Addiction professionals: Helping patients explore the possibility that someone’s alcoholism or drug use has affected them

Addiction professionals discuss methods that identify the effects on a person from someone else’s alcohol use disorder to help other professionals identify the signs.

When alcohol addiction or an alcohol use disorder is present in families, everyone is affected, including the children. Non‑drinking adults often suffer from issues such as depression, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse, etc. Children and adolescents may not verbalize what is going on in the home, but there are clues that teachers, school psychologists, and others can see, such as signs of neglect, coming to school in inappropriate clothing, poor hygiene, or students may be withdrawn. Although professionals in fields such as psychiatry, psychology, and education may be able to see the signs of a family dealing with an alcohol or drug use disorder, those affected may not. Family members when asked directly about those issues may become defensive.

In order to help their patients, clients, or students see the role the family disease of alcoholism plays in their lives, professionals are trained to listen for their clients’ emotion and to stay with the client at whatever stage of insight or development they are at. Often clients readily talk about what is wrong in their lives and what they are trying to fix. The professional listens, asks questions, and moves with the patient until they are ready to breach the topic of addiction.

Some clients are referred to family counseling by drug or behavior courts due to domestic violence. Regardless of the type of abuse – physical, emotional, or verbal – it can be easier for professionals to open a dialogue about the possible substance use problems in the home. The goal is to help the patient realize that although they are not the one with the substance use disorder, they are being adversely affected, and they can experience recovery even if their loved one continues to abuse alcohol and/or drugs.

Al‑Anon Family Groups, which includes Alateen for teenagers, provide support to anyone affected by someone else’s problem drinking. *Ninety‑three percent of members report that their lives have been very positively affected by attending Al‑Anon Family Groups and 42 percent that receive professional services and attend Al‑Anon meetings feel that since coming to Al‑Anon, they have seen an improvement in their well‑being, treatment, counseling, or therapy.

*2018 Al‑Anon Family Group Membership Survey

This professional panel interview was recorded at the Al‑Anon International Convention 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. The professionals interviewed were:

Nancy Duff‑Boehm, PH.D., Clinical Psychologist, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Mintie Grienke, M.ED., Counselor/Psychotherapist, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Ann McGreevy, MA, Supervisor of Psychological Studies at FCPS, Frederick, Maryland, USA
Hugh A. King Jr., MD, Psychiatrist, Mandeville, Louisiana, USA


Al‑Anon cooperates with therapists, counselors, and other professionals, but does not endorse, oppose, or affiliate with any professional, organization, or entity. The opinions expressed here were strictly those of the person who gave them. Their comments reflect their professional expertise and use of Al‑Anon as a resource for their clients and patients who are or have been affected by an individual’s addiction to alcohol.

Video Transcript

Addiction professionals: Helping patients explore the possibility that someone’s alcoholism or drug use has affected them

Nancy Duff-Boehm, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist: “When a family member is unaware that someone else’s drinking is affecting their life, how do you help them explore the possibility that they’re being affected by someone’s addiction to alcohol or alcohol and drugs?” Yeah, I think this audience is mostly professionals, so I think you know that it takes a lot of training and experience to be able to home in on somebody´s emotion at the time. Regardless of what the content of what their speech is, so that´s what you do. You go with the emotion and follow it through and if there is a drug or alcohol involved, that´s going to emerge. But if you come from the outside and say, “this sounds like alcohol,” or “this sounds like somebody´s addicted,” they´re, again, they’re going to put up their, either their, defenses or their porcupine quills, and not let you into that. So that´s my answer is follow the emotion.

Mintie Grienke, M. Ed., Counselor/Psychotherapist: Yeah, I would agree with that. It´s important for me to stay with the client at whatever stage of incite or development that they´re at. And just sort of follow along and inquire and just be with them. Often, they already have a litany of complaints about what’s not going right in their life, and they are willing to talk a lot about that. Often, they have an exaggerated sense of what they are responsible for, and what they are trying to fix. And it´s, you know there is a, there has to be a level of readiness for the client to be able to start working on their own development.

Hugh A. King Jr., MD, Psychiatrist: I think it´s important to present it in the context of another question that we’re being asked, the other questions of abuse, whether these be issues of emotional abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, domestic abuse. This, frequently leads into what may be the cause of these particular things and makes it much easier for people to speak into these, to these subjects to maybe, that maybe it may be showing up in them in these sorts of things. Domestic abuse, I think, is a big issue with alcohol and a big issue with drugs and certain verbal and physical abuse are also big issues and, we see a lot of people, in the practice that I was in before I retired, that are referred by the courts, by the drug courts and behavior courts. And you know it´s trying to get them to realize the effect that that´s having on them and that something needs to be done to help them, not all the focus is on the addict at that particular time.

Ann McGreevy, MA, Supervisor of Psychological Studies at FCPS: I think with children and adolescents, we often may see children who appear neglected. So, they are coming to school in inappropriate clothing, hygiene may be an issue, they may be very withdrawn, they may not be sharing verbally what is happening at home, but we can often see from their presentation that things are happening at home. And as was just mentioned, there is such a relationship between addiction and incarceration. So students are losing parents to incarceration, they are losing parents to parents are unavailable so, I think with children you´re not always getting it directly from them, but you´re getting that information from them in lots of different ways.