Did you know there are different types of alcoholics? You likely have a picture in your mind of what you think an alcoholic is. Many assume that alcoholics are only people who end up homeless and drinking from a paper bag under a bridge. Others think they have to be middle-aged or older, divorced, or unable to hold down a job in order to be an alcoholic.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Alcoholism affects people regardless of age, gender, nationality, or any other factor. There is no single picture of what an alcoholic “looks like”; alcoholism can affect anyone. 15.1 million people in the United States ages 18 and older, or 6.2 percent of that population, have alcoholism. Chances are you know at least one.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) conducted a study to push back against the idea of a single type of “typical alcoholic.” Instead, they created 5 different types of alcoholics, or “alcoholism subtypes.” This helps research categorize the wide variety of people with severe drinking problems.

Population and alcoholism

What Are the 5 Types of Alcoholics?

NIAAA researchers understood the vast range in the different types of alcoholics across the country. Alcoholism may have been reserved to a more narrow range of people in the past but now sinks its claws into anyone it can. The NIAAA conducted their survey in 2007 and received 1,484 responses from people whose drinking behaviors qualified as an alcoholic.

Based on their responses, the NIAAA established 5 different types of alcoholics, or “subtypes of alcoholism.” Researchers took the age people started drinking, familial history, mental health and much more into consideration during their study. Then they created the following alcoholic subtypes.

Young Adult

You might assume that alcoholism affects mostly middle-aged individuals or older adults. In reality, young adults make up the largest percentage of alcoholics in the United States. 31.5 percent of people in the US who drink alcoholically are young adults. They usually show no signs of co-occurring disorders and rarely seek help for their drinking.

Since drinking is deeply ingrained in the social lives of young adults, many of these alcoholic young people might not realize they have a problem. It’s not until their drinking worries their friends, family, or employer that they might end up in a treatment program.

Young Antisocial

The young antisocial subtype makes up the second largest group in the types of alcoholics. 21 percent of alcoholics are in this category. These drinkers are somewhere in their twenties, usually their mid-twenties. They started drinking regularly early on in their lives and more than half came from alcoholic homes.

Additionally, about half of the young antisocial respondents also had a mental health or personality disorder diagnosis. These co-occurring disorders included Antisocial Personality Disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety. Many of them also used marijuana, cocaine, or opiates and 75 percent smoked cigarettes. One in three young antisocial alcoholics sought treatment for alcoholism.


If you’ve heard of any of the types of alcoholics from the study, the functional alcoholic is probably it. 19.5 percent of alcoholics are functional alcoholics and they are exactly what they sound like. From the outside looking in it seems like they have everything together. They usually maintain a stable job and home life but they still have an active drinking problem.

Functional alcoholics are well-educated but one-third of them come from a family with multiple generations of alcoholics. About 25 percent had some type of major depressive disorder, qualifying them for a dual diagnosis condition. Half of these types of alcoholics also smoked cigarettes.

Alcoholics also smoked cigarettes

Intermediate Familial

The intermediate familial alcoholic has a higher chance than most others of living with a co-occurring disorder. 19 percent of alcoholics are the intermediate familial subtype. Of these drinkers, 20 percent also have bipolar disorder and nearly half of them have or had clinical depression.

Additionally, about half of them also come from families with multiple generations of alcoholics. About 20 percent of them had marijuana or cocaine problems in addition to drinking. And only 1 in 4 intermediate familial alcoholics seeks treatment.

Generations of alcoholics

Chronic Severe

Chronic severe alcoholics are more along the lines of the “typical alcoholic” people tend to think of. 9 percent of alcoholics are chronic severe subtype. They are mainly middle-aged individuals who developed drinking problems early on in life. Rates of criminality are highest among these drinkers.

The chronic severe types of alcoholics also have the highest rates of coexisting mental illness. Many of them have anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or antisocial personality disorder. They also have the highest rates of cross-addiction to substances including marijuana, opiates, and cocaine. Thankfully, about two-thirds of these drinkers seek treatment for their alcoholism.

Alcoholism Treatment for the 5 Types of Alcoholics

No matter which type of alcoholic someone is, alcoholism treatment can help. Treatment centers understand that drinking problems affect everyone. Each person needs a tailored approach to their treatment plan in order to get the best results.

Something to consider when seeking treatment, though, is whether someone has a co-occurring disorder. More severe types of alcoholics who have both mental illness and alcoholism benefit most from facilities that specialize in dual diagnosis treatment. Hawaii Island Recovery is one such facility that takes a catered approach to these individuals.

To learn more about how we treat coexisting disorders at Hawaii Island Recovery, call us today at 877-721-3556! We look forward to helping your loved one find the right option for them.