What Is Al-Anon?
Correctly referred to as Al-Anon Family Groups, the organization consists of both Al-Anon and Alateen, with the difference being the age of attendees.
Early on (1951), it was recognized that the disease of alcoholism extended further than the alcoholic himself. While the alcoholic suffered a clear problem, families suffered the consequences, especially those families with young children. In many homes they were the unintended victims of the alcoholic pathology. While adult spouses could better deal with the challenges, younger family members could not. In fact, it is still true today that one of the risk factors for becoming a problem drinker is being the son or daughter of an alcoholic.
The parent organization uses a 12-step model; the steps are the same as those in AA. However, the goal is different. Instead of trying to maintain abstinence, Al-Anon members seek to improve confidence and have a spiritual awakening – beyond that which allows alcoholics to abstain. In both programs, spiritual health is the remedy, even though the problems are different.
According to the website, meetings offer a place where “the friends and family members of problem drinkers share their experiences and learn how to apply the principles of the Al Anon program to their individual situations. They learn that they are not alone in the problems they face, and that they have choices that lead to greater peace of mind, whether the drinker continues to drink or not.”
Support is the critical element, as well as a focus on self-improvement, regardless of what happens with the relationship with the alcoholic in their lives.
Parallel to Al-Anon, Alateen offers a safe place for teenagers to share their experiences of having an alcoholic family member, usually a parent. Besides the age difference, an Alateen group requires an active member of Al-Anon as a sponsor. A sponsor has to have two years of active participation in Al-Anon and agrees to coordinate, but not run, Alateen meetings.
Alateen meetings are run by their members, just as other 12-step groups are. There are materials available for guidance, and the sponsor is expected to act as a liaison.
The reason for a sub-group isn’t just age, but also because the relationships are usually different. The stories, concerns and problems revolve more around having an alcoholic in a position of authority over the teen or when a peer has become involved with alcohol.
Meetings are held as often as weekly for each group, although monthly is more common. Online discussion groups can be found through their site directory. Because of privacy and security issues, online Alateen meetings are currently hosted only at the parent site. Adult meetings can be found through the links in the directory.
Like AA, meetings are structured by members, so groups may vary. Typically, the 12 steps are read and members are then encouraged to share with the group. No one is required to speak or offer advice. Some meetings may focus on one or more of the steps and encourage members to relate their own challenges or interpretations of a particular step.
Does it help?
The few available studies show that attending Al-Anon is helpful to those with an alcoholic in their lives. The help comes in two basic forms: sharing experiences with others and seeking advice for specific problems.
While not technically a part of the program, many of the more experienced members have gone through the legal and financial problems common in families with an alcoholic member, and they can be very helpful with practical matters.
Sponsors also offer a kind of lifeline when a crisis emerges. Members are encouraged to develop a personal relationship with a sponsor for this reason.