What is Al-Anon?

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

View from above of diverse people talking and supporting each other in group therapy session

It is obvious that alcoholism directly affects the person struggling with the addiction to alcohol. But it nearly always has a major negative impact on those closest to them as well.

This is most often family members, including children of alcoholics when they are adults, and parents of alcoholics. It can frequently also include friends, co-workers and business partners.

Being connected to an alcoholic, as with any addict, can cause continual worry and stress. It can certainly play a part in anxiety and depression.

But, thankfully, there is help available for anyone who is affected in this way. 

Al-Anon is a worldwide, non-profit organization founded in 1951 that provides a lifeline of support and guidance for people who are affected by someone else’s alcoholism.

Many people around the world find solace in being part of Al-Anon. Many others seek help from therapists. A great number combine Al-Anon and therapy. In fact, nearly three out of four members have professional counseling while also attending Al‐Anon meetings.

What does Al-Anon do?

Al-Anon aims to help family members, friends and colleagues of alcoholics to regain their health and well-being. This is regardless of whether the alcoholic is in recovery or is still drinking.

Al-Anon meetings are held in local communities, for example, a community hall or any suitable room, or online via platforms such as Zoom. These meetings provide a space for people to share their experiences, listen to others, and offer support and encouragement.

They give a safe and non-judgmental environment, where people attending can honestly express their thoughts, emotions, concerns and struggles with each other.

Al-Anon has only one requirement for membership: that the person attending has “been affected by someone else’s drinking.” 

More than 80 percent of Al-Anon members reported improvement in their mental health within the first year of attending meetings.

Sharing and caring

Group of people talking to one another in a group therapy session

Sharing in this way, along with the active listening at meetings, allows members to gain valuable insights and learn methods for coping with the many challenges of living with or having regular contact with an alcoholic. 

The meetings give a sense of unity. Those who attend are likely to get considerable relief to hear that they are not alone in what they are experiencing, thinking and doing.

Even if someone who’s suffered with addiction to alcohol is in recovery, especially if it’s early days, there can still be issues from their patterns of thinking, behavior and their unresolved histories. Many find that as the alcoholic works through the Twelve Steps recovery program though, problems start to ease – and these are sometimes problems that have been lived with for many years.

Al-Anon recognizes that those affected by someone’s alcoholism can become dysfunctional themselves in what they say or do. So Al-Anon members are encouraged to focus on their own self-care, emotional recovery and growth.

To enable this, it is suggested that people at Al-Anon meetings work through an adapted version of the Twelve Steps. This is with the guidance of a sponsor, who is a person from the group who has already gone through the Twelve Steps themselves.

Is there help for children affected by an alcoholic? 

Alateen is closely connected to Al-Anon. It is a part of the Al-Anon Family Groups – a community resource giving support to anyone affected by alcoholism – and operates under the same principles and program as Al-Anon.

But Alateen meetings are specifically for teenagers and other young people who are affected by someone’s drinking and behavior. As with Al-Anon, these meetings give a safe and supportive space for young people to share their experiences.

Alateen groups are typically supported by local Al-Anon groups. They also encourage the young people who attend to work through the Twelve Steps recovery program.

What’s the history of Al-Anon?

Soon after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings started in 1935, relatives and friends of those in recovery from alcoholism started attending AA meetings together with their alcoholic loved one.

These relatives and friends soon realized the advantages of embracing the Twelve Steps, seeing quickly how positively it affected their relationships and overall well-being. Lois Wilson, the wife of AA co-founder Bill W, said: “The AA program is a way of life that can be helpful to the non-alcoholic.

Soon, the non-alcoholic relatives and friends of alcoholics in AA started having their own independent meetings, frequently in each other’s homes. These became known as the “AA Family Groups,” which spread across America and then to other countries.

Then, in May 1951, Lois and Anne B (another wife of an AA member) wrote a letter with the intention of unifying the AA Family Groups that numbered 87 in total at the time. As a result, the name Al‑Anon Family Groups was chosen, and from there Al-Anon was officially born.

This organization started to grow at a much faster pace than expected and developed its own distinct approach. This included creating its own literature and principles.

Striving for spiritual growth

Twelve steps groups for family and friends - Tikvah Lake Recovery

In the book How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics – in the chapter entitled Lois’ Story Lois revealed the key moment that led to Al-Anon and the realization that the Twelve Steps would be a vital help to non-alcoholics too. She wrote: 

One Sunday, Bill asked me if I was ready to go to the meeting with him. To my astonishment as well as his, I burst forth with, ‘Damn your old meetings!’ and threw a shoe as hard as I could. This surprising display of temper over nothing pulled me up short and made me start to analyze my own attitudes. 

By degrees I saw that I had been wallowing in self-pity, that I resented the fact that … I was left alone while he was off somewhere scouting up new drunks or working with old ones. I felt on the outside of a very tight little clique of alcoholics that no mere wife could enter… 

My life’s purpose of sobering up Bill, which made me feel desperately needed, had vanished … I decided to strive for my own spiritual growth.

Twelve Steps for non-alcoholics

The Twelve Steps have been seen to help people gain a clear understanding of their own thinking patterns, feelings, attitudes, and behavior – whether alcoholic or not. By working through the Twelve Steps, Al-Anon members go on their own inner journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth.

This has been proven to enable them to find freedom from the impact of other people on their lives. In many cases, this means a move away from their codependency.

AA co-founder Bill W said of the Twelve Steps: 

Many people, nonalcoholics, report that as a result of the practice of AA’s Twelve Steps, they have been able to meet other difficulties of life … They think that the Twelve Steps can mean more than sobriety for problem drinkers. They see in them a way to happy and effective living for many, alcoholic or not.

Al-Anon today

people hugging smiling man with alcohol addiction during group therapy

Presently, there are more than 24,000 Al-Anon groups and nearly 1,500 Alateen groups that meet in 118 countries. Recognizing the significance of sponsorship, Al-Anon encourages more experienced members to act as mentors for newcomers.

These sponsors share their own stories, experience and wisdom. They will aim to guide new people through the Twelve Steps.

In 2021, an Al-Anon survey revealed that 49 percent of members came to Al-Anon because of a romantic partner’s alcoholism; 14 percent due to a parent’s alcoholism; and 19 percent due to their child’s addiction to alcohol. 

More than two-thirds of Al-Anon members said they had been affected by alcoholism spanning two or more generations. 

Tikvah Lake Recovery Center’s help for anyone affected by alcoholism

Because Al-Anon does not provide professional therapy or treatment for alcohol addiction or those affected by it, three-quarters of Al-Anon members realize the benefits of seeking professional therapy as well.

At Tikvah Lake Recovery Center we offer help for both alcoholics/addicts – including detox management – and those people who are affected by it. We can also offer an introduction to the Twelve Steps.

We do this in our luxury home on the edge of a stunning tranquil lake here in Florida, where we are surrounded by beautiful countryside and blessed with warm sunshine most days of the year.

Our friendly experienced team has successfully treated people with addictions and all types of mental health problems. Call us today to have a chat about how we can help you or someone you care about.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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