Although the word “alcoholic” may conjure a particular image to mind, there are actually several different types of alcoholics. Scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) conducted a survey of 43,093 individuals, screening them for alcohol dependence as well as a wide range of other factors. Of that population, 1,484 met at least three criteria for alcohol dependence in the past year, which the researchers projected to represent approximately 8 million American adults in the general population. Among these people, 68 percent were male, 71 percent were white, and 49 percent were never married.
The NIAAA researchers found that there were five distinct patterns of alcohol dependence.
Table of Contents
Young Adult Subtype
This is the most prevalent subtype, making up 31.5 percent of people who are alcohol dependent. The average age of dependent young adults is 25 years, and they first became dependent at an average of age 20. They tend to drink less frequently than people of other types (an average of 143 days a year). However, most of their drinking is binge drinking – they drink five or more drinks on an average of 104 (73 percent) of those days. On drinking days, the average maximum number of drinks is 14. This pattern of alcohol use is more likely to be hazardous than non-binging patterns.
Young adult alcohol dependents are 2.5 times more likely to be male than female. About 75 percent have never been married, 36.5 percent are still in school, and 54 percent work full time. Approximately 22 percent have a first- or second-degree family member who is also dependent on alcohol. Compared to other types of alcoholics, young adults are less likely to have psychiatric disorders or legal problems. Fewer than 1 percent of them have antisocial personality disorder. About 32 percent also smoke cigarettes, and 25 percent also use cannabis.
Only 8.7 percent of young adult alcohol dependents have ever sought treatment for their drinking problem. If they do choose to seek help, they tend to prefer 12-step programs over specialty treatment clinics or private professional practices.
The NIAAA reports that four out of five college students drink alcohol and half of those who do binge drink. They also note that each year, among college students between the ages of 18 and 24:
- At least 1,825 students die from alcohol-related accidental injuries.
- Over 690,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
- More than 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related date rape or sexual assault.
- About 599,000 students are unintentionally injured while they are under the influence of alcohol.
- Over 150,000 students develop alcohol-related health problems.
- About 25 percent of students experience school-related consequences from their alcohol consumption, such as being late to or missing classes, falling behind on coursework, doing poorly on homework, exams or papers, and receiving overall lower grades.