Seventeen families (father, mother, adolescent child) containing one alcoholic and one nonalcoholic spouse were tested in the family interaction laboratory using the Reiss Pattern Recognition Card Sort, a procedure with high predictive validity in the study of family interaction patterns and psychopathology.
When these families were subdivided into “wet” vs. “dry” groups based on the current drinking status of the identified alcoholic, the two groups proved to have significantly different styles of interaction. Individuals in wet families tended to act independently; individuals in dry families were highly coordinated, displaying a rigid adherence to a family level pattern of problem solving. Wet families also produced more sophisticated solutions to the card sort task than their dry compatriots following that part of the procedure in which families were permitted to discuss together possible sorting solutions.
Comparisons of performance data for this sample of alcoholic families with families previously tested on the Card Sort indicated a wider range of problem-solving strategies than either schizophrenic, delinquent, or normal families, but a more rigid interactional style.
These findings suggest that behavioral styles in alcoholic families, although heterogeneous, can be meaningfully subdivided based on the current drinking phase of the identified alcoholic.