Lawyers Journal

Helping a drinker recognize thereâs a problem

This column offers mental-health and wellness-related information to the Massachusetts legal community. Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers bases the column on questions frequently asked by its clients and help-line callers. The information is general in nature and not meant for treatment.

Q:After one of my colleagues was clearly drunk and behaving inappropriately at a holiday party, a few of us convinced him to see a counselor who was supposed to be an alcohol specialist. Although he's had a few sessions with this person, and also has been attending some kind of group (not AA), he's still drinking and tells me that the specialist says it's OK. As far as I know, he hasn't gotten drunk lately, but I'm worried about him. What kind of counselor would endorse his drinking?

A:It's very unlikely that the counselor "endorsed" continued drinking. What is more likely is that the counselor recognized that your colleague was not even close to seeing himself as alcoholic or being motivated to abstain.
When a client comes in saying, "I don't have an alcohol problem but my [wife/boss/partner/etc.] thinks I do," a professional's attempt to tell him what to do (e.g., stop drinking) usually will be met with resistance. In some cases, a person met with that approach is less likely to continue the counseling process.
While some specialists would conclude that the client is just not workable at that point, others will take a collaborative stance, observing the client's week-to-week drinking with him, asking a series of questions about its role and impact, and its benefits vs. negative consequences. If your colleague is, in fact, not alcoholic but rather someone who has made unwise choices about drinking, he may be able to change his drinking pattern through this process.
More commonly in our experience, he will find that he cannot sustain consistent limited drinking for long. At that point, he may be able to re-examine his view of the problem and revise his goals, assisted by support, information and recommendations from the counselor in the context of their ongoing therapeutic relationship.
This kind of counseling, adapted to the client in the "contemplation" or "pre-contemplation" stage, is very different from that of the therapist untrained in addictive problems who may simply "buy" the client's view of his drinking and/or consider the drinking a side issue rather than a focus of treatment.
You don't mention whether your colleague is a partner, member of the same firm, etc. When coworkers, as well as family and friends, refuse to go along with unacceptable behavior resulting from alcohol abuse (ideally within the context of a firm/employer policy), that kind of external pressure from significant others rather than the therapist can accelerate the counseling process.
One role that LCL can play is to provide free consultation around therapy/counseling when someone is concerned that it has stalled or gone awry. Another is to assist significant others who feel confused as to how to respond.

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