5 Types of Alcoholism

Friends toasting beer mugsAlcohol use is complicated in American society. Some areas of the country accept heavier levels of drinking than other areas. To some, social drinking is an everyday event, as normal as going to work or school or out to eat. To others, occasional binge drinking is acceptable behavior. With so many types of drinking patterns, some experts believe there are different types of alcoholism.

Understanding Alcohol Use

Alcohol is commonly used in America. An estimated 17.3 million report heavy alcohol use, while an estimated 138.3 million Americans drink alcohol.[1] Since alcohol is legal and widely available, it’s more commonly abused than other addictive substances. There are a variety of risk factors for developing an alcohol use problem. A complex mix of genetic, physical, psychological and social factors combine to increase a person’s chances of developing alcohol dependence. Someone may drink to self-medicate anxiety or develop a problem due to a genetic propensity to metabolize alcohol differently.[2]

Researchers with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) identify five types of alcoholics that fall under the broad umbrella of alcoholism. While some scientists say there are two differentiations, Type I and Type II, many agree those categories break down further into five distinct categories. To understand the five subtypes, it’s important to understand more about the main two types.

Two Types of Alcoholics

Type I and Type II differ mainly by age. Type I alcoholics begin drinking later in life, while Type II start drinking at a young age. Aside from age, the types differ further based on three criteria that indicate personality differences.

The following three personality factors describe variations in drinking patterns:

  • Low/high harm avoidance: people either are cautious and apprehensive or confident and relaxed
  • Low/high novelty: people either are rigid and reflective or impulsive and easily distracted
  • Low/high reward seeking: people either want to please others and feel emotionally dependent on them or they are socially detached

To explain further, Type I alcoholics want to avoid harm and seek social rewards; countered by low novelty. Type II alcoholics have the opposite qualities; they are considered high novelty with low levels of harm avoidance and reward-seeking behavior. Characteristically, Type I alcoholics tend to binge drink and abstain in intervals, have excessive guilt over drinking and progress from mild to severe alcoholism quite quickly. Type II people frequently get in legal trouble, get in fights and show a relatively consistent level of alcoholism, as opposed to a rapid onset.[3]

5 Specific Types of Alcoholism

A study issued by the NIAAA explored the drinking tendencies of a group of people to classify them into varying degrees of alcoholism. They discovered five different kinds of alcoholics that range in age of onset and functionality. In brief, here are the findings from the research:

  • Young adult. Approximately 31.5 percent of study participants fit the criteria for young adult alcoholism; they often drink in excess, but drink with less frequency; they also are likely to develop dangerous drinking habits (driving while intoxicated, for example) but have low instances of substance abuse and mental health issues.
  • Young antisocial. Similar to the young adult category in which alcoholism develops from an earlier age, young antisocial people make up 21.1 percent of alcoholics;people in the category often met the criteria for antisocial personality disorder and other mental health problems (estimated 50 percent); fortunately, about one-third seek help for alcohol-related problems.
  • Functional. Tends to develop in middle age and makes up about 19.4 percent of the respondent population; functional alcoholics tend to have a history of alcohol-related issues in their families and about one-quarter met the criteria for clinical depression.
  • Intermediate familial. About 18.8 percent of participants fall into this category; like functional alcoholics, those in this classification have a history of family alcoholism and a strong likelihood for developing mental health and/or substance abuse issues; about 50 percent are clinically depressed and 20 percent meet the criteria for bipolar disorder.
  • Chronic severe. This category has the highest likelihood of co-existing conditions (depression and anxiety with, for example, Parkinson’s disease), and an estimated 80 percent carry a strong family history of alcohol-related problems; this group, however, was most likely to be treated for alcoholism with a substantial majority (two-thirds) seeking help.

Researchers know the categories are not absolute and people don’t fall neatly into each one. They hope to use them to identify the disease and ensure people get the treatment they need.[4]

Finding Treatment for Alcoholism

Does someone you know fit into one of these categories? If so, it’s time to get help. Call The Oaks at La Paloma today to learn more about alcoholism and how it affects families, friends and everyone it touches. Sobriety is possible; patients achieve it with the proper support and guidance. Let the admissions coordinators at The Oaks at La Paloma help you discover life without alcohol.


[1] “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results From the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.”Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. September, 2016.

[2] “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders and Their Treatment.”American Psychological Association.March, 2012.

[3] Cloninger, C. Robert, et.al.“Differences between Type I and Type II alcoholics.”Health.am. April 15, 2011.

[4] “Researchers Find 5 Types of Alcohol Dependence.”American Medical News. August 6, 2007.