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Types of Alcoholism: The Disease Most People Would Rather Deny

Alcoholism isn't nearly as cut and dry as most people think. There are actually five different types of alcoholism. Alcoholics generally fall into one of these categories.

If you are an alcoholic, or you think you may be, this could be helpful information. Also, if you have a loved one whom you suspect is an alcoholic, this important for you to know as well. Alcoholism is very dangerous, and the more you know about it, the better.

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Why are There Different Levels of Alcoholism?

There has been so much research done on the use of the world's most popular drug- alcohol. Not only are there different types of drinkers, but there are different types of alcoholism as well.

Alcoholism is complex. It is a problem that's difficult to define, and that has multiple facets. Still, with a little probing, you can uncover what some of the greatest minds in the world have uncovered.

The following information is the result of many decades of studying and research. You'll find that there are many classifications of drinkers because people are so different. Alcoholics respond to drinking in different ways. Therefore, many alcoholic types were needed in order to define them all.

E. Morton Jellinek Classification of Alcohol Use

A man by the name of Elvin Morton Jellinek dedicated his life to studying alcoholism. He actually died at his desk doing research in 1963. Jellinek was instrumental in accelerating research into medicalizing drunkenness and alcohol use. He came up with the phrase, the disease concept of alcoholism.

In 1960, he wrote a book that identified different types of alcoholism. These types were as follows:

As time went on, even more research would be done in this area. There was so much more to learn about alcohol use and the disease of alcoholism.


Alcohol Addiction: Type A and Type B

Researcher Thomas F. Babor assigned two different types to alcoholics in the 1990s. He called them Type A and Type B. They have different levels of severity, and both types don't apply to men and women equally.

What is Type A?

Type A alcoholism is characterized by environmentally-based forms of the disease. This type becomes evident later in life. People with this type often have a weaker family history of alcoholism. They suffer from less co-occurring disorders, and have less negative consequences to their drinking habits.

Also, their level of dependence on alcohol tends to be much less than those with Type B. This may be due to the fact that they generally don't become alcoholics until they are much older.

What is Type B?

Type B alcoholism is much more severe than Type A. These individuals usually become alcoholics earlier on in their lives. Many of them may turn to alcohol during their young adult years, or even sooner. These individuals have a strong family history of alcoholism.

People with Type B tend to have had conduct problems as children. They may abuse multiple drugs and have multiple psychiatric disorders. Their level of dependence tends to be much higher than those with Type A.

Current Research on Drinking

The information we've gotten from past research on drinking has been quite helpful. However, it still left a lot of unanswered questions. It seemed as though there was so much more about this disease that still needed to be learned.

Dr. Howard Moss is a researcher from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He is also the associate director for clinical and translational research. Through his studies, he has determined that there are really 5 different subtypes of alcoholism.

What are the 5 Types of Alcoholics?

The five types of alcoholics are:

32% of people with alcohol additions in the United States are a part of the young adult subtype. Symptoms of this subtype include:

  • Being unwilling to seek out help for their addictions
  • Participating in binge drinking
  • Take dangerous risks while consuming alcohol
  • Facing a great deal of peer pressure
  • Having low probabilities of mental health issues

This is the largest subtype within alcoholism. Usually, these individuals turn to alcohol by the age of about 20. While they do binge drink, they tend to drink less than those in the other subtypes.

People who fall into this subtype make up about 21% of the alcoholics in the United States. Symptoms of the young antisocial subtype include:

  • Being introduced to alcohol at an early age
  • May have addictions to other substances as well
  • Have a higher risk of being diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder
  • May smoke cigarettes and marijuana
  • Having a higher likelihood of seeking out treatment

Many of the individuals in this subtype start drinking by the age of 15. By the age of 18, they are known alcoholics.

Those with the functional subtype make up close to 20% of the alcoholics in the U.S. High functioning alcoholic symptoms include:

  • Drinking every other day
  • Drinking excessively on days they do drink (consuming 5 or more)
  • Drinking alcohol instead of eating food
  • Shifts in behavior while drinking
  • Frequent blackouts

Functional alcoholics are usually middle aged. They are highly educated and often have good jobs. At first glance, some may even have a hard time believing that they're actual alcoholics. On the outside, they appear to seem normal, without many problems.

Almost 19% of the alcoholics in the United States fall into the category of the intermediate familial subtype. The symptoms of this subtype include:

  • Having a family history of alcoholism
  • Possibly having addictions to other substances, such as cocaine
  • Suffering from depression
  • Suffering from personality disorders
  • Seeking treatment only 25% of the time

People within this subtype usually have started drinking by the age of 17. However, they may not become alcoholics until they reach their early 30s.

Only about 9% of people suffering from alcoholism fall into this subtype. Chronic severe alcoholism is the rarest out of all the subtypes. Characteristics of this type of alcoholism include:

  • Being a male
  • Having a high risk of divorce
  • Frequently using illicit drugs
  • Having a family history of alcohol addiction
  • Having a personal history of mental illness

Those who fall into this subtype are the most likely to seek help for their alcoholism. As many as 66% will reach out for recovery assistance.

How Does the DSM-5 View Alcohol Problems?

The DSM-5 defines severe alcohol problems as being an alcohol use disorder.


According to this manual, you may be an alcoholic if you:

  • Have had times when you drank more or longer than you meant to
  • Have tried to cut down or stop drinking more than once unsuccessfully
  • Spend a lot of time drinking
  • Were unable to think of anything else but drinking
  • Found that drinking interfered with your daily life, including relationships, responsibilities, work, and/or school
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing problems within your personal relationships
  • Given up on activities that you once found important in favor of drinking
  • Gotten into situations after drinking that increased the risk of injury
  • Continued drinking even after it made you feel depressed or anxious
  • Had to drink much more than usual to get the desired effects of the alcohol
  • Had withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the alcohol had worn off

All of the above are signs of alcoholism. The DSM-5 is very clear that alcoholics typically experience many of these signs. If you are as well, you are probably an alcoholic.

Questions You May Have About Drinking

Here at Northpoint Evergreen Bellevue, it is our hope that we've answered a lot of your questions. However, we know that alcohol is a very complex subject. You may have even more questions, such as:

When you have an alcohol tolerance, it means that it takes more alcohol for you to feel the effects. You may need to drink more than you once did in order to get drunk.

Increasing tolerance levels are typical among alcoholics. They often need to increase their intake to dangerous levels after they've been drinking a long time.

Yes, chronic alcohol use can, and often is, a cause of death. Alcohol is a drug, and it's not as safe as most people think it is. The longer you drink, the higher your risk is for an alcohol-related illness or disease.

Some examples of alcohol-related diseases include:

  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Brain damage
  • Cancer
  • Immune system dysfunction

Alcohol use is also a leading cause of accidents and injuries. It is a very dangerous drug that should never be misused, or used excessively.

This is a very difficult question to answer. End stage alcoholism can last for a short time, or it can last for years. People who are facing this stage are often suffering from:

  • Malnutrition
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver disease or failure
  • Possible kidney failure

Basically, end stage alcoholism is the culmination of the effects of alcohol on the body for years. Everyone is different, so there's no way to tell how long it will last. Doctors may be able to give their medical opinions on individual cases.

How Can You Get Help if You're an Alcoholic?

If you have an alcohol addiction, you need to get immediate help.

Alcoholism isn't something you can ignore, and you shouldn't just stop drinking on your own.

Trying to quit alcohol cold turkey can be devastating for you. It can cause serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms that may even be life threatening.

Professional treatment is recommended for anyone with an alcohol addiction. An IOP program might be the best place for you to start. This offers a flexible way to get your treatment that also intensive and effective.

Do you have more questions about the different types of alcoholism? We'd love to answer them for you. Please contact us to learn more about alcohol addiction and your treatment options.