Nearly everyone is aware of the organization, Alcoholics Anonymous. Its treatment methods are used in almost 75% of all rehab centers. Fewer people are aware that Alcoholics Anonymous popularized the self-help model of support and treatment for addiction. And, that has extended away from individuals with a substance use problem and to their immediate friends and family members. Al-Anon and its sister-group, AlaTeen, are support groups for the family members of those with a substance use problem.
That’s important, because living with or around someone with a substance use disorder is traumatic. Even if your loved one doesn’t change their personality or how they talk to you, dealing with substance use disorder is trauma. You are literally watching someone you love be ripped away from you by a disorder. And, in most cases, alcoholism pushes people into manipulative, bullying, and abusive behavior that can cause significant harm. The idea of groups like Al-Anon are that you can get support, share your problems with your peers, and build each other up.
Al-Anon is a self-help group with two primary goals. To help educate the friends and family affected by alcohol use disorder, and to offer support and sharing for those family members. In some cases, sharing extends to offering fundraisers, places to stay, and ways out of staying with someone with an alcohol use disorder. In most cases, it will mean talking about your problems, sharing experiences, and listening to others.
Most group meetings are themed around a specific topic or question. For example, a group leader might set a topic, offer information, and keep everyone on topic throughout.
Education can be incredibly valuable. It can help you to understand what your loved one is going through. It can give you insight into what you or a loved one is going through. It can help you to make better choices. And, it can give you the tools to respond to your situation in a way you might want. You won’t always have something to learn but being there also allows you to contribute and to participate.
Sharing is the primary point of attending a self-help meeting like Al-Anon. Here, you contribute with stories, experiences, and questions. You also contribute by listening, by making people feel heard, and by helping people to solve problems when they ask.
The idea is that you get an outlet to share in. That outlet should allow you to find some emotional release. It should also give you guidance, insight, and aid in decision-making. And, it should help you to feel less alone, because living with an addict is extremely common. Millions of Americans do it, and you can go talk to them.
In some cases, Al-Anon will extent to volunteer groups helping to split childcare, transit costs, or similar. It can also involve help moving into shelters, finding new places to stay, getting recommendations to psychiatrists, and similar aid. Not all Al-Anon groups offer this. However, you can get assistance, even if it’s “only” in the form of someone to listen to you and someone to help you get insight into your situation.
Al-Anon meetings are diverse. You should set expectations based on the listed meeting type. In fact, most members can only attend specific types of meetings.
In addition, most meetings are 1-2 hours long. However, almost none have official end times. That means you can discuss things until they are closed.
Group meetings always start with an introduction. This includes reading the introduction of the Al-Anon meeting. A round of introductions or a role call goes around (this is not obligatory). You might be asked or given the option to read from the book. However, you can choose to sit and stay silence if you prefer. From there, what happens in the meeting will depend on what type of meeting you’re attending.
You might also be invited to other meeting formats. These include tradition, literature, slogans, 12-steps, Men’s, Women’s, and Parents. In most cases, these meetings follow the “regular” format but with specific topics or member requirements.
Al-Anon and Alateen are run by Al-Anon Family Groups. Both are almost exactly the same and most are held in the same buildings – sometimes even in the same rooms. The difference is that Alateen is only open to teenagers. If you’re between the ages of 12 and 19, you can join. Otherwise, you’ll have to join the older family group. Alateen sometimes allows younger members. Normally, younger members are asked to attend family sessions or to stay with someone volunteering to babysit during the period.
Alateen is designed to offer teens a safe space – where they can vent, share with their peers, and get help – without parental influence or knowledge. That’s important, especially in circumstances where teens might have good reasons not to trust parents or not to be honest around them. E.g., it could be incredibly hurtful to you.
Eventually, groups like Al-Anon and their sub-groups, Alateen, give you the opportunity to meet with your peers, to share with them, and to learn from each other. They offer support, emotional outlets, and non-judgmental insight. And, that can be very good for your mental health as you navigate a family member having an alcohol use disorder.