Sub-Types of Addiction

There’s evidence addiction is a class of diseases, not just one affliction.

For example, the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research performed PET scans on smokers and found three different brain regions involved in cigarette craving, each triggered by different motivations. The thalamus, a key evaluator of sensory information, was activated in subjects who smoked to calm stress. The Limbic system was activated in those who smoked for relaxation. The area responsible for high-level cognitive function was activated in smokers whose motivation was to manage their weight.1

Just as there’s more than one type of craving, there’s evidence there’s more than one type of addiction. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism postulates four sub-types of alcoholics:

  • “Young adult subtype:” 31.5 percent of American alcoholics, they have low rates of other substance abuse or mental illness and a low rate of family alcoholism;

  • “Young anti-social subtype”: 21 percent, they tend to be in their mid-twenties, started drinking young and then developed alcohol problems;

  • “Functional subtype”: 19.5 percent, tend to be middle-aged, and about half come from families with multi-generational drinking problems. Almost half have clinical depression and about 20 percent are bipolar; a majority also smoke cigarettes; and

  • “Chronic severe subtype”: 9 percent, they tend to start drinking early in life, have high rates of depression, bipolar disorder, and/or anxiety disorders, as well as high rates of smoking and use of other drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and opiates.2

Thus, addiction is a class of diseases rather than a single one.

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1.  Cause of Smokers’ Cravings Revealed by Brain Scans;, March 21, 2007.

2. Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes,, July 4, 2007.


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