Why do some alcoholics benefit from medications or counseling while others don’t? That question has been a major challenge for scientists who study alcohol disorders. A new analysis of people with alcohol dependence has found 5 distinct subtypes of alcoholism.
NIH scientists studied nearly 1,500 people with alcohol dependence. They analyzed their family history of alcoholism, the age when alcohol use became a problem and other factors.
The largest alcoholism subtype, they found, includes about 31% of U.S. alcoholics. This group is made up of young adults who rarely seek help for their drinking. They have relatively low rates of other substance abuse or mental disorders and a low rate of family alcoholism.
The next largest subtype includes about 21% of U.S. alcoholics. More than half come from families with alcoholism. About half have an antisocial personality disorder. Most smoke cigarettes and marijuana. Many also have cocaine and opiate addictions. More than a third seek help for their drinking. The researchers also defined 3 other subtypes.
“Nearly 20% of alcoholics are highly functional and well-educated with good incomes,” says Dr. Howard B. Moss, a scientist with NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Our findings should help dispel the popular notion of the ‘typical alcoholic.’”
Understanding the subtypes of alcoholism will now help researchers to develop more effective prevention and treatment strategies.