What is an Alcoholic
Despite what most movies and TV shows would lead us to believe, alcoholism doesn’t always look the same. Addiction is a chronic disease, not a character flaw or defect in self-control. Close to 18 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder ranging from mild to severe and also there are various types of alcoholics.
Every one of these individuals is unique. And each of their addictions is unique, too.
Medical Definition vs. AA Definition
When it comes to drinking and drinking disorders, it can be hard to distinguish between social consumption and addictive behaviors. The question often comes down to usage vs. abuse vs. dependence vs. alcoholism.
Strict definitions can help shed some light on the differences. The medical definition of alcoholism is a physical dependence on alcohol to the extent that stopping alcohol use would bring on withdrawal symptoms.
These withdrawal symptoms, including things like headaches and intense alcohol cravings, may lead you to continue drinking even after you want to stop. This contributes to the compulsive behaviors that many alcoholics experience.
The AA definition is a bit looser. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous acknowledge it as one of the oldest problems in history. And while there is no formal AA definition of alcoholism, their literature states that it could be described as a physical compulsion coupled with a mental obsession.
Types of Alcoholics
Another question we get asked a lot is, “are there different types of alcoholics?” And many people are surprised to find that there are five subtypes of alcoholics:
- Young adult alcoholics
- Young antisocial alcoholics
- Functional alcoholics
- Intermediate familial alcoholics
- Chronic severe alcoholics
Alcoholism in seniors is less common than in other categories. Young adult alcoholics account for over half of all alcoholics in the country. With these subtypes in mind, you may be wondering next, how is alcoholism classified?
Young adult and functional alcoholic subtypes are the closest to self-explanatory. But the others are a bit less obvious. We’ll talk about the behavioral differences among the five subtypes in the next section.
Alcoholic Behavior Patterns
Alcoholic personality traits and behavior patterns vary among the different subtypes. It would be difficult to give an in-depth explanation of each type of alcoholic in one article. Instead, we will give a brief overview of each before we move on to risk factors and symptoms.
Of course, there are always exceptions. Not everyone who experiences a drinking disorder will fit neatly into one given category. These descriptions are meant to give a general overview rather than be treated as hard-and-fast rules.
That said, let’s start with the young adult alcoholic subtype. Individuals in this category often binge drink sporadically rather than overindulge daily. One thing that sets young adult alcoholics apart from young antisocial alcoholics is the age of onset.
Young adult alcoholics often experience an average alcoholism onset around age 20. Young antisocial alcoholics have an average onset of 26. Most in this second category start drinking around 15 and develop a disorder around 18. Most also suffer from personality disorders.
Classifying Intermediate and Functional Through Chronic Severe Alcoholics
Intermediate familial alcoholics land in the age range that comes after young antisocial alcoholics. Most begin drinking around age 17 and develop alcoholism and other drinking disorders in their early 30s.
The functional alcoholic subtype is made up, primarily, of individuals who are around middle age, well-educated and high-income, with spouses and stable careers. Most drink an average of five or more drinks in a day, every other day.
Despite this excessive drinking, functional alcoholics generally maintain a normal work and social life, at least on the surface. This leads us to the last type of alcoholic on our list, the chronic severe subtype.
Accounting for just 9% of all alcoholics in the country, the chronic severe subtype is the smallest group. Most in this subtype are men, and many are also illicit drug users. The divorce rates are the highest in this category.
While individuals suffering from drinking disorders on TV are often depicted as middle-aged, divorced men, the numbers tell a different story. Most alcoholics are younger than many of us would expect.
And at any age, this chronic disease can significantly impact your mental and physical health.
Risks and Symptoms of Alcoholism
Excessive alcohol use preceding alcoholism isn’t the only indicator of trouble ahead. Some of the risks aren’t always so easy to see. Professionals in the addiction field are continuing their research into why some individuals develop addictions while others don’t.
But they have long ago confirmed certain factors that put individuals at a higher risk. For example, having a parent with a drinking disorder puts you at a significantly higher risk of developing one yourself.
Certain pre-existing mental health conditions also put you at a higher risk, including anxiety and depression, two of the most common in the country. In addition to genetic and mental health risk factors, others are closer to being within our control.
A male individual who consumes more than 15 drinks per week would be more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder than others. A female individual who consumes more than 12 drinks per week would also be more likely to develop alcoholism than others.
A stressful job, school schedule, or relationship is another risk factor. And peer pressure is another, as well as spending time with individuals who treat obsessive alcohol consumption as ordinary.
Alcoholism Warning Signs
The risk factors listed above can help us understand why alcoholism develops, but it does not necessarily tell us what to look for once it has. The risk factors, side effects, and warning signs can all vary depending on the individual.
But some are more common than others. If you are concerned that you or someone you love has developed a drinking disorder, here are some of the most common warning signs to look out for:
- Drinking alone or otherwise hiding your drinking habits.
- Avoiding work, school, or loved ones so that you have more time to spend drinking.
- The need to drink more to get drunk because your body has built a tolerance.
- Feelings of defensiveness, evasiveness, or anger when questioned about your drinking habits.
- Drinking even after problems arise, whether physical, mental, or social.
- Neglecting your hygiene due to your drinking habits.
The five major stages of alcoholism include experimenting and binge drinking, increased tolerance, problem drinking, physical dependence, and addiction. Someone progressing through the five major stages of alcoholism might exhibit some or all of the warning signs above.
The best time to seek alcoholism treatment is when you first start to see the signs. That’s where our services come in.
Treatment for Alcoholism
If you’re ready to try a different approach to building a better life, it’s time to reimagine recovery with Divine Detox. Recovery is possible. And people from all over the country have chosen us as their recovery provider of choice.
Whether you need full-time, inpatient rehab, or part-time outpatient care, our team is equipped to provide the guidance and expertise you need to overcome your addiction. And it all happens in the comfort and safety of the luxury-settings of our premier treatment facility in beautiful Southern California.
At Divine, we address the unique needs of the individual rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Call us today at 818-938-2177 to start building your customized care plan.