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    With a Lesson Plan on Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism and Codependence

    One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's list of the ten best movies to supplement classes in Health, High School Level.
    SUBJECTS — U.S./1991 to Present;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Alcohol & Drug Abuse; Parenting; Romantic
            Relationships; Marriage; Father/Daughter;
    Age: 13+; MPAA Rating -- R for language; Drama; 1994; 126 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.
    (The profanity in this movie consists of the f--- word and the s--- word which have been heard and used many times by the vast majority of children over the age of 12. The rating is egregiously undeserved, especially in light of the tremendous educational value of this film. In our opinion, this movie is suitable for ages 13 and up.)

    Description:     Michael and Alice are a young couple very much in love. But Alice is an alcoholic and can't control her drinking. Michael has become a codependent Enabler in Chief, while their children are suffering from their mother's inconsistent behavior. The movie is a gripping tale of love struggling against alcoholism and codependence.

    Benefits of the Movie:     "When a Man Loves a Woman" provides emotional insight into a committed relationship. It is an excellent description of alcoholism and its effects on a family. Michael has learned to protect Alice from the consequences of being drunk. He sees someone he loves in pain and does what he can to reduce that pain. Alice encourages this behavior because it allows her to live an intoxicated life without paying the price. Over the years, Michael's enabling behavior has become deeply embedded in the way he relates to Alice. He has become a codependent.

    Mid-way through the movie, Alice "hits bottom" and realizes she has a serious problem with alcohol. She enters a treatment center and returns home desperately trying to stay sober. Alice soon realizes that she no longer wants Michael to protect her from the consequences of her actions, as he had done when she was frequently intoxicated. Taking responsibility for her own actions is an important part of her recovery. Their marriage is put under tremendous strain as Alice insists that Michael change the way he relates to her. The last third of the movie shows how the couple struggles to adjust to Alice's new persona and the altered terms of their relationship.

    Throughout the movie we are given hints of the impact of Alice's drinking and the couple's marital difficulties on Alice's eight-year-old daughter, Jessica.

    All of this is done with emotional insight and cinematic skill.

    Another benefit of the film is Michael's steadfast commitment to the oldest daughter, Jessica. Alice gave birth to Jessica before she met Michael but he is fully committed to being the girl's father. His character shows that love for a child comes from raising the child, not from being a biological parent.

    Possible Problems:     MODERATE. There is a limited amount of profanity in the movie. The couple talks about having sex rather than making love. This is just the way they talk. These two people deeply love each other. After Alice goes into recovery, she smokes all the time. This is a realistic touch because many alcoholics smoke heavily after they enter recovery. The couple is shown in a frustrating and ineffective therapy session in which there is no chemistry with the therapist. This could be interpreted by kids as an indictment of therapy. We suggest ignoring the first problem and turning the second and third into strengths with a brief discussion, see Lesson Plan on Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism and Codependence.

    Parenting Points:     Watch the movie with your child and go through as many of the discussion questions as you can. If you can get your child to read the handouts on Alcohol -- and How it Affects Us and Codependence -- What Happens When a Family Member is an Alcoholic or a Drug Addict, do so. Review them yourself and you will be able to give your child some accurate information and tell some interesting stories.

    If anyone in your extended family has had to contend with alcoholism or drug addiction, TWM recommends that you tell them the stories of their relative's battle with substance abuse. TWM also recommends taking your children to an open Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. Start at the age of 12 or 13 and visit again every one or two years. As kids get older they will get more out of each session. Some AA meetings are divided into two parts. Try to stay for the second part. That's when specially selected speakers talk about the difficulties they encountered while intoxicated and their new lives in sobriety. Tell kids that if they ever have trouble with alcohol, the twelve steps of AA provide a path to recovery.


Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast
Handout on Alcohol and How it Affects Us
Codependence -- What Happens When a Family Member is an Alcoholic or a Drug Addict
Helpful Background
Unit Test
Discussion Questions:
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Assignments, Projects & Activities

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Movies as Literature Homework Project.

QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   From Alice's point of view, what's going on in her relationship with Michael from the time she leaves the treatment center until just before she gives her speech at the AA meeting? Here's a hint, Alice tells Michael that she is afraid that the very thing that attracts them to each other is why they shouldn't be together.

Suggested Response: Michael and Alice began their relationship when Alice was drinking. They developed ways of relating to each other based on her alcoholism. She was the party girl who led the way in having a good time. He was "Mr. Fix-it", who "wrung her out" at the end of an evening and he would try to correct for Alice's erratic behavior with the children. In this way, Michael enabled Alice to avoid the consequences of living an intoxicated life. Over the years Michael came to get psychological satisfaction out of relating to Alice in this way. While Alice was in the grip of alcoholism, Michael was suffering from codependence.

When Alice left the treatment center, she no longer wanted Michael to help her engage in irresponsible behavior. She was afraid it would lead her right back to drinking. Alice had to do two things almost at the same time. First, she had to discover for herself whether, with the behaviors based on alcoholism stripped away, there was anything left of her relationship with Michael. In other words, she had to find out whether "the very things that attract us to each other are the reasons we shouldn't be together". And so she engineered the separation from Michael to give her the space she needed to figure this out. Second, she had to try to get Michael to change his enabling behaviors. Remember this dialog?

Alice: "I'm not your problem to solve. . . . It was so much more fun in the old days, wasn't it Michael? I'd get drunk. I'd pass out and you'd put me back together. That was the best. It must have made you feel good. And that's what hurts [me]. [Michael tries to hug Alice in a comforting way, like in the old days, denying what she has just said. She pulls away and continues talking . . . ] It's not getting better. I don't know how to make it better and . . . you don't either." Michael: "Baby . . . ." Alice: "Every time you say that, every time you look at me like that, Michael, I want to come out of my skin. You make me feel like a worthless, weak, animal...."

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

      Selected Awards:   None.

      Featured Actors:   Andy Garcia as Michael Green, Meg Ryan as Alice Green, Ellen Burstyn as Emily, Tina Majorino as Jessica Green, Mae Whitman as Casey Green, Lauren Tom as Amy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gary.

      Director:  Luis Mandoki.

High school students love this movie because it provides emotional insight into a committed relationship. Students in high school are looking forward to having these relationships and are interested in exploring how they work.

    Lesson Plan on Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism and Codependence

    This film needs little introduction. The teacher should point out that actually being an alcoholic and living with an alcoholic usually ends up being much more painful than what's shown in the movie.

    Pause the movie right after Alice enters rehab and have the class read, in class or as homework, the handout Alcohol -- and How it Affects Us. Students should have finished reading the handout before you show the rest of the film. The handout will be more meaningful to them having just watched the havoc that alcoholism wreaks with the family in the movie.

    Before continuing with the movie ask the class to identify any "enabling behaviors" that Michael engaged in with respect to Alice. Four examples are: 1) taking care of her ("wringing her out") at the end of many evenings when she got drunk and passed out; 2) partying with her when she got drunk and appreciating her wild drunken behaviors, such as joining with her in throwing eggs at a car (this was an illegal act; dried egg will destroy the finish on many cars requiring an expensive repair); 3) rewarding her with a vacation trip to Mexico for going out with a girlfriend, getting drunk, not calling anyone, staying out late, and causing him to miss work; and 4) interceding in her disagreements with the children when she had a hangover. There could be more.

    After the scene that shows the therapy session have a short discussion about what was going on between Michael, Alice, and the therapist. You are looking for a student to describe the session in any negative way so that you can explain (or better, get the students to talk about) the reasons why the therapy session did not go well. Some possibilities are that Michael and Alice weren't ready for therapy, that the therapist was incompetent, or that there was no interpersonal chemistry between the couple and the therapist. Ask the class what they should do if they find themselves in therapy that is not helping them. (Best answer: find a new therapist.) Stress that in psychological therapy, a motivated patient assisted by a skilled therapist can make amazing progress. What's shown in the movie is not a typical therapy session.

    After Alice is out of rehab, the movie shows her smoking heavily. Talk to the class about this after the movie is over. Alcoholics in recovery are under tremendous stress and they often take up smoking to relieve that stress. Unfortunately, they are replacing one life-threatening addiction with another. Depending upon how your relate to the class, you might consider making a humorous comment that one of the least realistic parts of the movie was Michael (who didn't smoke) deeply kissing Alice at the AA meeting. For most non-smokers, giving that kind of kiss to a smoker is like licking the inside of an ashtray.

    After the movie is over (or if there is a break in the movie at any time after Alice comes out of the rehab center) assign as homework the handout Codependence -- What Happens When a Family Member is an Alcoholic or a Drug Addict.

    After the movie and after the class has read the second handout, the students will be ready for a full discussion about codependence. Review the Discussion Questions and the Quick Discussion Question and select those that are appropriate for your class, given the discussions you have had during the movie, the grade level and the abilities of the class. The final step is to give the Unit Test on Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism and Codependence. This test is designed to take a full 55 minute class period. Before giving the test, review it and make sure that the class has covered the major points of the test. In this instance it is beneficial to teach to the test.

    Helpful Background: Social-emotional learning from this movie centers on five topics: (1) Alice's alcoholism and its effects on her family; (2) that Michael's role as the one who solves problems when Alice gets drunk leads him into enabling behaviors; (3) how Alice overcomes her alcoholism and enters recovery; (4) how the couple tries to readjust to an Alice who isn't drinking and who insists on taking responsibility for her own actions; and (5) the relationship between Michael and Alice's oldest daughter, Jessica. See Alcohol -- and How it Affects Us.

    Alcoholics who are in AA don't talk about achieving recovery, but instead recovery is seen as a process which the alcoholic must go through every day for the rest of his or her life. They talk about "being in recovery" or "entering recovery". Be sure to use this terminology when discussing alcoholism with a class.

TWM has provided two handouts for this lesson plan. If you don't have time for both, use just one and present the information in the other handout in a lecture.

Estimated Time: 2.5 hrs to introduce and show the movie; unless the students read the handouts as homework 1.5 hrs class time to read the handouts; 1.5 hrs class discussion/lecture; 1 class hr. for the test.

Materials Provided:

Attendance at an open AA meeting is an excellent extra-credit activity. Some meetings are divided into two parts. Tell the kids to ask permission to stay for the second part. That's when specially selected speakers talk about the difficulties they encountered while intoxicated and their new lives in sobriety. Tell kids that if they ever have trouble with alcohol, the twelve steps of AA provide a path to recovery.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: alcoholism, alcohol abuse, "central nervous system depressant", codependence, enabling, fetal alcohol syndrome, hitting bottom, incarceration, intoxication, recovery, separation.

    Unit Test on Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism and Codependence
    Instructions: Write your answers on a separate sheet of paper. Your responses to questions A - F and 14 to 24 should consist of full sentences. Each answer must contain enough information to enable the grader to understand the answer without referring to the question. Use proper English grammar, correct spelling, and good penmanship. Ten points will be given for grammar, spelling, and penmanship. The answers to questions 1 - 10 may be one or two words.

    Questions A - F must be answered correctly. If you give an incorrect answer to any of these questions, you will have to answer those questions again or complete a special homework assignment.
    A.  Why is it not safe for a pregnant woman to drink any alcohol?

    B.  What is moderate alcohol consumption for an average sized woman and an average sized man?

    C.  Abuse of alcohol by both alcoholics and non-alcoholics often contributes to injury and property damage. Which contributes to more injury and property damage than the other?

    D.  What are the three primary effects of alcohol consumption on our brains? Here are some hints. One is the slowing of something that allows us to avoid being injured. Another is the reduction in an ability to do things, such as walking, manipulating things with our hands, and safely driving a car. The third effect of alcohol relates to something we rely on to avoid doing things that are unintelligent or wrong.

    E.  As a result of the three primary effects of alcohol on our brains, alcohol consumption by teenagers increases the risks of four types of very unpleasant and dangerous events. List them out in sentence form. Here's a hint. Three of these risks begin with an "A" and one with an "S".

    F.  What is it about the brains of teenagers and young adults that makes alcohol abuse more dangerous for them than for mature adults?

    There are 96 points to the rest of the test. (10 points are for grammar, spelling and penmanship.) Answers to Questions 1 - 10 write the answer that properly completes the sentence. These answers are worth two points each.
    1.  There is an old saying that every time a person dies an entire universe is destroyed. With that in mind, answer the following question. Alcohol consumption contributes to approximately ___________ deaths from traffic accidents in the U.S. each year. Choose your answer from among the following possibilities: approximately 10,000, 12,000, 15,000, 17,000 or 20,000.

    2.  Alcohol consumption contributes to approximately ______________ serious injuries in the U.S. each year. Choose your answer from among the following possibilities: 300,000, 350,000, 400,000, 450,000, 500,000.

    3.  Assault can cause serious physical injuries and is a major cause of post traumatic stress syndrome, which can affect a person for the rest of his or her life if left untreated. Alcohol consumption contributes to approximately _____________________ assaults in the U.S. each year. Choose your answer from among the following possibilities: 500,000, 550,000, 600,000, 650,000, 700,000.

    4.  Sexual assault is a particularly vicious form of assault because it focuses on what should be the means of expressing affection. Alcohol consumption contributes to _____________________ sexual assaults in the U.S. each year. Choose your answer from among the following possibilities: 45,000, 50,000, 55,000, 60,000, 65,000, 70,000.

    5.  Alcohol is a factor in ________________________ deaths among young people in the U.S. ages 15 to 19. Choose your answer from among the following possibilities: "one out of two", "one out of three", "one out of four", and "one out of five".

    6.  Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This means that alcohol causes our brains to operate _______________________.

    7.  What percent of the population in the U.S. is alcoholic? ______. Choose your answer from among the following possibilities: 5.0%; 5.5%; 6.0%, 6.5%, 7.0% or 7.5%.

    8.  ______________ children in the U.S. are affected by alcoholism or alcohol abuse in a family member. Choose your answer from among the following possibilities: "one of two", "one of three", "one of four", and "one of five".

    9.   Approximately _________________ children are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FES) in the U.S. each year. Choose your answer from among the following possibilities: 40,000, 50,000, 60,000, 70,000.

    10.   Children of an alcoholic parent are __________________ to be beaten or sexually abused than other children. Choose your answer from among the following possibilities: more likely or less likely.

    The answers to the remaining questions will be worth five points each. Remember to answer in complete sentences, use correct English grammar, and spell words correctly. Write legibly.
    11.  When did Mary, the alcoholic woman whose situation was described in the handout, "hit bottom" and join Alcoholics Anonymous? Was it when she lost her job, when she bit her favorite nephew while she was in a drunken rage, or when she woke up in a hospital room with a broken collarbone, no memory of how she had fallen, and no idea where she had left her beloved dog?

    12.   Mary has been in recovery for fifteen years faithfully going to AA meetings several times a week. She has not had a drink of alcohol in all this time. What, if anything, happened to Mary's desire to drink alcohol? What will most likely happen in the future with respect to this?

    13.  Doctors tell us that alcoholism is a progressive disease. What do they mean by this?

    14.  Al-Anon is a self-help group for adult family members of alcoholics. What is the name for the self-help group for teenagers with a parent or family member who is an alcoholic?

    15.   When psychologists are trying to determine whether a person is an alcoholic, they look for five symptoms. One of the symptoms is an increasing tolerance for alcohol so that the person must drink more to feel the effects of the drug. List three of the others. You will get extra credit if you can list a fifth.

    16.  What is "hitting bottom" for an alcoholic and what is the importance of hitting bottom?

    17.  One of the indicators that a person has a drinking problem is when other people tell that person that they think he or she has a drinking problem. There are four other indicators. List at least two of them. If you can list one or two more, you'll get extra credit.

    18.  Define the term "enabling behavior" and give two examples of types of enabling behaviors.

    19.   What is codependence?

    20.   How does a parent's alcoholism or drug addiction injure his or her children?

    21.   Describe what is meant by the term "Enabler in Chief" and how that role can harm an individual in a codependent relationship.

    22.   Describe what is meant by the term "Family Hero" and describe how the role of Family Hero will be damaging to a child in a codependent relationship.

    23.   Describe what is meant by the term "Lost Child" and how that role can cause harm to a child.

    24.   Describe one reason relating to enabling behaviors that causes marriages or romantic relationships to break up when one member of the couple enters recovery.

    End of unit test


The unit test is designed to be given in class and to take a full 55 minute class period. It is not easy and some classes may need more time. Tell students that they will have to read and understand both student handouts. Give them a copy of questions A - F to review at least one night before the test. SeePreview of Questions A - F on the Unit Test. Make sure that the class discussion before the test gives students the information necessary to answer questions to A - F and 12 - 24. This unit is designed so that it is beneficial to teach to the test.

For a version of the test in Microsoft Word, suitable to be printed and distributed to the class, click here.

For an answer key to the unit test:   click here.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

For English Language Arts classes, distribute TWM's Film Study Worksheet. Teachers can modify the worksheet to fit the needs of each class. Ask students to fill out the worksheet as they watch the film or at the film's end.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    The following three questions should be asked together.

    1.  How did Michael enable Alice's drinking?

    2.  Give an example of an action in which Michael saved Alice from the effects of her intoxication in which he was not enabling her alcoholism.

    3.  [This question may have been answered when discussing the two preceding questions. If not, ask it in this form.] How can you tell the difference between nurturing or life-saving behavior and enabling?

    4.  One of the people at the treatment center said to Michael, "Your wife is a very comforting person." Why did the screenwriter have this character say that?

    See the Quick Discussion Question. Questions A - F and 14 - 24 in the unit test are also good to review with students or to spark discussions.

    5.  Michael tells Alice: "If my wife hurts, I need to say, 'What's wrong honey? [Is there] something I can do and I love you.'" When in the movie does Michael make this statement and what is going on in this conversation?

    6.  Alice tells Michael: "I'm just hanging on here." When in the movie does Alice make this statement and what is going on in this conversation?


    See Question # 20 in the unit test.

    7.   Describe how Alice's alcoholism affects her children.


    See the Quick Discussion Question and Question #24 in the unit test.

    8.  Alice says, "I'm going to disappoint him. This is not the person he married. I'm not going to be fun." What does this dialog refer to?

    9.  Alice says, "I told him it made me feel small and worthless when he tried to help. I shut him out because I knew that if he saw who I was he wouldn't love me." What does this dialog refer to?

    10.  Alice engineers a situation in which Michael moves out of the house. (She didn't come out and ask him to leave. However, she knows that Michael will leave when she tells him that he makes her skin crawl. Also, when he says he is going to leave she doesn't discourage him.) Why did she do this?


    11.  Compare Michael's feelings for Jessie to the way he felt about his biological daughter Casey.


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

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    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


    (Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

    1.   How does caring about an alcoholic/addict lead to enabling behaviors?


Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.


Bridges to Reading: None.

MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: All films listed in the Social-Emotional Learning Index under Alcoholism and Drug Abuse category.

    Assignments, Projects and Activities:

    1. Have students attend an open AA meeting and report on their experience. Students can go alone or together. Remind them to act respectfully while at the meeting.

    Bibliography: The websites which are linked in the Guide and Comprehensive School Health Education -- Totally Awesome Strategies for Teaching Health, by Linda Meeks, Philip Heit and Randy Page, 2009, McGraw Hill, Boston.

    Last updated December 18, 2009.

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