What is Al-Anon?
In 1951, 16 years after her spouse founded the widely known Alcoholics Anonymous program (AA), Lois Wilson founded Al-Anon: an organization centered on helping the loved ones of alcoholics. Wilson realized through personal experience that supporting someone suffering from alcohol addiction is difficult in its own way, and families go through the struggles of addiction together.
It can be extremely isolating watching someone go through alcohol addiction without knowing if or how you can help. Oftentimes, the family or friends of addicts feel overburdened to “cure” their loved one—this is not reasonable as it is impossible to fully “cure” alcohol addiction, nor should it be their sole responsibility to do so.
However, it is difficult to separate themselves from the guilt as it often feels as though there is nothing they can do to help. Because of this, Wilson founded Al-Anon to make sure those individuals knew they were not alone and that their concerns were valid.
How Does Al-Anon Work?
Al-Anon meetings are similar to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, except they are for the loved ones of alcoholics and not the alcoholics themselves. The most important aspect of Al-Anon is that, according to its name, meetings are anonymous. Anonymity relieves each individual of the pressure they may feel when speaking about their family or friend’s issues with alcohol to someone they know.
Meetings are attended by those with a common ground—everyone has been affected by alcoholism in some way, whether it be personally or through a loved one. The mutual experience allows for the conversations to be personable and relatable for everyone in attendance. While no one is required to speak to their experience, it is encouraged. Additionally, there are multiple types of meetings so there is always an opportunity to find the group that works best for you.
Al-Anon is inclusive of individuals from many different backgrounds, offering meetings in-person, online, by phone call and in several different languages. Meetings include topics such as “Growing up in an Alcoholic Home,” “Hope in Two Languages,” Cyberserentiy,” and various others pertaining to specific affinity groups. Meeting times, locations and themes can be found on the Al-Anon website, all of which are free and donation based.
Alateen is the Al-Anon branch specifically meant for young adults and teenagers suffering the consequences of growing up in the presence of alcoholism. In these instances, the role of “caretaker” can all too often fall on the teenager rather than the adult, and this reversal can lead to lack of trust and doubt within the family. Teenagers are still learning about themselves and the world around them which is difficult on its own, but without parental figures it can also be isolating and scary.
Alateen works similarly to normal Al-Anon meetings except for the fact that it is tailored to a younger audience. Alateen meetings reassure attendees that they are not at fault for their parents drinking habits and that alcoholism is an uncontrollable disease—they are not the reason their parent may seem out of line or hostile, it is just the effects of the substance abuse disorder running its route on their parent’s brain.
Like Al-Anon meetings, Alateen meetings bring together teens who have had similar experiences to a forum where they can share their concerns and receive encouragement from their peers. Information about locating Alateen meetings or starting an Alateen group can be found on the Al-Anon website.