It has been well-documented that addiction is a family disease. Alcohol and drug abuse impact not only the user, but family members, friends, co-workers and others who have a relationship with the user.
Since it was founded in 1951 by the wives of two Alcoholics Anonymous members, Al-Anon has offered free and confidential support for anyone affected by an alcoholic or problem drinker. This includes parents, grandparents, spouses, partners, coworkers, and friends.
Alateen, a part of Al-Anon, began in 1957 as a recovery program for young people impacted by a loved one’s alcoholism.
Nar-Anon, a similar self-help group also based on the Twelve Steps, provides support to those affected by someone addicted to drugs. It has meetings in 45 countries, according to the group’s website.
Al-Anon, Alateen and Nar-Anon are based on the Twelve Steps of AA and Narcotics Anonymous. There are no dues and no fees. Rather than relying on mental health professionals, members lead self-help meetings in a spirit of mutual help. The purpose is to share their hope, strength, and experience in dealing with an alcoholic loved one.
Today, more than 26,000 Al-Anon groups exist in 130 countries, and Al-Anon literature is available in more than 40 languages. Al-Anon begins with the principle that alcoholism is a family disease, and those who care most about the alcoholic are affected the most.
Al-Anon literature compares life with an alcoholic to a drama where people develop certain roles. Their behaviors center on the alcoholic and are dominated by:
Obsession: going to great lengths to stop the alcoholic’s drinking, such as searching the house for hidden stashes of liquor, secretly pouring drinks down the drain, or listening continually for the sound of opening beer cans.
Anxiety: worrying constantly about the effects of the alcoholic’s drinking on the children, the bills, and the family’s future.
Anger: feelings of resentment that result from being repeatedly deceived and hurt by the alcoholic.
Denial: ignoring, making excuses for, or actively hiding the facts about the alcoholic’s behavior.
Guilt: family members’ belief that they are somehow to blame for the alcoholic’s behavior.
Insanity: defined in Al-Anon as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
With help from their peers, Al-Anon members learn healthier behavior – detaching, with love. As stated in the Twelve Steps, this happens when family members admit that they did not cause their loved one’s alcoholism; nor can they control or cure it. Sanity returns to family life when members focus on taking care of themselves, changing the things that they can, and letting go of the rest. As a result, alcoholic or addicted family members are no longer shielded from the consequences of their own behavior.
Scientific research on the effects of participation in Al-Anon has been limited. But one study was completed comparing two groups of Al-Anon newcomers who completed surveys when they started attending, and six months later. The study was funded by the Center for Innovation to Implementation, Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System, and Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Ca.
The study concluded that newcomers who sustained participation in Al-Anon over the first six months of attendance were more likely than those who discontinued participation during the same period to report gains in a variety of areas, such as learning how to handle problems due to the drinker, and increased well-being and functioning, including reduced verbal or physical abuse victimization.
Newcomers to Al-Anon reported more personal gains than drinker-related gains. The most frequent drinker-related gain was a better relationship with the Concerned Other; attendees were more likely to report this, as well as daily, in-person contact with the drinker
“Al-Anon participation may facilitate ongoing interaction between Concerned Others and drinkers, and help Concerned Others function and feel better,” the researchers wrote. “Thus, short-term participation may be beneficial. Health-care professionals should consider providing referrals to Al-Anon and monitoring early attendance.”