Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive primary brain disorder with characteristic signs and symptoms. In the progression of continued drinking despite mounting negative consequences, alcoholics reach a point where drinking alcohol is no longer a choice, but a matter of life or death. At this point, the alcoholic has progressed beyond human aid and nothing much matters in his/her life but the next drink.

However, I have observed that those troubled by another person’s drinking can usually benefit from Al‑Anon. I have even seen distraught families reunited following the acceptance and practice of the principles suggested in Al‑Anon’s program of personal recovery. Family members often don’t understand that alcoholism, like many other diseases including cancer and asthma, is not a matter of choice or self‑control. Relatives and friends attempt to control the alcoholic’s drinking or help the alcoholic control the drinking in a variety of ways. Attempting to manage, manipulate, or control the alcoholic leads to progressively greater suffering and confusion. The results are anxiety, anger, depression, shame, guilt, low self‑esteem, and difficulty with interpersonal relationships.

So, while the untreated alcoholic suffers from an unhealthy, dysfunctional, maladaptive relationship with alcohol, so too the affected, untreated relative or friend suffers from an unhealthy, dysfunctional, maladaptive relationship with their alcoholic loved one. This entanglement is usually so complex that the loved one cannot detach from these relationships on their own.

Fortunately, however, I have often observed a return to a happy, healthy lifestyle once the friend or relative accepts and practices the Al‑Anon program. Members often find others in meetings who are experiencing similar difficulties with the alcoholics in their lives as they share their experience, strength, and hope. Further, reading Al‑Anon literature and gathering support and guidance from more experienced members further aid members in their recovery. I recommend Al‑Anon to relatives and friends of alcoholics because it works.

By David L. Nelson, M.D., D.Sc.,

Board Certified in Pediatrics, Allergy and Immunology, Virginia

Al-Anon Faces Alcoholism 2020