When Does Your Alcohol Spell Trouble? 5 Types of Problem Drinkers

A new study has identified 5 subgroups of problematic drinkers, to make it easier to point out unhealthy behaviour.

Life Hacks
3 min read
Do you know how to cure that horrible hangover?

You know why it’s difficult to spot a drinking problem? The thin line many tread between enjoying alcohol and abusing it? Acceptability. Drinking is one such issue which is socially acceptable on most occasions. And because of different personal definitions of tolerance levels and behaviour, it becomes difficult to identify when it becomes a problem of alcohol abuse or dependence.

Even though there are set regulations on how much is too much, like a drink a day for women and two for men is the safest consumption and beyond that is risky, the above varying factors make it tough to narrow down the problem.

A new study has identified five different subgroups of problematic drinkers, to make it easier to point out unhealthy behaviour and personalise treatment accordingly.

When Does Your Alcohol Spell Trouble? 5 Types of Problem Drinkers
(Photo: iStock)

Study co-author Ashley Linden-Carmichael, an assistant research professor of biobehavioral health at the Pennsylvania State University says:

Alcohol use disorder is not really a one-size-fits all diagnosis. This [approach] allows us to be more fine-tuned in detection and early screening and early prevention.

The paper was based on data from about 5,400 current drinkers between the ages of 18 and 64. All of them reported at least two of 11 symptoms of alcohol use disorder – enough to qualify for a clinical diagnosis.

These symptoms included at times:

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • Struggling to cut back
  • Experiencing physical side effects or withdrawal symptoms from alcohol
  • Finding that drinking interfered with personal or professional life
  • Continuing to drink despite health or personal problems

Based on this, the researchers classified the individuals into five categories of problem drinkers.

1. Adverse Effects Only

This was the most common group, with 34 percent people coming under it. This classification applied mostly to young adults.

They said they had experienced hangovers or withdrawal symptoms related to excessive drinking, but few other problems.

2. Alcohol-Induced Injury

Next most prevalent was this group, applying to 25 percent of the participants. They admitted to engaging in activities such as driving, swimming or engaging in unsafe sex while under the influence – all of which can cause injury.

The interesting observation was that this category was most common among older adults, peaking around age 58. The co-author of the study speculates that this may be because youngsters are more likely to hail ride-sharing facilities or simply not view these activities as dangerous.

3. Highly Problematic, Low Perceived Life Interference

This made 21 percent of the sample. Again, this was mainly a group of young adults. These individuals reported many symptoms of problem drinking. But none that dealt with adverse effects on home life, job or academic performance.

Linden-Carmichael explained that this too could be because for young adults drinking is extensively part of their social life and they may not see it as hampering their life even if it does.

When Does Your Alcohol Spell Trouble? 5 Types of Problem Drinkers
(Photo: iStock)

4. Difficulty Cutting Back

These people had a low prevalence of most symptoms but struggled to reduce their alcohol consumption, making up 13 percent of the sample. Individuals over 53 years were more likely to fall in this category.

If someone is in their 60s, it’s possible that they’ve been experiencing symptoms of a use disorder for a long time. They’re at this precipice of, ‘How do I cut back?’ and realizing that they’re struggling to cut back.
Ashley Linden-Carmichael, Co-Author

5. Highly Problematic

The most severe but least common group, with 7 percent participants falling under this. Here, there was a high probability of reporting all symptoms associated with alcohol use disorder, including negative effects on their lives and health. Although prevalence fairly consistent across age groups, it peaked at age 48.

These categories may not seem new clinically. But most people would be surprised to know that it’s not just the last two severe classifications that come under alcohol abuse. All of these groups are problematic.

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