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Five Types of Alcoholics Identified

Subtypes Defined by NIAAA

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Updated September 17, 2013

Dispelling the myth of the "typical alcoholic," National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism researchers have identified five subtypes of alcoholics from a study of 1,484 people who met diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence.

The study found that the largest group of alcoholics in the U.S. are young adults. Twenty percent are highly functional and more than half do not have a family history of alcoholism. The study was conducted by Howard B. Moss, M.D., NIAAA associate director for clinical and translational research, and a team of researchers. The study drew from responses to the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a representative epidemiological study of alcohol, drug, and mental disorders in the United States.

Types of Alcoholics

The NIAAA researchers defined five subtypes of alcoholics by the following specific characteristics. They also listed the percentage of each type that composes the total number of U.S. alcoholics:

Young Adult Alcoholics

  • 31.5 percent.

  • Young adult drinkers, with relatively low rates of co-occurring substance abuse and mental disorders.

  • Low rates of family alcoholism.

  • Rarely seek any kind of help for their drinking.

Young Antisocial Alcoholics

Functional Alcoholics

Intermediate Familial Alcoholics

Chronic Severe Alcoholics

Previous studies which tried to identify alcoholism subtypes were conducted with people who were in treatment for their alcoholism. Therefore, a large percentage of alcoholics were left out of those studies, because only about one-fourth of alcoholics ever seek treatment.

Sources:

Moss, Howard B., Chenb, Chiung M. and Yi, Hsiao-ye. Subtypes of alcohol dependence in a nationally representative sample. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Retrieved 28 June 2007.

National Institutes of Health, Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes. June 28, 2007.

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