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Adv Alcohol Subst Abuse. 1988;7(3-4):3-16.

Genetic heterogeneity and the classification of alcoholism.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110.


Recent progress toward a systematic pathophysiological model of alcoholism has led to identification of two distinct subtypes of alcoholism. These subtypes may be distinguished in terms of distinct alcohol-related symptoms, personality traits, ages of onset, and patterns of inheritance. Type 1 alcoholism is characterized by anxious (passive-dependent) personality traits and rapid development of tolerance and dependence on the anti-anxiety effects of alcohol. This leads to loss of control, difficulty terminating binges once they start, guilt feelings, and liver complications following socially encouraged exposure to alcohol intake. In contrast, type 2 alcoholism is characterized by antisocial personality traits and persistent seeking of alcohol for its euphoriant effects. This leads to early onset of inability to abstain entirely, as well as fighting and arrests when drinking. Empirical findings about sex differences, ages of onset, associated personality traits, and longitudinal course are described in a series of adoption and family studies in Sweden and the United States. Implications for future research and clinical practice are discussed.

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