Personality of an Alcoholic -Recognizing the Traits and Behavioral Changes  

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : AUGUST 15, 
2021 
| 4 Sources


When does binge drinking become alcohol abuse, and can it lead to alcohol dependence? More importantly, how does one tell when they’ve transitioned from one to the other? While these are all considered different types of alcohol use disorders (AUD), they can (and often do) progress from one to the next.

Research shows that personality can influence AUDs and the reverse. Being able to recognize the telltale personality traits and behavioral changes of an individual struggling with alcoholism will help in getting them the support and treatment they need

5 Subtypes of Alcoholics

Contrary to the common misconception of alcoholics being unemployed older individuals living on the streets, the truth is that high-functioning alcoholics make up the majority of individuals struggling with alcohol dependence, which can make it difficult to recognize that there’s a problem and to seek help. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)’s National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), “only about 25 percent of alcoholic individuals have ever received treatment”, which demonstrates a huge opportunity to help individuals struggling with alcoholism on their own.

This makes sense when we look at the NIAAA’s analysis on the 5 subtypes of alcoholics:  

  • 19.5 percent are the "functional" subtype: typically middle-aged, well-educated individuals with stable jobs and families.
  • 31.5 percent are the "young adult" subtype: young adult drinkers with low rates of co-occurring substance abuse or mental disorders, who rarely seek help for their drinking.
  • 21 percent are the "young antisocial" subtype: individuals in their mid-twenties with early onset of regular drinking and alcohol problems, more than half with a family history of alcoholism, and many with mental health issues.
  • 19 percent are intermediate familial subtype: middle-aged, about half from families with multigenerational alcoholism, and almost half with clinical depression.
  • Only 9 percent are of the "chronic severe" subtype that fit the stereotypical low-bottom alcoholic. Research has shown that individuals in this category tend to be middle aged individuals who began drinking early. There are also higher rates of individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder and a criminal history.

    Two-thirds of this group seek help for their drinking problems, making them the most common type of alcoholic in treatment. It also explains why most people think of stereotypical "skid-row" alcoholics in association with alcoholism.  

Many addiction experts believe that approximately 75-90% of alcoholics are high-functioning. This can help explain why only 25% of alcoholics engage in treatment for their drinking behaviors.

It’s easy to deny there’s a problem when one is able to maintain a successful career and long-term relationships with seemingly normal families and lives. High-functioning alcoholics live in denial of their alcohol dependence, which is reinforced by the denial of their co-workers, family, and friends.  

If you notice disturbing personality changes or out-of-character tendencies that suggest the possibility of a drinking problem either in yourself or a loved one, it might be useful to know what personality traits and behavioral changes are indicative of alcohol dependence.

"If you're unsure whether alcohol may be a problem, speak with one of our supportive counselors. With many having first-hand experience they understand the struggle. The free chat is confidential & they are available 24/7."
877-322-2694

The Personality Traits & Behavioral Changes of an Alcoholic

Though some personality types are more prone to addiction and substance abuse than others, there are other contributing factors such as education, family history, major life events, and genetic predisposition that can influence alcoholic tendencies. People develop a drinking problem for a variety of reasons and not solely because of personality, though that can be a contributing factor.

However, there are a number of common personality traits and behavioral changes alcoholics will exhibit, such as the following:

1. An Obsession with Alcohol

They won’t be able to help it; an alcoholic is consumed by the thought of their next drink. The possibility of not having alcohol will be upsetting or distressing for them. It’s what they believe they need to calm their nerves and stay in control.

Besides that, as their alcohol dependence grows, they will find it increasingly hard to stop drinking once they start. Uncontrolled drinking is an obvious personality change that’s a direct result of intensifying alcoholic behavior. If you notice a growing obsession with alcohol or out-of-control intoxication either in yourself or a loved one, it might be time to consider getting help.

2. Shifting the Blame & Making Excuses

It’s natural for individuals struggling with alcohol dependence to shift the blame for their drinking onto others or to make up excuses for why they need to drink. The all-consuming obsession with alcohol makes it hard for the individual to stay objective or to take accountability for their actions.

There will always be a reason to drink—long day, stressful week, to celebrate or commiserate—it’s a perpetual thirst that’s impossible to satisfy.

3. Out-of-Character Recklessness

Of the many effects alcohol has on our physiology and behavior, one of the most well-documented behavioral effects is disinhibition—a lack of self-restraint caused by the influence of drugs or alcohol.

When an individual’s alcohol dependence grows, they tend to display growing recklessness that is out of their normal character. Examples of reckless behavior include aggressiveness, physical arguments, driving under the influence, and deliberate disregard for safety and rules. If these reckless tendencies develop into a regular occurrence, it’s cause for concern.

4. Changing Priorities

A particularly noticeable behavioral change for someone struggling with alcoholism is a distinct shift in priorities. They might start neglecting friends and family in favor of drinking, stop exercising and taking care of their personal hygiene, or struggle to focus at work or school.  

As with any addiction, to keep an alcohol addiction alive, an individual will continue to drink despite the consequences that it brings.

5. Money Troubles

One of the side effects of alcohol dependence is the financial toll it takes on the individual. Whether it’s the result of spending extravagant amounts on liquor on a daily basis, indulging in impulsive purchases under the influence, missing work, or being fired due to drinking, there are a number of ways that excessive drinking can cause long-term financial struggles.

6. Other Typical Alcoholic Personality Traits & Behavior

While addiction tends to affect different people in a variety of ways, there are certain characteristics that are typical of alcoholic behavior. Some might resort to secretive, sneaky, deceptive, and manipulative behavior to conceal their alcohol dependence, while others might display irritation, anxiety, and aggression when drinking as well as experiencing alcohol withdrawal.

A short fuse, impulsiveness, and erratic behavior are also common characteristics of individuals suffering from alcoholism. When left untreated for an extended period of time, alcoholism can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and other mental health issues as a consequence of prioritizing alcohol above other aspects of one’s life.

personality-alcoholicSource: Stefan Lobont
"If you're unsure whether alcohol may be a problem, speak with one of our supportive counselors. With many having first-hand experience they understand the struggle. The free chat is confidential & they are available 24/7."
877-322-2694

For Support or Advice

If you’re worried that you, a friend, or a loved one might be struggling with alcohol dependence, you’re not alone. There is help available for those who are looking for it.

Call our 24/7 free helpline at 1-877-322-2694 and speak to a counselor for support or advice.

They’ll provide detailed and relevant facts and information on alcohol misuse and addiction, connect you with competent and helpful alcohol treatment programs and centers, and walk you through every step of the treatment and recovery process so you can decide on the best choice for you or your loved one.

We’re here to help you get through this.



Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


Hello!

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More



Is personality of an alcoholic a factor in developing alcoholism? Or does alcoholism change an individual's personality?

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