Types of Alcoholism

We all probably have a stereotypical idea of what an “alcoholic” looks like. It is ingrained in our minds that someone who is addicted to a substance can’t look like a well-adjusted member of society.

According to County Health Rankings, 22% of adults in Norfolk County engage in excessive drinking on a regular basis. There are some people in Norfolk County who struggle with an addiction to the bottle that go to work every day, that go to classes at Boston College, and that might even abstain from drinking for several months.

Because addiction looks different for everyone, we are going to discuss the five different subtypes of people with alcohol use disorder, the different levels of alcohol use disorder, and options for alcoholism treatment at East Coast Recovery.

Different Types of Alcoholics

There are five different subtypes of people who have alcohol use disorder (AUD), commonly known as alcoholism. With the exception of one subtype (chronic severe), each person in these subtypes could have varying degrees of AUD. Some in a certain subtype might have mild AUD, while others in that same subtype may have severe AUD. These subtypes are according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Young Adult Subtype

This is the most common type of person that suffers from alcohol use disorder (AUD). In fact, according to a study in 2017, adults ages 18-24 had the highest percentage of people with AUD (35.6%). This is typically the college-aged population, and young men are over twice as likely to have AUD as young women. There are other certain traits of young adults who have AUD, such as they usually don’t drink as much as other subtypes but they binge drink more, and very few of them have mental disorders. Other things that may influence alcohol use among this age group are:

  • College vs. non-college students
  • Military service
  • Peer influences
  • Employment

Another subtype is the intermediate familial subtype.

Intermediate Familial Subtype

This subtype has a bit of a genetic component as 50% of this group has a history of addiction within their family. This subtype is a bit older (average age being 38), but people in this subtype tend to start drinking around age 17, and dependency develops around 32. Other things that affect this subtype include:

  • Almost half in this group have suffered from clinical depression
  • 20% struggle with bipolar disorder
  • One in five people in this subtype has struggled with cocaine and marijuana use
  • 50% in this subtype smoke

Of all in this group, about 27% of them actively seek treatment for alcohol addiction.

Young Antisocial Subtype

This subtype makes up about 21% of people with AUD and is marked by an antisocial behavior disorder. Antisocial personality disorders include these types of behaviors:

  • Lack of remorse
  • Criminal activity
  • Deceitfulness (dishonesty)

This subtype has the youngest onset as people in this category start drinking when they are about 15, and dependency develops around 18. The average age of the young antisocial subtype is 26. Over 50% of people in this subtype come from a familial history of addiction; many also struggle with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder; and many have struggled with opiate and cocaine use.

Functional Subtype

This subtype typically presents as a stable, well-adjusted member of society. This group is usually in their 40s, starts drinking around 18, and doesn’t develop a dependency on alcohol until about 37. A good chunk of this group has a college degree, and they also drink every other day. Close to half of this subtype are also married and work full time. This subtype shows that addiction can look stereotypically “normal,” and that anyone can be affected by it.

Chronic Severe Subtype

This subtype typically has severe AUD and is the most at risk for diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and different forms of cancer. That said, it is the least common subtype, only accounting for 9% of people with AUD. This subtype is also the most severe, engaging in heavy drinking daily. This is the most common subtype in treatment centers as two-thirds in this subtype seek out recovery

Now let’s take a look at the different levels of AUD by starting with how it’s diagnosed.

Mild Alcohol Use Disorder

Mild AUD is a condition in which a person meets two to three criteria for AUD. This can be any combination of the two or three and is also known as “functional alcoholism.” Someone who has AUD will still show certain signs of alcoholism. For example:

  • Drinking habits and behaviors — These could be having cravings for alcohol, experiencing blackouts, and feeling shame and remorse for drunken behavior. However, these habits are also shown by attempts to control one’s drinking behaviors and even having the ability to abstain (stop drinking) for several months.
  • Denial — One of the most common defense mechanisms in mental health is denial that one has a problem. This may show itself as a person avoiding recovery, not viewing themselves as someone with AUD because they don’t fit the stereotypical image, and believing that they don’t have AUD because they are still leading manageable lives.
  • Double life — This looks like someone appearing to have a well-adjusted life and managing it well. This can also be the appearance of a person. If someone doesn’t “look” like they have AUD, then people may assume the person isn’t suffering from the condition.

After mild AUD comes moderate AUD.

Moderate Alcohol Use Disorder

You may have moderate AUD if you answered “yes” to three to five of the criteria listed above. Moderate AUD is also in the category of a functional AUD subcategory. This means that they can still lead successful lives, but a dependence on alcohol can grow. Because of this growing dependence, someone with moderate AUD may be at risk for alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Moderate alcohol use could come in the form of occasional binge drinking.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking means drinking much more than the average recommended number of drinks within a short period of time. This would be a man drinking five or more drinks in two hours or a woman drinking four or more drinks in two hours. Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive drinking as one in six adults participate in binge drinking about four times per month.

While binge drinking doesn’t necessarily mean someone has AUD, it is more likely that someone with AUD will binge drink. Binge drinking is a dangerous form of excessive drinking as well as it can lead to several health problems. Some of the risks associated with binge drinking include:

  • Increased risk of violence
  • Unintentional accidents (falls, burns, car crashes)
  • Chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and liver diseases
  • Cancers of the mouth, liver, and colon

Moderate AUD means that these risks are increased but may not happen. It is at this point where others around you may start to identify that you have a reliance on alcohol.

The final stage would be a strong dependence on alcohol or severe AUD.

Severe Alcohol Use Disorder

This is the type of alcohol addiction you may be the most familiar with. Severe AUD is when someone answers “yes” to six or more of the criteria. This is where alcohol use can be dangerous as several chronic health conditions can occur because of this. For example, severe AUD can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis is a condition in which the liver keeps scarring. To understand why this is important, let’s break down how the liver works. When you drink alcohol at any time, the liver is responsible for breaking it down. The liver is injured in the process, but it can repair itself, leaving slight scar tissue. Cirrhosis causes scar tissue to continue to form, to the point where the liver can’t even perform its function of breaking down alcohol and enzymes (proteins).

Symptoms of cirrhosis typically don’t show up until the liver is significantly damaged, but these symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)
  • Nausea
  • Itchy skin
  • Redness of the skin

Severe AUD can put a person at risk for alcohol overdose or alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol Overdose

If someone is suffering from an alcohol overdose, immediately dial 911.

Also called alcohol poisoning, alcohol overdose is what happens when someone drinks so much alcohol that their basic life-support functions – breathing and temperature control – stop working. Alcohol overdose is dependent on a couple of factors, but the possibility of it happening is increased if someone has severe AUD. The symptoms of an alcohol overdose include:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Dulled responses, such as no gag reflex, which prevents choking

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

There are certain criteria that need to be met for someone to be diagnosed as having alcohol use disorder, which can be found on our page here. East Coast Recovery Center is here for you. Our alcohol addiction treatment program makes sure to address all of your needs, as well as do a proper assessment of patients. We believe that every patient is different, so we offer different forms of treatment. Before your treatment plan is created, we start with the intake and assessment process.

Intake and Assessment Process

Our compassionate, highly qualified medical professionals are skilled at determining the exact level of care our patients need, and after this, there will be a brief intervention to motivate the patient toward recovery.

An intervention is a situation where our medically trained staff gets together to provide support through this intake process. Often, patients going into recovery aren’t going into it willingly. It is usually due to a possible risk of overdose, and the goal of an intervention is to get the patient to understand why they need this treatment while providing the assistance and support that they need.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

Available for patients 18 and up, our partial hospitalization program (PHP) is a type of treatment where patients will attend the facility up to seven days a week while still living at home. This plan is ideal for patients that need more frequent care and weren’t as successful with lower levels of care.

In a PHP, patients will have frequent support from medical staff while they are attending the facility. This program is a great way for patients to focus on their recovery and step away from the natural triggers in life.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

At East Coast Recovery, we have several patients that have to balance work or school and their recovery. This can be stressful, so we try to lighten the load by offering an intensive outpatient program (IOP).

In an IOP, patients will be attending sessions at the facility but going home after these sessions are over. This type of treatment program is also used as a transitional phase from living at a facility to still receiving treatment while living at home.

While there is more flexibility with an IOP, it is still an intensive program, so there is a time commitment required. Patients can expect sessions for at least 10 hours a week in this program. This includes different forms of therapy, both individual and group. The average length for this treatment plan is around 90 days, but it could be different depending on the patient.

Walk the Path With Us

East Coast Recovery Center is here to help you recover from alcohol addiction. Our mission is to help patients recover from alcohol use disorder and foster a community of sober people. Located just outside of Cohasset, Massachusetts, we are here to walk the path of recovery with you. You may be scared of stumbling, but we are here to catch you before you fall. Call (617) 390-8349 to start your treatment today.


What are the five types of drinkers?

The five types of people who drink in a problematic way (i.e., have some type of alcohol use disorder) are:

  • Young adult
  • Young antisocial
  • Functional
  • Intermediate familial
  • Chronic severe

What is the classification of alcoholism?

There are three levels of alcohol use disorder (AUD): mild, moderate, and severe.

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