Alcoholism comes in all shapes and sizes; there is no age limit for addiction, and professionals have identified five different types of alcoholics. Some of these subtypes are simply a testimony to the evolution of the disease. Others depict a stagnant situation for a person struggling with alcoholism.
Regardless of a person’s habits, it’s important to recognize that alcoholism isn’t as straightforward as many people make it seem. It involves an entire system of behaviors that can change drastically from person-to-person. This is why it’s important to recognize so many different types of alcoholics, and the different ways the disease impacts them.
When a person first starts to drink, they may do so in ways that are socially acceptable. Because of this, it can be extremely difficult to diagnose or identify the symptoms of the actual disease. Knowing that there are so many different types of alcoholism can put the stereotype to rest – it helps us better understand the way the disease develops, and the ways it can impact people.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recognizes young adult alcoholics as the largest subgroup there is—nearly 31.5 percent of alcoholics fall into this category. Every time you’ve ever heard of the stereotypical college frat party that involved a huge amount of booze, then you’ve heard about this subcategory of alcoholism.
Young adult and adolescent alcoholics usually start drinking in their mid to late teens and carry the behavior over into their 20s. A lot of this behavior is carried over from their initial experiments with drinking in their teens.
It’s almost always extreme binge drinking and it can lead to instances of alcohol poisoning and problems with impulse control. Many of these adolescent drinkers will have to decide whether to stop drinking at a young age or to carry their behaviors over into their more mature years.
This is really the chameleon of alcoholism. A functional alcoholic has the general appearance of being a successful and capable adult. They may take care of all of their obligations, have a higher level of education, take care of their children, and live a fairly normal family life. Behind all of this, they may take lunch breaks where they have a few drinks, have dinner dates where they continue the same behavior, and a number of nightcaps every evening.
These are alcoholics that find ways to drink that are socially acceptable and largely undetectable. Some of them will escalate and start sneaking alcohol into their drinks throughout the day. They’ll still continue to function, and often deny that they have a problem.
This is a sub-category that’s the least likely to seek any type of professional help. Their lives never exactly hit rock bottom, and they’re able to continue drinking without it interfering with their relationships. The only way that a functional alcoholic will really get better is if their family recognizes the problem and they’re given an ultimatum, preferably through an intervention.
Young Antisocial/Isolated Alcoholic
An antisocial alcoholic usually starts at a young age and often pairs mental illness with alcohol abuse. Having an antisocial personality disorder can be hard, especially for awkward teens. Alcohol may make them feel more confident and actually increase their antisocial behaviors in the long run.
Being antisocial usually means going against the regular rules of society. They may rebel, have difficulty fitting in with peers, and come from a background of alcohol and drug addiction. This is really a double edge sword, as alcohol can impact the brain of a developing youth. This can actually create more antisocial behaviors, leading to a lifelong problem.
Intermediate familial alcoholics are much like functional alcoholics in age but differ in their demographics and educational levels. Many of these people come from families who have experienced alcoholism throughout the generations. This is how they understand to live, and they often couple it with the use of other substances like marijuana.
An intermediate alcoholic isn’t usually drinking from the time they wake up until the time they pass out, but they definitely can’t live without alcohol. Many of these people will experience job loss, social difficulties, and minor legal issues prior to getting help.
Chronic Severe Alcoholism
Probably the most treated form of alcoholism is the one that we’re most familiar with. This is the person that starts drinking as soon as they wake up and have to continue to drink throughout the entire day. They develop withdrawal symptoms quickly, resulting in them needing to receive alcohol poisoning treatment almost immediately.
Chronic severe alcoholism doesn’t happen overnight; this is a disorder the takes years of consistent alcohol abuse to develop. The person may have started out as a functional alcoholic, or as an adolescent alcoholic before moving into this phase of the disease. Once a person has hit the severe stages of alcoholism, they need to get inpatient help as quickly as possible.
There’s a good chance that they won’t be able to stop drinking without some type of serious intervention. This often involves dangerous withdrawal symptoms combined with permanent brain damage or psychological addiction. The body and mind will be dependent on alcohol, and the person won’t know how to function without it.
It’s at this stage of alcoholism that a person faces the most danger. They’ve lost all control in the face of their addiction.
Not every person that has a problem with alcohol is going to fit into some neat little box. They may not be passed out drunk by noon every day or show up to family functions unable to speak. They may not get arrested for drunk driving or lose their job because of their alcohol abuse. The important thing is to recognize that a person has a problem and do what’s necessary to get them on the path to sobriety.