A father learned in Al‑Anon that alcoholism is a family disease

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld, Clinical Psychologist
Everett, Washington

Larry, a middle-age man, sits in my office talking about Al‑Anon—for family and friends of alcoholics.

He tells me his story: “I got a phone call from my son’s school when Joey was 14 years old. He was caught drinking at school with his buddies. At the time, I thought, ‘Boys will be boys,’ and didn’t think much of it. The progression of the disease is slow, so it was hard to see. Later on, I received a call that Joey was in an automobile accident. There were legal issues and court-ordered treatment—the whole nine yards of alcoholism. I attended a family meeting at the rehab program. They recommended I go to Al‑Anon. So I did—‘I’m a man; if I can’t help my son, who can?’”

Sadly, Joey died. But Larry wants other parents to know that there is help. I ask him how Al‑Anon helps him.

“I learned that alcoholism is a disease. My son didn’t like me judging or berating him because he drank. I’m certain that Joey felt that I lost my love and respect for him. Had I not gone to Al‑Anon, we would have continued to be at war.

“I learned to accept him and give him the respect and dignity to make his own decisions in life — to work, hopefully, on his own recovery. But that was up to him. I needed to work on my own healing. I learned my problems were of my own making. This is why alcoholism is called a ‘family disease’ in Al‑Anon.”

Al‑Anon provides a community of family members who struggle to establish a loving relationship with their ill family member, but at the same time, not to enable their disease. Parents, brothers, sisters, and children begin to realize that dependency on alcohol is not a moral failing or a choice, any more than someone chooses to have cancer, asthma, or diabetes. It’s a condition that their loved one lives with.

As we talked, I shared my frustration as a psychologist. Every year, I encourage scores of family members to attend Al‑Anon, but only a few follow through.

Larry said: “If you are thinking about going to Al‑Anon, just go. And attend at least six meetings before you decide it’s not for you. Just keep coming back. I’ve been attending for about ten years now. It’s only an hour or an hour and a half out of your day.”

Al‑Anon helps family members heal. It helps family members reconnect with the love for their ill family member.