Alcoholism affects the entire family; what can families do when the alcoholic continues to drink alcohol?

Living in an alcoholic home causes many problems for the family. To deal with the chaotic behavior of the alcoholic and situations that arise because of the alcoholism, family members develop unhealthy behaviors and habits. The addiction professionals that participated in this panel interview discuss how a recovery program, like Al-Anon and Alateen, can help families recognize these unhealthy behavior patterns and replace them with better ones, regardless of whether the alcoholic trying to achieve or is maintaining sobriety or presently involved in the lives of the family.

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 Al-Anon Family Groups and forty-two percent that receive professional services and attend Al-Anon feel that since coming to Al-Anon, they have seen an improvement in their 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

Alcoholism affects the entire family; what can families do when the alcoholic continues to drink alcohol?

Moderator: Addiction to alcohol affects the entire family, why is it important for family members to be in a program of recovery regardless of whether their relative or friend continues to drink? 

Nancy Duff-Boehm, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist: I sum this up by saying that it is way harder to live with an alcoholic, than it is to be one. So, living with an alcoholic engenders this tendency to develop an extreme amount of accommodation to stress and to another person’s needs and sensitivities – like extreme sensitivities. And this happens without the person even knowing that it’s happening. It just happens gradually. And it takes a long time for these habits to develop and it takes a really long time to give up those habits because while they’re developing, they’re very successful. These adaptations are very successful at keeping harmony at home, and so they are very hard to give up. So, the family members of alcoholics need their own program, that is not AA, that is their own program in order to help them through this difficult process of rediscovering what it is to really respond adaptively to life’s challenges.  

Mintie Grienke, M. Ed., Counselor/Psychotherapist: Alcoholism is a family disease and so it effects every member of the family, even the baby. It affects even someone who when they grow up maybe wanted to dissociate or distance themselves from the family. They are still reacting to what has happened to them and still it has affected them. It’s an orientation that is so hard to shift away from. So, it’s very important to have a program of recovery to begin that process and to help the family members to find that grounding, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.