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Alcohol-dependent men and their spouses: an ecosystemic analysis of empirically-derived alcoholic subtypes Weir, Warren Bradley


This study involved the ecosystemic assessment of empirically-derived alcoholic subtypes in a group of men (n=130) living in intact family situations. Subtypes were derived by cluster analyzing a broad base of alcohol-use related variables. The differential psychological functioning of the alcoholic men and their non-alcoholic wives, grouped according to alcoholic subtypes, was assessed using an ecosystemic framework. Specifically, the individual, marital, family, social and therapeutic levels of the ecosystem were evaluated with respect to (a) the alcoholic subtypes, and, (b) differences between the alcoholic husbands and their non-alcoholic wives. The cluster analysis resulted in a three-group alcoholic typology. Group One, labelled Severe, Irregular Pattern, was characterized by high levels of lifetime alcoholism, alcohol consumption, alcohol-related consequences, familial alcoholism, and episodic drinking out of the home. Group Two, labelled Moderate, Mixed Pattern, was characterized by lower levels of dependency and consumption, tending to drink mostly at night, in the home, and alone. Group Three, labelled Severe, Steady Pattern, was characterized by severe dependency and high-rate, daily consumption, tending to drink alone and at home. The derived alcoholic typology satisfied criteria for adequacy, showing: homogeneity within subtypes, heterogeneity across subtypes, comprehensiveness, specificity, multidimensionality, utility, and evidence of external validity. Groups One and Three were similar to the binge/steady distinction reported in the subtyping literature, however, severity of dependency surfaced as an additional subtyping factor and a third subtype emerged. The ecosystemic analysis of the psychosocial functioning of the subtypes indicated a number of important differences. First, there were strong indications that the nonalcoholic wives were functioning better than the alcoholic husbands. Second, subtype differences existed across the ecosystemic levels. Third, subtype differences varied with person (i.e. alcoholic husbands vs. nonalcoholic wives), especially at the marital and family levels. The results of the study point to the efficacy of a multidimensional, empirical approach to subtyping. The ecosystemic analysis results are seen as confirming theoretical ideas regarding how families organize themselves differentially and with different degrees of success to various patterns of alcoholism.

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