Alcohol Addiction Treatment

The 6 Types of Alcoholics (And How to Identify Them)

Alcoholism is a complex and pervasive issue affecting millions of people in America. It’s an often overlooked and deadly epidemic. In fact, according to a 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 29.5 million Americans ages 12 and older have alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Understanding what is considered an alcoholic, the different types of alcoholics, and how to identify alcoholism can help shed light on the diversity of this condition and provide insights into tailored treatment approaches.

Before we dive into the different types of alcoholics, let’s first establish what actually defines an alcoholic.

What is Considered an Alcoholic?

An alcoholic is someone who has developed an alcohol dependence and is experiencing physical and psychological cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms when trying to cut down or quit.

Understanding the “Alcoholic” Stigma

The terms “alcoholism” and “alcoholic” carry a heavy stigma that can discourage individuals from seeking help. By using more neutral or clinical terminology, like “alcohol use disorder” and “individuals managing alcohol use disorder,” it becomes easier for people to acknowledge their issues and seek treatment without feeling labeled or judged.

Related article: Why is Alcoholism Now Called Alcohol Use Disorder?

Is Binge Drinking Considered Alcoholism?

While binge drinking doesn't necessarily equate to alcoholism, it can be a precursor or warning sign. The consumption of large quantities of alcohol within a short period is a concerning pattern. Repeated binge drinking episodes may lead to the development of alcoholism or AUD over time.

Related Article: Alcohol Use Disorder Signs & Symptoms

Related Article: Why is Alcohol So Addictive?

Understanding the 6 Types of Alcoholism

Based on a national clinical study conducted in 2007 by the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute Of Health (NIH), and the National Epidemiological Survey On Alcohol And Related Conditions (NESARC), there are five types of “alcoholics.”

1. The Social Drinker

Identifier: Social drinkers primarily consume alcohol in social settings, such as parties or gatherings.

2. The Binge Drinker

Identifier: Binge drinkers consume large amounts of alcohol in a single sitting, often resulting in memory lapses and poor decision-making.

3. The Functioning Alcoholic

Identifier: The functional subtype maintains its daily responsibilities while regularly consuming alcohol in excess.

4. The Chronic-Severe Alcoholic

Identifier: Chronic severe subtypes are characterized by a compulsive need to drink daily, often experiencing withdrawal symptoms without alcohol.

5. The Binge-Eating Alcoholic

Identifier: Some alcoholics binge eat after consuming alcohol, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain and other health issues.

6. The High-Functioning Alcoholic

Identifier: High-functioning alcoholics maintain successful careers and personal lives while concealing their alcohol dependence.

Severity Levels of Alcohol Use Disorder

There are three levels of severity: mild, moderate, and severe. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “healthcare professionals use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), to assess whether a person has AUD and to determine the severity, if the disorder is present.”

How Healthcare Providers Determine the Severity Level

According to the NIAAA, to determine the level of severity, individuals are asked questions similar to what’s listed below. The number of times an individual answers “yes” to one of those questions helps to determine the severity level — mild (2–3 criteria), moderate (4–5 criteria), or severe (6 or more criteria).

Note: This may not be the only determining factor to assess AUD severity.

In the past year, have you:

  • Ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?

  • On multiple occasions, wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?

  • Spent a lot of time drinking, being sick from drinking, or getting over other side effects?

  • Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?

  • Found that drinking (or the side effects) often interfered with your home, family, job, or school?

  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?

  • Given up or cut back on activities you found important or interesting so you could drink?

  • Gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or unsafe sexual behavior)?

  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had an alcohol-related memory blackout?

  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?

  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, dysphoria (feeling uneasy or unhappy), malaise (general sense of being unwell), feeling low, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

Alcohol Use Disorder by Demographics

All the information below references data collected via surveys by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

12-17 18-25 26+
Americans With AUD 897,000 5,012,000 23,637,000
Male Female
American With AUD 16,588,000 12,955,000
Severity Level
Mild AUD Moderate AUD Severe AUD
American With AUD 17,613,000 6,176,000 5,754,000

Ways to Treat Risk Factors of Alcoholism

While understanding the different types of alcoholism is crucial, effective treatment is equally important for navigating this substance use disorder.

  • Detoxification: This is simply the process of withdrawing a person from an addictive substance, like alcohol, in a safe and effective manner. The first step often involves medically supervised detox to manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

  • Therapy: Individual and group therapy sessions can help individuals address the root causes of their alcoholism. These sessions can be done in either an inpatient or outpatient setting.

  • Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to assist in reducing cravings and maintaining sobriety.

  • Support Groups: There are many different peer support groups that can help individuals. These groups may include options like Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) and 12-step programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA), which is designed for those managing substance use along with co-occurring mental health issues.

  • Expert Treatment Centers: This all-encompassing solution offers alcohol treatment programs that include many of the above treatment types (detox, therapy, etc.).

How Caron Can Help With Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is a multifaceted issue that affects individuals differently. Understanding the various types of alcoholics helps tailor treatment and support to meet their specific needs and get help. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, please explore our comprehensive resources and inpatient and outpatient treatment options at Caron.

Continue Learning About The 6 Types of Alcoholics (And How to Identify Them)

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