24 September 2013

S4M-07188 Al-Anon Family Groups

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-07188, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on Al-Anon Family Groups, supporting families with alcohol-related issues. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that Al-Anon Family Groups, a charity that receives no external financial support, has only one focus, which is to help and support families and friends of problem drinkers; believes that for every problem drinker it is estimated that at least five other people are adversely affected; understands that there are over 120 Al-Anon Family Group meetings in Scotland, including in Edinburgh, for people who are or have been affected by someone else’s drinking to meet and gain understanding and support in order to resolve their common problems, and commends the work of Al-Anon Family Groups over the last 60 years in supporting families dealing with alcohol-related issues.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Al-Anon for creating the opportunity for the debate and Gordon MacDonald for bringing the topic to the chamber.

Alcohol is an unusual drug—because that is what it is—in that its effect on people is quite varied. For some people, the lowering of inhibitions and the increase in confidence leads to an increase in creativity; for others, that lowering of inhibitions and increase in confidence leads into far less productive areas. Of course, excess use of alcohol—leading in due course to addiction—is destructive of family life, of relationships and, ultimately it is destructive of the addicts themselves.

My father was a country GP and, like all general practitioners, he had his catalogue of alcoholics. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he never felt that he had the remedies at his disposal that delivered the results that he sought. When I was old enough to drive, I provided some pastoral support to some of his alcoholics and others in the family did the same, but the outcomes were not particularly good.

When I became a manager of staff—some hundreds of staff—in the 1970s, 1980s and onwards, I, of course, once again met people who were suffering from the consequences of alcohol misuse. However, by that time the existence of support groups such as Al-Anon and the professional support that was available had transformed the outcomes for those who were affected by alcohol. I can say that the majority of people whom we were able to refer to professional services and connect to support groups had substantially better outcomes. We understand addictions better now than we used to. They come in many forms and alcohol is merely one of them.

Of course, let us not imagine that this is a new problem. The Canadian historian T C Smout, in his social history of Scotland, describes how in the mid-1800s, in a village in East Lothian, there was one pub for every 14 inhabitants. That tells you something about the place of alcohol in that community.

At about that time, it was recognised in the Swedish town of Gothenburg that the evils of drink were affecting wider society. The community in Gothenburg got together and opened its own pub, so that the profits from the trade could be recycled into more useful activities. To this day, in various towns across Scotland one can still see pubs called “The Goth”, which comes from the Gothenburg experiment that came from Sweden.

Drink has probably resulted in genetic changes—particularly in England, where beer was a substitute for water because many cities did not have good supplies of potable water—and tolerance of alcohol has grown. However, the trouble is that, as others who are less adapted have used alcohol, we have seen a disproportionate effect from that.

Relationships are affected by not just the immediate consumption of alcohol, but the change in people’s behaviours. People become secretive about their addiction, and that cuts them off from their families and friends. Groups such as Al-Anon are vital to preserving and growing relationships and for supporting people with addiction. I hope that such groups continue to support communities across Scotland and beyond.


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