Al-Anon is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which runs a programme for the families and friends of alcoholics. Societally, there is lots of focus on helping the alcoholics themselves, but very often the impact these alcoholics have on their families goes unnoticed. Al-Anon is therefore a great programme, as it aims to bring together people in similar circumstances, to share their experiences in dealing with a loved one's alcoholism.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing a past member of the Al-Alon group, who must be kept anonymous as one of their guiding principles, and will therefore be referred to as 'Anon'. Together, we discussed her own personal life and her experience in Al-Anon as a result of her sister's alcoholism.

Alcoholism is not treated and judged as an illness; it is often seen as behaviour which is self-inflicted and only continues due to a person's decision - their active decision - to continue drinking heavily. This often means that alcoholics are blamed for being an alcoholic.

Anon: "This is the mistake I made. I thought my sister could stop drinking and that this would be a personal, conscious choice she could make. Since she did not stop for such a long time, I had a lot of hostility and resentment towards her."

However, this is so far from the truth and often leads to unfair treatment: alcoholism is an addiction and an illness. It should not be treated therefore as something that is reproachable and blameworthy. Rather, we should look at an alcoholic first as a person and look to seek a sense of empathy for them. This is exactly what Al-Alon try to do, especially for the families of alcoholics who often end up blaming their loved one. 

Anon: "Alcoholics do not deserve to be judged. They spend their life trying to manage their illness but can so easily slip back into drinking, but this is not their fault. Where you and I might have an enjoyable glass of wine, they do not have that control and it is very hard to break free from such an addiction."

The relationship between Anon and her sister, however, did deteriorate throughout the process of her sister's alcoholism. As an alcoholic, she became "very irrational and unpleasant" and the sister that Anon used to know was no longer there. It tore their family apart and took Anon to a place where she began to "hate her". They did not speak for 10 years, and it took a lot of Al-Anon meetings and time for Anon to be able to look at her sister again; to have a conversation and speak to her again; to forgive her.

Anon: “I used to blame her - for those 10 years, I was full of hatred and blame towards her. But now I have empathy, understanding, and forgiveness. Al-Anon helped me to realise that as long as we are hating someone and not forgiving them, we are suffering. When you forgive, you free yourself from that burden, and after I was able to understand and forgive my sister, I felt free of this resentment."

"It helped me to see her - the real her- through all the addiction and the alcohol." 

Despite suffering from such alcoholism, Anon's sister was able to turn her life around, something that made Anon herself "extremely proud" of her. For she stopped drinking and began talking about her experiences with alcohol and addiction to the youth. She spoke at schools across the country and "turned her weakness into a strength that helped and improved the lives of others."

This story, and following the timeline of Anon's relationship with her sister and everything Al-Anon has shown to her, has proved for me two things: (1) that alcoholics do not deserve our judgement, hatred, or blame - they deserve our kindness, understanding and empathy; and (2) that alcoholism does not take away a second chance to do it all over again- to repair the mistakes and consequences of being an alcoholic, and to live a full and happy life of influence and progress. I hope that Anon and her sister's relationship continues to grow, and that Al-Anon will gain the recognition it deserves for the wonderful work they do.

For anyone who is struggling with a family member or a friend who has a drinking problem, Al-Anon is a great place to find guidance. To seek comfort, support, and to look for a sense of hope, empathy and understanding in the place of what often comes first: blame and hostility. 

Their UK website is linked below: