Professional intervention may help where families cannot

Issue November 2004

Q:Although I am a physician, I'm writing regarding my son, who is in law school and has developed a major alcohol problem. He is a very bright and talented young man who excelled in a technical field before deciding on law school. Fortunately, he stays in close touch with my wife and me, because on a number of occasions in the past few years he has become too intoxicated to care for himself. When I don't hear from him, I have often found him passed out in his apartment and brought him to our home to help him recover from these binges.

His job was flexible enough that his absence, most often on Mondays, was not an issue. Now, however, he is in school on the other coast, and I'm not there to scoop him up. He's seen a counselor and attended a few AA meetings, but when he calls on the weekend, we can tell he's under the influence. Apparently, he's still doing well in classes. What can we do now to help him?

A:Your devotion to your son is inspiring, but may also, in a paradoxical way, have delayed his recovery.

On the one hand, your medical attention may have kept him healthier, even kept him alive. On the other hand, your protective actions (essentially running a private detox in your house) also may have shielded him from the consequences of his drinking.

In general, people who have become alcohol or drug dependent are unlikely to tackle the challenges of pursuing recovery unless and until they experience a crisis - a serious wake-up call that provides the impetus for change, e.g., "If I don't stop drinking I will probably lose my family, abort my career, jeopardize my health, go to jail, injure someone…" Now that your son is on his own, and your rescuing him is clearly not an option, he is more likely to recognize, eventually, the extent to which drinking threatens his physical and professional survival. As long as no one gets hurt (and that was never really under your control), a harsher brush with the true impact of his alcohol dependence may be "just what the doctor ordered."

Law school itself can be a crucible for the development of the kind of problem that your son already has. But on the more hopeful side, a number of law schools are beginning to take a more proactive in identifying and addressing alcohol, drug, and mental health concerns. Meanwhile, you and your wife may benefit from either self-help (Al-Anon) or professional support geared for the family. We do see family members of lawyers (and judges and law students) at LCL, and could assist you in looking at your options.


Questions quoted are either actual letters/emails or paraphrased and disguised concerns expressed by individuals seeking assistance from LCL. Questions for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers may be mailed to LCL, 31 Milk St., Suite 810, Boston, MA 02109, or called in to (617) 482-9600. LCL's licensed clinicians will respond in confidence. Visit Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers online at