Alcohol is one of the most widely abused substances in the United States. Data reveals that over 25 percent of adults had at least one heavy drinking day (five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women) in the past year.
Everyone is aware of the harmful consequences excessive drinking can cause. When a person makes alcohol a priority, their ability to spending time on their marriage, family, relationships, and work is disrupted and can lead to destructive behavior.
But alcohol abuse is more complicated than simply drinking too much.
Now, new research has uncovered that there may be five separate types of problem drinkers.
And each one may be more common at different stages of life.
Defining Alcohol Use Disorder
A person is considered to have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) if they experience two or more designated indicators. These indicators range from “drinking more or longer than intended” to “experiencing withdrawal symptoms when sober.”
AUD refers to situations where there is a problem in controlling drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect, or having withdrawal symptoms when a person rapidly decreases or stops drinking.
As a result of this most recent study, researchers discovered five distinct classes or "profiles" among people with alcohol use disorder, with each profile defined by a specific set of symptoms. This ground-breaking information may be able to help in designing much needed personalized alcohol treatment programs and reducing relapse occurrence.
Profiles of AUD
During their investigation, the researchers were able to establish five distinct profiles within the study participants. Each category had specific attributes as follows:
1. Alcohol-induced injury:In addition to drinking too much, people in this group reported getting into risky situations during or after drinking that may have resulted in injury.
2. Difficulty cutting back:The bodies and brains of those with serious alcohol use disorders physically crave alcohol. This group struggled with wanting to cut back on their problematic drinking, but were unable to meet this objective.
3. Highly problematic, low perceived life interference:While individuals in this profile reported experiencing many symptoms, they said their drinking did not interfere with their family, friends, work or hobbies.
4. Adverse effects only:Participants who fit this profile reported experiencing hangovers or withdrawal symptoms in addition to drinking too much.
5. Highly problematic:People in this group reported experiencing every symptom of alcohol use disorder.
The Influence of Age
In addition to identifying the five groups, perhaps of greatest interest were the findings that certain profiles were more common at different stages of life.
- Prevalent among younger adults were the three classifications of:
- Adverse Effects Only
- Low Perceived Life Interference
- Highly Problematic
This demographic was primarily characterized by drinking too much and experiencing hangovers and other withdrawal symptoms.
- “Difficulty Cutting Back” and “Alcohol-Induced Injury” classes were more prevalent as age increased. The adults in their late fifties to sixties experienced consistent struggles when attempting to cut back on their alcohol use. In fact, relapse rates for substance use disorders, including alcohol ranges from 40 to 60 percent.
Implications for the Future
As indicated by this study, the definition of a “problem drinker” isn’t cut and dry. Investigators believe that this latest data suggests that the diagnosing and treating of alcohol use disorders cannot be “one size fits all.” Instead, AUD must treat the individual’s specific symptoms and how their age relates to the primary obstacles they face.
This most recent published information advocates for personalized treatment approaches for AUD and highlights the need for carefully considering the role of age in prevention and intervention efforts.