During my 53 years of working in mental health and addiction recovery, I have seen a number of changes and improvements in care. However, alcoholism continues to remain a huge problem, even though opiate drugs are getting most of the attention now. Alcoholism is much slower and more insidious when compared to opiate addiction. Gradually we have become more aware of the imperative nature of whole-family recovery, whether the alcoholic is drinking or not. I try to reassure my patients that Al‑Anon is a support group for families and loved ones of people who have alcohol problems. It does not necessarily mean that I think they are alcoholics.
Al‑Anon has been and continues to be the foremost source of help for the family members of alcoholics. I tell them that it is crucial to understand that alcoholism is an illness. Unfortunately, many well‑meaning family members attempt to help and take care of their alcoholic loved ones. These attempts, which seemed to be so helpful in the early stages of the illness, eventually become counterproductive and lead to enabling and attempts to control amid an uncontrollable situation. This often leads to severe anxiety, depression, feelings of hopelessness, and stress in the family members. I try to impress upon them that they deserve a place where they can go and receive the proper information, love, and support that they need. Furthermore, I try to impress on them the importance of taking care of themselves.
Al‑Anon is a worldwide fellowship. There, they may learn that the disease is not their fault. It provides a safe environment for understanding how the disease has affected them and helps them embark on a path of personal growth. I also remind them that it is crucial to continue in Al‑Anon even if the alcoholic gets sober, separates, or even when there seems to be no hope. Moreover, I have noted that people who remain in Al‑Anon over time seem to deal much better with stress and relationships, make better decisions, experience less anxiety and depression, and live much happier and more hopeful lives.
By Hugh A. King Jr., M.D., Board‑Certified Psychiatrist, Louisiana
Al-Anon Faces Alcoholism 2020