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Al-Anon is a fellowship group designed to help people who are affected by a loved one’s drinking behavior. The support group is also commonly referred to as the Al-Anon Family Group. Another Al-Anon program, Alateen, specifically helps teens and young adults who have watched family members or friends struggle with an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
In 1951, Anne B. and Lois W. created Al-Anon. Lois W. is also the wife of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The formation of Al-Anon was initially Bill’s idea as a way to consolidate the various family groups that were going on at the time. Because of this, Al-Anon took on the same 12-step approach as AA and made it relatable to the family members and friends of alcoholics.
Al-Anon groups are located in cities across the globe. Meetings take place in person, on the phone and online, making it convenient and accessible for just about anyone. Individuals affected by alcoholism, whether it be related to a parent, sibling, close relative or friend, are welcome to take part in Al-Anon group meetings. While some Al-Anon members have loved ones who are currently in treatment, others attend meetings to get advice on how to live with someone who has yet to seek help.
The Purpose of Al-Anon
Al-Anon solely supports the recovery of alcoholism and is therefore not associated with any particular religious groups, political groups or other institutions. Similar to AA, Al-Anon is a self-supporting group that relies solely on contributions from its members.
The creators of Al-Anon believe that together, the families and friends of alcoholics can provide hope to each other and help solve the various problems they may face. Al-Anon recognizes alcoholism as a family disease, and is committed to helping family members and friends cope with a loved one’s heavy drinking.
Members of Al-Anon practice the same 12 steps that are the foundation of AA. Meetings serve as an opportunity to share their personal experiences, times of strength and feelings of hope with others who are going through similar circumstances. Individuals come away with the tools and knowledge to better understand the warning signs and lifelong effects of an AUD. With this information in hand, they can encourage their loved one to get help and achieve sobriety.
Most Al-Anon meetings contain between five and 25 members. Larger groups are often split into smaller groups so that each person has an opportunity to participate in the discussion. Since the group is non-confrontational, it is not meant to stop a person’s drinking behavior. After all, you cannot force someone into recovery – that is a choice they must make on their own.
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What to Expect at an Al-Anon Meeting
Every Al-Anon group has its own unique way of conducting meetings; however, many have similar outlines. Generally, meetings will begin with a short opening and introductions. Newcomers are also welcomed during this time and are given some helpful tips, such as not expecting too much too soon and information about confidentiality. The remainder of the meeting is spent on any group announcements, and sharing stories of experience, strength and hope. After the meeting closing, members often share hugs which you may choose to accept or decline.
For those who are interested in joining an Al-Anon group but are unsure what to expect, here’s a brief explanation:
- Al-Anon provides mutual support to anyone who attends a meeting. Every person in the meeting is considered an equal, and any member can offer advice. All members of the group have experience in living with or dealing with a loved one struggling with alcoholism.
- It is ok to ask questions or discuss your current circumstances at an Al-Anon meeting. If you prefer to sit back and listen to other members for a few meetings, that is fine too.
- Each meeting is unique. The members of the group choose the structure and format of the meeting. It is recommended that you go to several Al-Anon meetings before deciding if it is right for you.
- Some Al-Anon meetings are held at religious facilities; however, the group is not affiliated with any religious organization. Meetings are focused on helping those affected by a loved one’s drinking behavior.
- Your anonymity and privacy are respected at Al-Anon meetings. Members are not allowed to share the names of others in the group to anyone under any circumstance.
- Expect a 12-step reading at the beginning of each Al-Anon meeting. While you may not always understand the selected passage, it can be helpful to those who are learning how to cope with a heavy drinker.
Is Al-Anon Right for You?
While Al-Anon is helpful to many families and friends coping with a loved one’s drinking pattern, it may not be for everyone.
Here are some questions to consider before joining an Al-Anon group:
- Do you worry about a loved one’s drinking behavior?
- Do you often lie to others about your loved one’s heavy drinking?
- Do you decline social invitations because you worry about how much your loved one will drink?
- Does your loved one’s drinking patterns embarrass you?
- Do you feel that plans are always changed due to your loved one’s drinking?
- Do you feel confused about how to cope with your loved one’s alcohol use?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, an Al-Anon group may be a helpful resource. In attending a meeting, you will be able to lean on others for support, and learn how to handle different situations that may arise.
In 2015, roughly 8 percent of Al-Anon members also attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings.
After attending Al-Anon meetings, many members have stated an improvement in their mental, physical and emotional health.
An estimated 65 perfect of individuals have received treatment, counseling or therapy before attending Al-Anon Family Groups meetings. Of those, around 29 percent are still receiving treatment.
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Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. (2015). 2015 Membership Survey. November 2016. http://al-anon.org/pdf/MembershipSurvey.pdf
Al-Anon. How Does Al-Anon Work? October 2016. http://www.al-anon.org/
Timko, Halvorson, Kong, Moos. (2015). Social Processes Explaining the Benefits of Al-Anon Participation. October 2016. http://al-anon.org/pdf/MembershipSurvey.pdf>https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4702510/
Keinz, Schwartz, Trench, Houlihan. (1995). An Assessment of Membership Benefits in the Al-Anon Program. October 2016. http://al-anon.org/pdf/MembershipSurvey.pdf>http://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/psyc_fac_pubs/114/4/