What Is an Alcoholic? Characteristics of Alcoholism

What Is an Alcoholic? Characteristics of Alcoholism


In the simplest of words, an alcoholic is an individual who has a mental and physical dependence on alcohol. Alcoholism is considered as a brain disease by most drug rehabilitation centers. It is a serious psychological illness which can be easily defined as being unable to quit drinking despite knowing the negative consequences. Anyone who suffers from alcoholism is an alcoholic.

Common Characteristics of Alcoholics

There are various definitions of alcoholism. Most of the definitions suggest the following common characteristics.

  • Downplaying, Hiding, or Lying: Being dishonest with oneself and others about the amount of alcohol consumed and how often it is consumed.
  • Negative Impact: Drinking leads to variety of problems related to finance, work, and relationships.
  • Mental Obsession: Lack of control or having abnormal cravings in the absence of alcohol and irritability.
  • Physical Need or Compulsion: Withdrawal symptoms would appear without a drink. An inability to cut down or stop drinking altogether.

Definition of Alcoholic

There are some mental health and healthcare organizations that no longer use the term “alcoholic” as it has a negative label attached to it. In fact, it has even been used to shame people that experience drinking problems. Instead such organizations include drug rehabilitation and drug rehab centers consider the individual to be suffering from an alcohol use disorder. It simply means when a person has drinking problems. It does leave room for debate.

Levels of Alcoholism

When it comes to alcoholism, people are interested in finding out whether it falls on a spectrum or if there are different types of alcoholism. According to the NIAAA, there are 5 subtypes of alcoholics. These are only mentioned for informational purposes and not to apply a label to someone. They allow medical professionals to better understand the history of the individual in order to prescribe treatment such as drug rehab. The subtypes are based on drinking behavior and age as mentioned below.

  • Young Adult Subtype: These consist of 32 percent of overall alcoholics and are described as young adults that regularly binge drink.
  • Young Antisocial Subtype: These consist of 21 percent of overall alcoholics. Their average age is about 26. They tend to experience antisocial personality disorder and are most likely to begin drinking while in their teens.
  • Intermediate Familial Subtype: These consist of 19 percent of overall alcoholics. This subtype tends to start drinking while in their teens due to having family members that experience drinking problems.
  • Functional Subtype: These consist of 19 percent of overall alcoholics. The subtype is mostly middle aged, working, educated, and consumes about five or more drinks every few days.
  • Chronic Severe Subtype: These consist of 9 percent of alcoholics. The subtype is mostly male who suffer from financial problems, divorce, depression, and other drug problem. Thus, alcohol takes over their lives entirely which means that they struggle the most when it comes to drinking. They showcase most or all of the characteristics of an alcoholic.