AA exists to support the millions of people struggling with addiction, offering guidance, help, and ways to share and learn together. But, with an estimated 1 in 10 Americans struggling with substance use addiction in their lifetime, one in five of us will know an addict at any given point in our lives. And, while substance use disorders are traumatic and life-changing for the individuals, they also result in trauma, hurt, and changed lives for everyone around those people.
Al-Anon functions to support those of us with a substance dependent person in our lives. It’s geared towards helping individuals whose loved ones suffering from alcoholism but offers support for most types of substance abuse. If your loved one is struggling, chances are, you are too. Al-Anon is a support group designed to help.
What Is Al Anon?
Al-Anon is a sister-group of Alcoholics Anonymous, a 12-step group designed to help individuals to get and remain sober. The group follows 12-step guidelines, offers support, and mostly functions to offer self-help where users primarily support themselves. This includes:
Education – Individuals can learn about substance use disorders and how they impact others, their behavior, and their actions.
Resources – Some Al-Anon groups offer resources to help you safely deal with and manage your loved one. In case they are abusive, this may extend to getting help moving into shelters or other equivalents, although this is entirely depending on the group, as attendance and staff are voluntary.
Sharing – Individuals can share stories in a nonjudgmental environment, listen to others, and hear advice, similar experiences, and commensuration. Social support from a group of individuals going through similar experiences is one of the most valuable elements of groups like Al-Anon.
No matter what happens at Al-Anon, attendance is voluntary, information is confidential, and you can share safely.
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Most Al-Anon meetings are structured, delivered in a set period, and have a theme or purpose. Some meetings will not have a formal closing time, but most extend for about 1-2 hours. During meetings, members are seated in a circle or around a table, where most people can see each other.
Introduction: The Group Leader reads the introduction from the Al-Anon Manual. Afterwards, individuals are asked to introduce themselves by their first names (this is not obligatory), may be asked to read something from the Manual (also not obligatory), and may be asked to participate in other ways depending on the purpose of the meeting. Nothing is obligatory and you can choose to be silent and sit in if desired.
Types of AL Anon Meetings: Most Al-Anon meetings are structured based on a set of meeting types outlined in the manual. This can allow you to better decide which meetings to attend and why. In every case, your first meetings should be Beginner’s meetings.
- Beginners – These meetings aim to educate and welcome newcomers to the group
- Regular – People speak on a topic set before the meeting starts
- Open – Open meetings are open to guests and a good second choice for beginners who want to know what Al-Anon is about
- Closed – Closed meetings specifically remove anyone who is not a member or hopeful member
- ALATEEN – Groups specifically designed for young members
- AL-Anon Adult & Children – Meetings focus on topics surrounding parenting young children around an alcoholic
- LGBT – Meetings tackle complexities and issues stemming from either members or their loved ones who are LGBTQ and addicted.
- Problem Solving – Meetings identify problems in the community and focus on finding solutions such as fundraising or finding an apartment for a member
- Topic – Meetings focus on a set topic where everyone is asked to stay on topic for the duration
Other meetings including Tradition, Literature, Slogans, Step (12-steps), Men’s, Women’s, and Parent’s offer additional focus options for meetings. Most options will be “regular”, but this does depend heavily on the group, its size, and the size of the surrounding community.
Meeting types allow you to better choose what to attend and why, so you can get and give the right kind of support.
How Does Al Anon Work?
Al-Anon mostly functions to offer individuals an outlet, education, and social support. Most people can look for and receive:
Group Support – Al-Anon focuses on sharing. That might be about a focused topic, on topics chosen by the group, or on general topics brought up by the group during the meeting. Group support allows you to share in a nonjudgmental setting, to talk about problems, to help others with their problems, and to otherwise put yourself in a situation where you feel less alone. What you get out of group support might range from problem-solving to emotional support, but it will help.
Meeting Peers – Living with an addict can make you feel alone and socially isolated. With 17 million alcoholics in the United States, you are anything but. Al Anon helps you get in touch with others who have similar experiences, so you can share, grieve, and talk with people who understand what you are going through. While your experience and the people you meet will change a lot, you can always rely on their being other people with similar experiences.
This also involves listening to others and giving support. You don’t have to contribute or offer help or advice. Just being there often helps. Listening will give you a better idea of what others are going through, what’s normal, and a better idea of how substance abuse affects people and their loved ones.
The other half of this coin is, of course, sharing. You’ll be asked to share your story, share your problems, and to ask for help when you need it. None of this is obligatory, but that is what you are there for.
Learning – Al-Anon gives you the opportunity to learn through a variety of material. Most Al-Anon members are given reading material in the form of books and pamphlets, asked to complete research, and given a basic level of information on substance abuse and how it affects people. You’ll also learn by listening to others, sharing experiences, and working with others to solve problems. Al-Anon is very much about solving problems and moving on, and that requires a significant amount of learning.
Al-Anon is a self-help group, designed to give the family and loved ones of addicts a space for themselves. This also means that each group is intrinsically different, driven by its members and their personalities. In most cases, you should initially sit through at least 6 beginner and open meetings to start, which will give you plenty of time to decide if you like the group, if you are able to or want to contribute, and if you can get anything from the group. In either case, Al-Anon is always available for you or anyone else with a loved one who struggles with alcohol or drug addiction.