Alcoholism doesn’t just affect the alcoholic. It can impact spouses, partners, children, other family members, and friends. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is there to help alcoholics stop drinking, but there are other fellowships to help those with a loved one who is an alcoholic. These groups welcome members whether their loved ones are actively drinking or not.
Al-Anon is for family members of alcoholics and Alateen is specifically for teenagers, usually ages 13 to 19, with alcoholic parents. While AA and Al-Anon/Alateen are separate groups, they work together for the good of the entire family. According to Al-Anon literature, members help each other by practicing the 12 Steps (see related story “Twelve Steps at the Heart of Recovery”), by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics, and by offering understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic.
These groups focus on problems common to family members and friends of alcoholics, rather than the problems of the alcoholic. Family members often face issues such as loyalty to those who are abusive, excessive care-taking, and the inability to differentiate love and pity.
Just like AA, Al-Anon has group meetings where those affected by alcoholism can meet, learn coping skills, share stories, and get support to make their own lives better. Members learn about addiction and alcoholism and how to change the way they deal with situations presented by the alcoholic in their life. Like AA, Al-Anon has rules for how members behave at meetings and protect the anonymity of group members outside meetings. For instance, at meetings, members do not give direction or advice to other members, according to the Al-Anon website. Instead, they speak about how their own lives are impacted by an alcoholic and invite other members to determine for themselves what lessons they might apply to their own lives.
Mental health professionals increasingly look at alcoholism and other addictions as diseases that are enabled by family systems (Crnkovic AE and DelCampo RL, Contemp Fam Ther 1998;20(1):25–36). According to the Al-Anon website, some research shows that when problem drinkers enter a recovery program, their chances for success are improved when they have support from family members who are in a family recovery program such as Al-Anon.
Clinicians and clients can find more information about Al-Anon and Alateen at www.al-anon.alateen.org. To get in touch with the organization, they can check their local phone book for a local intergroup office or call 888–425–2666. There are other fellowship groups that support family members and friends. Nar-Anon is a support group for family members and friends of people with a problem with drugs or addiction. Another fellowship group, CoDependents Anonymous, addresses compulsions related to relationships, referred to as codependency (www.coda.org). Codependency is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by someone who is affected with a pathological condition, such as an addiction to alcohol or heroin.