Accepting that alcoholism is a disease has been tough for me to grasp. I believe it’s true, but sometimes it’s hard to wrap my mind around it. The hardest part to accept is the behavior alcoholism drives. I understand the brain chemistry changes and the lack of control a person has over them. But I’ve always thought of behavior as part of free will—that a person chooses to lie, steal, act violently, and engage in all the other behaviors that make alcoholism too hard to endure.

But through Al‑Anon and therapy, I’ve learned that those behaviors stem from alcoholism. All of the horrible behaviors that scared me to my core were from the alcohol. I see people in meetings nodding with understanding whenever someone talks about the behaviors, and it really blows my mind. It’s like there’s a playbook that alcoholics follow. It has to be the alcoholism—what other explanation could there be for the similarity of behaviors exhibited by all these people who share this disease but don’t know each other or interact?

With that said, I understand there is still a part that comes back to accountability and choices, and whether my alcoholic loved one is managing his disease. Is he working his program and making choices that will support his recovery? That part is free will, but it also ties back to control. He has control over making those choices, not me.

Gaining this understanding changes how I deal with my alcoholic loved one. The knowledge that alcoholism is a disease is very helpful in dealing with my anger, and it helps me to have sympathy and compassion for him. No one, including the alcoholic, wants to have this disease, any more than someone would want cancer.

So how does this change my actions? I can understand and support him, but I have learned to draw the line where I start getting hurt by it. I will support him when he’s working his recovery, but I will detach if he chooses not to manage his recovery or to ignore his symptoms. I will love and support him in putting his recovery first, and I will make whatever accommodations I must in order to allow him to do that. But I cannot own his disease.

By Kim M., Illinois

The Forum, October 2023

Feel free to reprint this article on your service arm website or newsletter, along with this credit line: Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al‑Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.