I have a friend whose son is addicted to drugs.
The son, in his twenties and a college graduate, is rebellious, jobless, emotionally unstable and has a mental illness problem which has neither been completely diagnosed nor treated.
He has been living partly on the streets and refuses treatment, which his father continues to offer. He fears that his son will kill himself or someone else and one way or another will end up in prison.
Regrettably, the son’s behavior is not uncommon among drug addicts, most of whom have mental health problems (anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, psychosis and others).
His mother and father are divorced but as matters have gotten worse, they have tried to collaborate more in dealing with their son’s problem, but his rebelliousness persists which stymies efforts to have him completely diagnosed and treated.
They need help to help their son. They are willing to pay the cost of treatment but he refuses to go and they, understandably, don’t want to waste the money if favorable results are not, by any means, guaranteed.
A good next step is for the parents to go to Al-Anon to equip themselves with information and support to effectively fight back against their son’s addiction.
Al-Anon meetings are free and for many, a priceless resource. More than twenty-four thousand of these 12-Step meetings are available in 133 countries, meaning there is probably one near you.
More than 150 million Americans, roughly half the population, are affected, directly or indirectly, by the disease of alcoholism and other drug addictions. Research also shows that every alcoholic’s behavior affects at least five others in his or her circle of family members, relatives, and associates.
Al-Anon Family Groups describes itself as “a supportive network that provides friends and families of problem drinkers with the opportunity to share their experiences to find strength and hope.”
At the suggestion of groups and meetings, some may recoil with the standard comeback: “He (or she) is the one with the problem; why do I have to go to meetings?”
But the fact is that you are, in many ways, just as sick as your friend or loved one is, and if you will go to meetings and work the steps, you, too, will benefit. So let’s take a look at Al-Anon.
Like AA, Al-Anon has been around for more than seventy-five years. It was cofounded by Lois Wilson, wife of AA cofounder, Bill Wilson. A wonderful book called The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough by William G. Borchert is a great love story, and it explains how Al-Anon got started.
Here’s a sample.
Picture, if you will, eight women parked in front of the Clinton Street, Brooklyn, home of Bill and Lois Wilson. Their car motors are running, and they are steamed.
On this night in 1938, three years after AA’s founding, their husbands, most of them newly sober, are attending a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous with Wilson. What ticks the ladies off is that their husbands have replaced drinking with AA meetings, leaving them once again alone and unloved.
At that moment, Lois, with suddenly heightened awareness of her own resentment and anger, realizes that spouses, too, have been touched by alcoholism and must seek and find a dramatic change in their own lives if they are to get well and stay well.
THE BIRTH OF AL-ANON
So Lois, on that night in Brooklyn, brought the women in for a get-together of their own in the kitchen and out of it there emerged Al-Anon Family Groups, the fellowship Lois co-founded with her good friend, Ann Bingham. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, the impact of Al-Anon has been huge. Today, Al-Anon Family Groups are active in practically every city across America, and membership is estimated to be close to a million.
In his book, Borchert tells a moving and powerful love story about two charismatic figures who really did change the world. The fact is, Bill and Lois, both attractive and smart, were absolutely nuts about each other. In the early days, they would hit the road in motorcycle and sidecar.
It was not all play, however. Bill was a stockbroker, and on their road trips, he would visit companies and gather firsthand information about how they operated and how they were doing. Indeed, he is credited with being a pioneer in the field of securities analysis, a vital component of investing.
In 1941, as the result of royalties he received from the book he wrote called Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the Big Book, they moved into a home in Bedford Hills, New York, overlooking the Hudson River. Lois named it “Stepping Stones.”
For the next thirty years, Bill and Lois lived out their days traveling in the service of their twin ministries.
In 1971, Borchert writes, Bill Wilson, stricken with emphysema, died at the age of seventy-six, and the world finally discovered who founded the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous when the New York Times published his full name on its front page.
At first, Lois was almost crippled with grief, but she eventually rallied and carried on her work for the next seventeen years. But she never got over Bill’s death. When the end came for her, as she lay dying, she asked for a pad and pencil, and scribbled the words, “Tell them…I want to see my Bill.”
Lois Burnham Wilson, at ninety-seven years old, joined her beloved Bill later that evening of October 5, 1988. She was buried next to her husband in the small family cemetery in East Dorset, Vermont.
Her name is chiseled on the simple white marble gravestone, but true to the organization’s principles of anonymity, there is no mention of Al Anon. Bill’s gravestone, equally discreet, makes no mention of Alcoholics Anonymous.
ADDICTION IS A PRIMARY DISEASE
While addiction is ultimately susceptible to spiritual solutions, the practical reality is that “addiction is also a primary disease, which means it is not the result of some other problem. For example, addiction is not caused by a bad marriage or other difficulty in life.
Betty Ford/Hazelden, one of the top three treatment facilities in the nation, reminds us of these realities and their implications on its website adding that addiction is:
- Progressive- if unaddressed, it will get worse.
- Chronic-there is no cure, but it can be managed.
- Potentially fatal.
Research also suggests that addiction is not a matter of individual strength, moral character or willpower. Instead, it’s primarily a matter of how the brain becomes wired.
Long-term use of alcohol and other drugs actually changes the brain. Substance use increases the release of a powerful chemical called dopamine. Over time, if dopamine is routinely in abundance, the brain attempts to balance things out by producing less dopamine. At that point, the brain relies on substances to trigger the release of dopamine. And that is when individuals start to use alcohol and other drugs just to feel normal.
This activity takes place in an area of the brain known as the “reward center,” the same place that regulates and reinforces natural rewards vital to existence, such as food and sex. That is why the addicted brain pursues alcohol and other drugs as if these substances are needed for mere survival And it’s why people with addiction place that pursuit irrationally above almost any other priority.
A variety of social, psychological, genetic and other factors make some people more vulnerable than others to developing addiction. No one chooses to develop the disease. Two people may start out using alcohol or other drugs similarly, with one person progressing to addiction while the other person does not.