1 in 5 Americans knows a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. With an estimated 1 in 10 Americans struggling with substance abuse at some point during their lives, it makes sense that many of us have close personal relationships addicts. At the same time, most of us never talk about it. Instead, we hide our loved one’s alcoholism and addiction, buying into social stigma and guilt, and sometimes even taking drastic measures to prevent others from finding out. The result is that we never talk to each other about it, never support each other, and never realize that millions of people have shared experiences, trauma, and problems.
Al-Anon is one of the few official groups designed around supporting the friends and family of addicts, with information and groups designed to offer assistance, to create an outlet, and to educate persons living with addiction. Living with or around an addict can be traumatic, painful, and life changing. The friends and family of addicts suffer from stress disorders like PTSD, experience trauma, become co-dependent, become enabling, and are often lost in a confusing muddle of emotions. Talking to others, sharing those experiences, and getting group support and outside validation from people who know what you’re going through can help you to find a balance and to recover.
What is Al-Anon?
Al-Anon is a self-help or support group based around the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous but geared towards the friends and family of the addict. Like other 12-step groups, Al-Anon functions around bringing people together, giving them space to talk and share, and giving each person access to resources as a community. Attendance is voluntary, attendees remain anonymous, and anything shared in the group is kept in the group.
Education – Al-Anon members are expected to learn about how substance use disorders work, how they impact behavior, and how they affect their loved ones. This can enable better choices, taking steps to get that person help, or adapting to that person in recovery.
Sharing – Al-Anon groups heavily revolve around sharing, where meetings offer social support, advice, and the opportunity to listen to others in a non-judgmental environment. Like with other 12-Step groups, this is considered to be one of the most valuable aspects of Al-Anon. Sharing with others can help you to realize you aren’t alone, addictive behaviors are copied across many addicts, and that your own behavior may be problematic towards yourself or to others (e.g., if you’re enabling or developing codependence or suffering from trauma).
Some Al-Anon groups also offer support and resources for the families of addicts. This might include temporary child-care, help moving into shelters, or connections to psychiatrists and doctors who might help. These types of services are not guaranteed across every group.
How Does Al Anon Work?
Al-Anon offers group support, functions as an outlet for individuals, and offers education. Most groups are held around themes, individuals can share according to the group theme, and actions are taken according to that theme.
Group Support – The large part of what Al-Anon does centers around group and social support. Individuals enter a group and can share in the safety of a group of peers, without judgement, expectation of shame, or feeling as though they are being demanding of time or attention. Everyone gets to share, everyone listens, and sharing is optional.
Group support includes both listening and sharing. You will be asked to sit and listen to others, giving them the audience to be heard. This gives them a therapeutic outlet. It gives you a better understanding that you’re not alone, more perspective on your own problems, and possibly a better understanding of how addiction affects your loved one or why they behave in a certain way.
Sharing is much more about creating an outlet for yourself. Some groups will allow you to ask for input and advice. Most will expressly forbid it, instead encouraging people to share their own experiences without giving advice.
Meeting Peers – Meeting others who share similar experiences is a powerful tool in recognizing that you are not alone, that you have to take steps to protect your own happiness and life, and that there are tools to help both you and your loved one. You might also be surprised by how many people at Al-Anon are from your own community, and how many people actually struggle with addiction.
Learning – Group meetings are often themed around topics, with educational material, questions, and sometimes experts. Here, a group leader will set a topic, provide information, facilitate the meeting, and ensure that everyone stays on topic when sharing. These topics can range from items like, “how do I get my loved one into rehab” or “what can I do for my loved one when they leave rehab” to “my spouse becomes aggressive when intoxicated”. You won’t always have something to share or learn, but you will know what the group is about upfront, allowing you to skip it if it’s irrelevant.
Al-Anon is a self-help or support group, typically run by volunteers and members. As a result, each group is different, each will provide slightly different help, and it might not always be a good fit for you.
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necessWhat Happens at Al-Anon Meetings?
Al-Anon meetings are structured, start at a specific time, and typically have a set theme. Most last for 1-2 hours with a formal closing time. Most meetings sit members in a circle so that everyone is in view.
Meetings often begin in the same way:
- The Group Leader reads the introduction from the Al-Anon Manual
- Members are asked to introduce themselves by their first names
- Members are asked to identify themselves according to the group theme
- Members may be asked to read from the Al-Anon manual
- Meeting starts
The meeting structure will heavily depend on the type of meeting:
Beginners – Topics Focus on Welcoming Newcomers and offering education
Regular – Meetings with set topics which members speak about
Open – A form of regular meeting where Beginners are welcome
Closed – Only Members and Applicants are welcome
ALATEEN – Teenage or Younger AL-Anon Members are welcome
AL-Anon Adult & Children – Adults with Younger Children. Topics Focus on Family Issues such as parenting children around an alcoholic
LGBT – Topics focus on LGTBQ Members and the complications stemming from either themselves or their loved ones being LGBTQ, such as the difficulty in finding safe rehab
Problem Solving – Topics Focus on Finding Solutions, sometimes for a specific member (e.g. fundraising or finding an apartment), or the community
Topic – Focused on a Chosen AL-Anon Topic set by the facilitator, where everyone is asked to stay on a topic
Tradition – The group focuses on an AL-Anon Tradition, usually with a specific purpose
Literature – Topics focus on AL-Anon Literature, usually reading and learning from this literature
Slogans – Topics Focus on Al-Anon Slogans
Meditation – The Meeting Includes a Meditation Break
Step – Focused on Al-Anon 12 Steps, either in regard to the group or to the loved one
Men’s – About Men
Women’s – About Women
Parent’s – For/About Parents
Al-Anon offers topics and meetings specifically aimed t most people, but in most cases, everyone is welcome. While you will have to sit through at least 6 Beginner meetings to lose your status as an Applicant and become a member, you can access and benefit from everything afterwards.
Is Al-Anon Right for You?
Al-Anon is a support group, and like any support group, you have to attend and get a feel for it before deciding what you want or need. Al-Anon is not an alternative to therapy or treatment, it won’t necessarily tell you exactly what to do or how to handle an addicted loved one, and it won’t actively solve problems. However, it will allow you to access a community of people experiencing similar problems, benefit from their advice, and to learn about addiction in ways that may be beneficial for you and for your loved one.
If you or your loved-one is seeking help for substance addiction, call us at (714) 443-8218 and look into our recovery programs. Our programs and recovery center helps clients by providing them with detox, family intervention, and long-term Outpatient or residential treatment if necessary.
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