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Exploring the 6 Different Types of Alcoholics

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a complex condition that presents itself in many ways. Understanding the different types of alcoholics can provide insight into the diverse nature of this disorder and help in assessing treatment and support strategies for those who are struggling.

What is an Alcoholic?

An alcoholic is someone who feels a compulsive need to drink despite negative consequences. They often experience the inability to control how often and how much they drink.

Understanding the Different Types of Alcoholics

Addiction experts recognize six different types of alcoholics.

1. The Social Drinker

Characteristics: Social drinkers consume alcohol in social settings like parties, dinners, or gatherings with friends. This type of drinker often drinks to fit in, relax, or enjoy the company of others and does not typically drink alone or outside social situations.

Risks: Social drinking can lead to problematic patterns if it becomes a frequent or necessary part of social interactions. Social drinkers might find it difficult to attend events without drinking and can develop a dependency over time.

2. The Binge Drinker

Characteristics: Binge drinkers consume large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time. This type of drinking typically occurs at random and can lead to severe intoxication, impaired judgment, poor decision making and health risks.

Risks: Binge drinking has various health risks, including alcohol poisoning, accidents, and injuries, as well as long-term health complications such as liver disease and heart problems.[2]

3. The Functioning Alcoholic

Characteristics: Functioning alcoholics, also known as “high-functioning alcoholics,” maintain their daily responsibilities and appear to lead a normal life while consuming alcohol regularly.

Risks: The main risk for functioning alcoholics is that their ability to function regularly can delay recognizing they have a problem and seeking help.

4. The Chronic-Severe Alcoholic

Characteristics: Chronic-severe alcoholics have a high level of alcohol dependence and experience severe withdrawal symptoms when not drinking. They often struggle with day-to-day responsibilities such as maintaining employment and relationships.

Risks: Chronic-severe alcoholics have the highest risk of health complications, including liver disease, brain damage, and psychiatric disorders.[3]

5. The Binge-Eating Alcoholic

Characteristics: The binge-eating alcoholic combines excessive alcohol consumption with compulsive eating behaviors and uses food and alcohol as coping mechanisms for emotional distress.

Risks and Implications: The combination of binge drinking and binge eating can lead to health problems like obesity, diabetes, and alcohol-related liver disease, as well as co-occurring mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.[4]

6. The High-Functioning Alcoholic

Characteristics: High-functioning alcoholics are similar to functioning alcoholics but often occupy high-status positions or successful careers and personal lives despite their alcohol use.

Risks and Implications: The outward appearance of success makes it difficult for others to recognize their problem, delaying intervention.

How Do You Diagnose Alcoholism?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) determines alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), using diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).[5] The severity of AUD is assessed based on the number of criteria met based on their symptoms, ranging from mild to severe.

A healthcare provider might ask the following questions to assess symptoms:

In the past year, have you

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking, being sick from drinking, or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities you found important, interesting, or pleasurable so you could drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or unsafe sexual behavior)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had an alcohol-related memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, dysphoria (feeling uneasy or unhappy), malaise (general sense of being unwell), feeling low, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you experience two or more symptoms in a year, you may have an AUD.

Who is at Risk of Developing AUD?

Certain factors can increase the risk of a drinking problem.[6]

  • Family History and Genetics: Those with a family history of alcoholism are at higher risk of developing.
  • Trauma: Having experienced physical or emotional trauma can increase vulnerability to alcohol misuse.
  • Mental Health Conditions: Those with depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders are more susceptible to developing AUD.
  • Early Initiation: Starting to drink at a young age increases the risk of alcoholism.
  • Stress: Chronic stress can lead to the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism.
  • Co-Occurring Disorders: Having a history of substance abuse may increase the likelihood of developing AUD.

Alcoholism Treatment and Recovery at Mandala Healing Center

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use, seeking treatment is crucial. The dedicated addiction specialists at Mandala Healing Center are here to help. Our Alcohol Addiction Treatment Program takes a holistic approach to healing to support long-term recovery.

Each program is designed with your unique needs in mind, so you can get back to living the healthy life you deserve. Reach out to our dedicated admissions counselors today to learn more about our treatment options and remember it’s never too late to ask for help.


  1. Sage Journals: Drinking Together and Drinking Alone: A Social-Contextual Framework for Examining Risk for Alcohol Use Disorder
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics: Binge Drinking
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol’s Effects on the Body
  4. National Institute of Health (NIH): A Twin Study of Alcohol Dependence, Binge Eating, and Compensatory Behaviors
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Risk Factors: Varied Vulnerability to Alcohol-Related Harm