Al-Anon is a 12-step support group primarily for family members of alcoholics. It is made up of a community of individuals whose lives have been touched by alcoholism and provides a safe place for family members and loved ones to help each other cope with their loved one’s illness.
How Al-Anon Can Help
Addiction is a disease that affects not only the individual, but the entire family as well. It also creates behaviors, habits and ways of communication that directly impact how families interact with each other and the world outside. In addition, addiction in the family can result in harmful behaviors such as codependency and enabling.
At first, this may surprise or even confuse the family member of an alcoholic. Why would he or she need to work the steps—aren’t they just for the alcoholic? However, the reason is simple: Al-Anon treats alcoholism as a family disease. That means that the whole family is impacted by the addiction in some manner. Some family members may blame themselves for their loved one's drinking, while others may feel slighted by their loved one putting their recovery above everyone else in the family. Whatever is the case, Al-anon meetings create a safe place to discuss these issues and help family members heal through their loved one’s addiction.
Take the first step, for example. It states, “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” If you think about it, you as a family member of a loved one struggling with addiction are powerless over alcohol. Parents, spouses and siblings of alcoholics may go to great lengths to control their loved one’s drinking and may also be in a certain amount of denial. Finally, alcoholism in the family causes stress, anxiety, insomnia and even poor health—often due to the sheer unmanageability that alcohol brings.
Who Is Al-Anon For?
Al-Anon is for anyone who is experiencing or has experienced alcoholism in their lives. If you have a family member or loved one who is struggling with alcoholism right now, then an Al-Anon meeting may be helpful for you.
The support group may also be beneficial for adult children of alcoholics. The effects of growing up with alcoholism linger for years and these individuals often struggle despite the fact that they are no longer living with or exposed to their parents’ drinking. Adult children of alcoholics may have unaddressed trauma, trust issues, fear of intimacy, codependent behavior, anger issues, lingering depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and self worth, and more.
Even more, adult children of alcoholics have a fourfold increased risk of growing up to be alcoholics and addicts themselves. Once in recovery, they may not realize how many of their problems were a result of their parents’ drinking. While recovering from their own alcoholism is important, it’s also important to acknowledge their own wounds from their upbringing—and to get support for it. If they’ve attended treatment, hopefully they have also been encouraged to attend an Al-Anon meeting at least once.
How Does It Work?
Al-Anon meetings are run by members. They are support groups and do not offer professional advice. People come to give and to get support. Levels of participation in group discussions are entirely voluntary; it’s okay to just go, sit and listen. Meetings are free and nothing is required. People are supportive, compassionate and friendly. Solutions and suggestions are often offered, however, no one is told what to do.
Untreated alcoholism is a devastating disease. Unfortunately, family members can’t control or stop their loved one’s drinking. They can, however, get help for themselves. Each person will deal with things in their own way. Some develop the strength to leave the situation, some find ways to cope, some are able to ride things out in hopes that their loved one gets help. And, it does happen. However, there are no guarantees. This is why self-care is so important. Part of good self-care is finding supportive people to confide in, who can help. Al-Anon is a wonderful place to go and get that support.