Our founder Gene Duffy consistently used to say that “Duffy’s was a family business for a family problem.” And he’s right: the disease of addiction doesn’t just affect the addict, but all those in contact with him. Addiction can change the lives of everyone—hurting those who are closest to the addict and leaving them bewildered with feelings of guilt, confusion, frustration, despair, and hopelessness.
This is where family support groups, such as Al-Anon, can help.
What is Al-Anon?
According to their website, Al-Anon Family Groups are a supportive network that provide friends and families of problem drinkers with the opportunity to share their experiences to find strength and hope.
However, it can also include friends and family of those who are suspected to be struggling with substance abuse or addiction. In fact, it doesn’t even matter whether the drinker is an alcoholic or not. Instead, the question is: does the drinking trouble you? If so, Al-anon could be helpful to you.
Al-Anon was formed in 1951 by Lois W., the wife of Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Lois realized that addiction had changed her, and that she needed help changing her attitude and expectations as much as her husband.
How can Al-Anon help me?
Changing your reactions
Alcoholism and addiction almost always forces those closest to the alcoholic to act unknowingly in ways that strengthen the grip of his or her addiction.
In their love for the addict, family and friends try to shield the addict from the consequences of the disease, hoping that their caring will make things better. In reality, it only makes things worse.
One of the primary goals of Al-Anon is to teach family and friends how to help in the right way—to be part of the solution and not enable the problem.
Sharing their knowledge
In Al-Anon, you will meet people who will share with you their knowledge and experience of living with and helping those who are addicted. Through Al-Anon, you can learn the truth about the disease of addiction, how to recognize it, and how to deal with if effectively and compassionately.
Listening to your troubles
To put it less elegantly, Al-Anon is a place where you can vent your feelings. What’s unique about Al-Anon, however, is that you are sharing your feelings to people who understand and who may be able to help you overcome them.
Giving hope and encouragement
People who go to Al-Anon make an important discovery: that they are not alone. In Al-anon, you meet people who face the same trials and have learned how to cope with them. Through share experience, knowledge and understanding, Al-Anon can introduce the possibly of recovery for your loved one.
“One of the greatest gifts from the very beginning was that I knew that I wasn’t alone, and that I never have to be alone again as long as there was an Al‑Anon meeting to attend, where people handed out love and hope so freely.” –Jackie L.
Offering a variety of services
There are many branches of Al-Anon that target specific populations. Specialized Al-Anon groups include Alateen for teenagers and Al-Anon’s Adult Children, for adult children of alcoholics. Although they are structured in a similar way as Al-Anon, each group focuses on the particular kinds of experiences and difficulties of its members.
What can I expect at an Al-Anon meeting?
Anonymity is a primary element of the program. By custom and mutual respect, the identities of each person who attend the meetings and the information disclosed during the meetings are kept confidential. Members often use nicknames or only the first name to further guard anonymity. The confidentiality of the group provides an environment where everyone can be open and honest.
Informal and flexible
There is absolutely no pressure to participate. You are not expected to share your life story or express all your feelings on the first visit. In fact, you don’t have to talk at all if you don’t want to—except perhaps to introduce yourself. As Al-Anon states on its website, if you’d rather just listen on your first meeting, you can just say “I pass,” or explain that you’d just want to listen.
Al-anon is a mutual support group. Everyone at the group is an equal, and nobody is in a position to order or give direction, or even advice, to anyone else. As Al-Anon members put it, “While we suggest ideas that we have used to bring about changes in our own lives, we also remind members that they have the choice to accept and reject suggestions, or pick the ones that seem appropriate to their situations.”
Al-Anon is a non-profit organization; there are no charges whatsoever. If voluntary contributions are collected, one dollar is the most prevalent individual donation. However, it is perfectly acceptable to give nothing.
Is Al-Anon a religious program?
No. Like Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve Step programs, Al-Anon is not affiliated with any religious group. Personal religious beliefs—or lack of them—is not the focus of discussion. You are at liberty to understand the “Higher Power” in whatever way you like.
How effective is Al-Anon?
Like Alcoholics Anonymous, the effectiveness of Al-Anon depends on how much you put into it—attending meetings, talking, approaching with an open mind and willing spirit. The 2012 Al-Anon Membership Survey shows that Al-Anon can significantly improve the quality of life for a majority for their members. Al-Anon does not promise specific results, but it does—and can—change lives and restore happiness to individuals and families. So why not give it a try?
How do I find an Al-Anon meeting near me?
Al-Anon groups should be available right in—or nearby—your own community. You can discover groups in your locale is by contacting Al-Anon by calling 1-888-425-2666 (1-999-4AL-ANON) or by searching online through the Al-Anon website.