Alcoholism is a complex disorder and alcoholics are subject to a number of unkind and incorrect stereotypes. In truth, there is no single type of problem drinker, but a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has identified five distinct, identifiable subtypes.
The study, which involved nearly 1,500 individuals, considered factors such as family history, age when problem drinking began, and the presence of mental health disorders or other substance abuse issues. Researchers hope that the information will help alcoholics and their families understand the disorder, and that clinicians will create more effective, highly individualized treatment programs.
This is what they found:
Young adult – Members of the largest subtype display relatively low rates of mental disorders and typically have no problem with abuse of other substances, although a small percentage uses cigarettes or marijuana. Although they don’t drink as frequently as other subtypes, they tend to engage in binge drinking. Most have no family history of alcoholism and most aren’t likely to struggle with serious legal problems or psychiatric disorders. Less than nine percent have ever sought any form of treatment, and those that do generally seek help from 12-Step groups rather than rehabs or clinics.
Young antisocial – Members of this group, which tend to be in their mid-twenties, developed alcohol problems at a relatively early age. At least half come from families with a history of alcoholism, and approximately half fit criterion for antisocial personality disorder. Rates of major depression, bipolar disorder, social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are also common among this subtype. About three-quarters smoke cigarettes and marijuana, and many also struggle with addictions to cocaine or opiates. Problems with irresponsibility, impulsiveness or criminal behavior, including violence, aren’t uncommon. At least one-third seek some form of drug and alcohol treatment.