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Understanding the 5 Subtypes of Alcohol Addiction

The five forms of alcoholism and how the manifest.

Alcohol addiction is a complex and multifaceted disease, and it's crucial to understand the different forms it may take. The National Institutes of Health has defined five subtypes of alcohol addiction, each with its own set of characteristics and challenges. However, understanding these subtypes is only the first step - the true accomplishment lies in obtaining the proper help for each one.

These subtypes include:

The Young Adult Subtype

Young adult subtype alcoholism refers to a specific subgroup of individuals who develop alcohol use disorder at a young age (typically between 18 and 25). Alcoholics in this subtype will often have no other mental health comorbidities, and tend to have low to moderate rates of alcohol addiction in their family. This subtype actually drinks less often than the others. However, when they do drink it often takes the form of binge drinking. Unfortunately, this subtype is also the least likely to seek help for their alcohol abuse.

The Functional Subtype

Next, the functional subtype. Often dubbed a "functional alcoholic", the subtype is the most organized and stable, but is still quite dangerous. Individuals whose alcoholism manifests as this subtype tend to include be middle-aged, college-educated, and have stability in their home and work lives. They have about a one-third history of familial alcohol addiction and about one-quarter have experienced some other form of mental health issue. However, despite a greater likelihood of seeking help, their functional lifestyles may prevent them from doing so. A common myth is that someone who is able to drink frequently and to excess but can still maintain a successful career, a stable home life, and other obligations cannot be a "real alcoholic"; this is false. They are they suffering from the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption, such as physical and mental health problems, and may struggle with denial about their addiction.

The Intermediate Familial Subtype

Familial subtype alcoholism refers to a pattern of alcohol use disorder that runs in families. This subtype occurs more in people in middle age and has a much higher rate of alcohol addiction in their family lineage. Environmental factors, such as growing up in a household where alcohol is frequently used, can also play a role in developing familial subtype alcoholism. The individuals in this subgroup also have a very high rate of depression, as well as more instances of bipolar disorder, as compared to the previous two subtypes. However, it's also the least likely to seek help, with only 25% ever seeking treatment for their problem drinking.

The Young Antisocial Subtype

This subtype tends to affect young adults in their mid-twenties who exhibit excessive drinking behaviors, a history of antisocial behavior, and begin to experience negative consequences from their drinking much earlier in life. These individuals have a high rate of co-occurring mental health disorders and illicit substance use. This subtype can have a history of conduct disorder as a child and/or teenager that continues into adulthood. These individuals are often highly impulsive and have trouble forming and maintaining relationships. However, they do have a higher chance of seeking help than the intermediate familial subtype and early intervention and treatment can help reduce the long-term negative effects of this subtype of alcoholism.

The Chronic Severe Subtype

Lastly, we come to the chronic severe subtype of alcoholism. Individuals of this subtype started drinking heavily at a young age, developing a high tolerance for alcohol, with some being able to drink heavily while appearing sober. This high tolerance comes with a high level of physical dependence, resulting in physical withdrawal when they attempt to stop or cut back. They also have a high rate of family alcoholism, as well as personality, and psychiatric disorders. Two-thirds of individuals with this subtype will seek help at some point in their lives. Due to the severity and chronic nature of this subtype of alcoholism, treatment and long-term management may be necessary. This may include a combination of counseling, medication, and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. It is also important to address any other comorbid psychiatric disorders to have a successful treatment outcome.

In conclusion, alcohol addiction is a complex and multifaceted disease, and it's crucial to understand the different forms it may take. By understanding the five subtypes of alcohol addiction, we can better aid those affected by this disease. However, it's important to remember that while these subtypes provide a general understanding of different forms of alcohol addiction, everyone's journey is unique. At Natural State Recovery Centers, we create a personalized, comprehensive treatment plan to help those struggling with alcohol and/or other substance use disorders. Don't wait, call (501) 319-7074 to talk to one of our recovery specialist today for more information and support.


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