Al-Anon is one of the largest 12-Step groups for the family and friends of addicts. But what does the group do? And, how do they help? If you have a friend or a loved one struggling with a drug or alcohol use disorder, you’ve likely been recommended to join the group. Al-Anon is a self-help support group designed to offer assistance, emotional support, and resources to individuals with friends and family who are addicts. That’s important, because living with or knowing an addict can be traumatic in its own right. People with addiction lie, manipulate, and abuse those around them. Finding your way through their illness without developing problems yourself is difficult and often requires a large amount of help.
One in five Americans knows someone who is or has been addicted to drugs or alcohol. That person could be your child, your parent, your sibling, your partner, or a close friend. They could live with you, interact with you on a daily basis, or even frequently see you and tax your emotional and mental wellbeing. Al-Anon exists to help you, and allow you to help others, navigate this period while you either break ties with your addicted loved one or get them into treatment.
So, What is Al-Anon Really?
Al-Anon is part of the same family of self-help groups that make up Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. These groups utilize a 12-Step, normally Christian-based, methodology to help people move past their problems (normally addiction) to find happiness and healing. For Al-Anon, that normally translates to people helping each other move past trauma, make the best decisions regarding their loved ones, and to get out of relationships that are codependent, enabling, and abusive. Most Al-Anon groups follow a relatively similar structure but they also maintain an incredibly large amount of autonomy. The rules, structure, material, and process used by one may be completely different from that used in another. That aside, most use tools like:
Education – Addiction is an incredibly complex behavioral disorder that changes how people think, act, and are. Many of us learn what are essentially myths about this disorder, rife with stigma, shame, and the illusion of personal and interpersonal guilt relating to substance abuse. Al-Anon offers resources for education, including learning how addiction works, how it affects others, and how someone’s addiction can impact you.
Mutual Support – Getting social support can be a powerful factor in making difficult decisions, in healing from trauma, and in finding the strength to move on despite adversity. Al-Anon gives you a place to talk to, listen to, and learn from your peers. It gives you a place to vent, a place to learn other perspectives, and a place to give and receive support from your community. Having a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can make most of us feel alone. But, with 1 in 5 of us in a similar situation, it would be impossible to truly be alone. Al-Anon brings those of us in similar situations together so that we can connect, share, and learn from each other.
Resources – Al-Anon doesn’t always offer real resources, but many do. You can look for education material, connections to shelters, connections to therapists, and other aid through many Al-Anon communities. Some also set up donations and pool together resources to help families move out or regroup when it becomes dangerous to live with an addict. Different Al-Anon groups offer varying resources so you cannot rely on your group for this, but many do.
Importantly, it is unlikely that anyone at an Al-Anon meeting is a registered or licensed therapist. You will not get professional help here. However, you will get to vent, seek support, and hear about similar situations from your peers, giving you perspective on your life, your loved one, and your options.
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What Happens at Al-Anon Meetings?
Al-Anon uses structured and planned meetings to share, discuss, and support people. Most extend for 1-2 hours, with members seated in a circle or around a table, and offer arrangements for meals, childcare, and medical needs. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, most meetings are structured around the group literature, are focused on connecting people together, and typically ask everyone to participate and contribute.
Nearly every meeting begins with an introduction. Here, the group leader reads from the Al-Anon manual. Members are asked to introduce themselves if a new person is present, you are not required to disclose your real name. Participants may be asked to read from the manual or may be asked to contribute with a story or a discussion depending on the purpose of the meeting. Anyone can choose to remain silent instead and many new members are encouraged to do so while they learn how meetings work.
In most cases, everything wraps up within 1-2 hours. However, many meetings do not have set start and end-times.
Types of Al-Anon Meetings
Al-Anon uses a series of 9 meeting types outlined in the Al-Anon Manual. Every type of meeting serves a purpose, and you don’t have to, and probably should not, attend all of them.
ALATEEN – Alateen provides support groups specifically for members aged 11-18. Parents are encouraged to drop children off and leave or attend their own meeting elsewhere.
Adult & Children – Meetings focused on topics for parents, including parenting children around an alcoholic or addict, reducing trauma, and being a better parent. Parents of young children should attend.
Beginners – Meetings specifically geared to educate and welcome newcomers. Everyone is asked to attend
Closed – These are regular groups closed off to non-members and hopeful members. Closed groups are normally undertaken to protect individuals who might be at risk.
LGBT – Meetings cover LGBTQ+ specific problems and complexities. People who are or who have affected family members who are LGBTQ+ should attend.
Open – Open meetings are open to anyone although some Al-Anon groups limit guests to those invited by existing members. Open groups are Regular meetings with added guests. Anyone considering joining Al-Anon or who wants to welcome new people should attend.
Problem Solving – Meetings are held to identify and find solutions to a specific problem raised by members, such as fundraising, finding a shelter, or helping someone move if their relationship with an addict has become traumatic. Anyone interested in the problem or in finding a solution should attend.
Regular – Participants agree on a topic and discuss it throughout the meeting. Anyone interested in the topic should attend.
Topic – Meetings center around a specific topic, where participants are asked to stay on that topic for the duration. People who are interested in the topic should attend.
Some Al-Anon groups branch off with many other types of meetings, most will be explained or will be self-explanatory. For example, “Literature” meetings typically go over Al-Anon literature, men’s meetings are men-only, etc. Understanding meeting types allows you to better choose which to attend and which to skip, so you can get the most out of the group.
Al-Anon has a lot to offer for most people. With a focus on group support and sharing, it’s an excellent resource to broaden perspective, learn how others have dealt with the same problems, and reach clarity regarding your loved one. Al-Anon can help you to meet peers, to feel less alone, and to get the support you need to navigate this traumatic period of your life. And, it can give you an outlet, whether that is sitting and listening, commiserating, or sharing your own pain. If your loved one is struggling with drugs or alcohol, Al-Anon can be a wonderful place to go to heal.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol, it might be time to check out an alcohol rehab program. Speak with one of our experienced treatment advisors today at (833) 233-0091 for a free assessment.