on their work performance, the breaking down of relationships, and serious financial issues that can affect them as a result of long-term alcohol addiction.

What Are the Types of Treatment for AUD?

At home support

AUD is a disorder that can quickly worsen over time if not treated. This means that seeking suitable addiction treatment as soon as possible is of maximum priority for those struggling with alcohol addiction.

Luckily, there are many ways in which individuals can go about this, specialised to their needs and requirements on a personal level.

Two of the most effective addiction treatments are outlined in the following subheadings.

1. Behavioural Treatments

More generally referred to as therapy, behavioural treatments are the most common recommendation for individuals starting rehabilitation.

After undergoing a full detox, it is always recommended that individuals follow this with therapy or counselling of some form.

This can be a form of therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or group talking therapy, though the options for therapy are countless.

Through Rehab 4 Alcoholism, our team will match individuals to the most suitable form of therapy based on their history, the severity of their addiction, and their current environment, meaning that it will be specific to their needs.

Therapy can be continued in the long term, even after leaving rehab, meaning that it is one of the most effective forms of treatment for all types of alcoholics at any stage of their recovery.

2. Mutual Support Groups

Including well-known groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), mutual support groups or self-help groups are beneficial for individuals throughout most of their time spent rehabilitating.

Within a group such as this, individuals can talk about the issues they faced while addicted in a judgement-free environment around others who may have similar experiences.

As well as sharing and learning from their own experiences, individuals within self-help groups will also have the chance to listen and learn from others’ experiences, applying this to their recovery and working in the long term to build this into their personalised coping mechanisms and recovery plans.

Mutual support groups can be joined during an individual’s experience of other rehabilitative treatments such as therapy and holistic treatments, but it is also something that they can continue in the long-term, even after leaving rehab, making it a constant and effective factor in the treatment of addiction.

Get Help for Alcoholism Today

Therapy

To learn more about alcoholism, addiction, and rehabilitation, please do not hesitate to get in contact with Rehab 4 Alcoholism today.

Through our referral service, we refer thousands of individuals struggling with addiction to the most suitable and effective treatments for them.

After just one initial telephone assessment, a member of our friendly and professional team will be able to offer expert advice and suggestions as to what the individual should pursue in terms of rehabilitation and support, as well as recommend suitable treatment providers.

If appropriate, Rehab 4 Alcoholism can help individuals apply to detox clinics, residential rehab centres, and aftercare programmes, as well as provide advice and support to those who need it most.

To get in touch with our team today, call our addiction support line on 0800 111 4108 to get access to free and confidential advice.

References

[1] UK Government, Alcohol dependence prevalence in England, 1 March 2017: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/alcohol-dependence-prevalence-in-england

[2] Romach, M.K. and Sellers, E.M., 1991. Management of the alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Annual review of medicine, 42(1), pp.323-340.

[3] Goodwin, D.W., 1985. Alcoholism and genetics: The sins of the fathers. Archives of general psychiatry, 42(2), pp.171-174.

[4] National Institutes of Health, Researchers identify Alcoholism Subtypes, 28 June 2007: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/researchers-identify-alcoholism-subtypes

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