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Alcoholism and Mental Health – 5 Types of Alcoholics

Published on: March 29, 2021


Alcoholism may seem like a simple disease, but did you know that people drink for different reasons and that there are at least five different types of alcohol abusers? During Alcohol Awareness Month in April, we’re sharing some lesser-known information about the leading form of substance abuse that affects more than 27 million Americans.

Why People Drink

Prolonged abuse of alcohol can lead to a variety of diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and cancer. Alcohol abuse can also lead to mental health problems including depression, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, memory problems, and dementia. 

Few people, however, think of the downsides of consuming alcohol when they begin to make it a habit. Instead, they drink because they want to feel better in some way.  The key reasons people begin to abuse alcohol are:

  • To relieve anxiety. An estimated 25-50 percent of alcoholics meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder, particularly phobias and panic disorder. Although many people drink to relieve their inhibitions, consumption of alcohol in high doses has just the opposite effect – causing muscle tension and feelings of nervousness.
  • To manage moods such as depression, sadness, and loneliness. Depression is more common in women than in men, especially in women who are heavy drinkers with a family history of alcohol abuse. Individuals with bipolar I disorder may use alcohol to self-medicate their manic episodes. 
  • To ease social relationships. The tendency to drink for mood regulation and to ease social interactions is more common in women than men.
  • To deal with feelings of guilt. Drinking to cover up nagging feelings of guilt is more common among men later in life.
  • To meet social expectations. Some people may develop alcohol abuse over time by drinking to meet cultural and social expectations.

Many people use alcohol as a medication for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. While it may seem like alcohol helps them cope on a superficial level, the fact is that alcohol abuse contributes to major depression, anxiety disorders, loneliness, and fragmented relationships. A case in point: approximately 80 percent of alcoholics report histories of intense depression. However, only 10-15 percent of alcoholic persons have experienced major depression when they have not been drinking heavily.

5 Types of Alcoholics

Despite sharing a similar desire to be distracted from unwanted feelings, alcohol abusers do differ in various ways. Based on clinical observations, there are at least five different types of alcoholics.

  1. Early-onset drinkers typically start with high-risk factors, including a strong family history of alcohol abuse, and mental health challenges such as trauma, abuse, and depression. This type shows disruptive behavior when intoxicated.
  2. Antisocial alcoholics, predominantly men, start drinking at a young age, tend to drink alone in binges, and have a close association with an antisocial personality disorder.
  3. Opportunity drinkers are spontaneous consumers of alcohol and are unable to stop drinking once they start. When their drinking is terminated as a result of ill health or lack of money, however, these individuals can abstain for varying periods of time.
  4. The “in control” daily drinker feels the need to drink a certain amount of alcohol every day but is unaware of having a drinking problem – that is until they stop drinking for some important reason and experience withdrawal symptoms.
  5. The young binge drinker has frequent bouts of consuming large amounts of alcohol. Bouts become less frequent as the person matures and responds to the increased expectations of society around work and family life.

How Much of Alcoholism is Genetic?

Based on studies, genetic influences explain approximately 60 percent of the risk for alcoholism, with one’s environment responsible for the remainder. A person’s environment can include their upbringing, family, friends, socioeconomic class, educational level, and work and social life.

Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder

Treating an alcohol addiction requires pharmacotherapy (medications) to manage withdrawal symptoms and any coexisting mental health conditions, and to prevent cravings. Psychotherapy (talk therapy, counseling) is also necessary to help a person address the source or reason for the alcohol abuse. Treatment will take different forms for different needs. Some people may be helped through outpatient counseling. Others will require a comprehensive inpatient detox and recovery program. More information about different treatment options is available from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Effective treatment will address both the alcohol-abusing behavior and the accompanying mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

Harmony United Psychiatric Care offers outpatient psychotherapy and counseling for alcohol/substance abuse and a full range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, insomnia, and more. To schedule an in-person or online appointment, call  (800) 457-4573 or go to our Book Appointment page.

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