New alcoholism research identifies five types of alcoholics
and shows that young adults account for more than half of U.S. alcoholics.
The high percentage of young adults among alcoholics was unexpected, notes
researcher Howard Moss, MD, who is the associate director for clinical and
translational research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
"While we knew that many young adults had problematic involvement with
alcohol from our research on college-aged drinkers, we were certainly surprised
by the proportion of alcohol-dependent individuals who fell into that young
adult cluster," Moss tells WebMD.
Seek Help for Alcoholism
In the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Moss and colleagues
describe the five types of alcoholics. But before you read those descriptions,
keep Moss' advice in mind.
"We hope that if someone suspects they may have a problem with alcohol
that they talk about this with their health care provider," Moss tells
"If the health care professional is uncomfortable with assessing alcohol
problems (and we hope allB such professionals are comfortable with
these assessments) the individual should ask for a referral to an
addictionsB specialist for anB in-depth evaluation," he says.
Moss and colleagues studied data from 1,484 U.S. adults who took part in a
national survey conducted by the NIAAA from 2001 to 2002.
The study focused on alcohol dependence and also included questions about
personality, family history of alcoholism, and other substance use.
The researchers applied the survey's findings to the U.S. population. They
estimate that in the year before the study, nearly 8 million people in the U.S.
met the standard for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence.
Alcoholism is the nonmedical, popular term for alcohol dependence, notes
5 Types of Alcoholics
The study describes five subtypes of alcoholics.
The young adult subtype accounts for about 32% of U.S. alcoholics.
They're young adults who rarely seek help for alcohol dependence. About 24
years old, they became alcoholics by age 20, on average. They drink less
frequently than other alcoholics, but they tend to binge drink when they drink.
This is the largest subtype.
The young antisocial subtype comprises 21% of U.S. alcoholics. They
are 26 years old, on average. More than half have antisocial personality
disorder. They tended to start drinking at 15 and became alcoholics by 18 --
earlier than other subtypes. They are
more likely toB s moke tobacco and pot. The young antisocial subtype
and the young adult subtype don't overlap, Moss tells WebMD.
The functional subtype accounts for about 19% of U.S. alcoholics.
They're generally middle-aged, working adults who tend to have stable
relationships, more education, and higher incomes than other alcoholics. They
tend to drink every other day, often consuming five or more drinks on drinking
The intermediate familial subtype makes up nearly 19% of U.S.
alcoholics. Nearly half have close relatives who are alcoholics. Alcoholics in
this subtype typically began drinking by 17 and became alcoholics in their
The chronic severe subtype is the rarest subtype, accounting for
about 9% of U.S. alcoholics. This subtype mainly includes men, has the highest
divorce rate, and frequently includes users of illicit drugs.
"WhenB mostB peopleB thinkB ofB alcoholics,B theyB thinkB ofB middle-agedB menB with
a profile similarB toB ourB chronicB severeB subtype,"
Moss tells WebMD.
"OurB dataB showsB thatB alcoholismB isB moreB aB disorderB ofB youthB thanB previouslyB suspected,"
Moss warns that while some alcoholic subtypes may function better than
others, "in all cases, alcohol dependence must be viewed as a severe
isease with a significant adverse impact on health and well-being."
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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