Drug and Alcohol

Al-Anon: How This Support Group Addresses the Family Disease of Alcoholism

Al-Anon: How This Support Group Addresses the Family Disease of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a family disease, and Al-Anon helps the friends and family of alcoholics. Read about this leading addiction support groups in our blog.

Alcohol abuse has become one of the biggest threats to public safety at large. Its debilitating consequences have touched every nation in the world. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery help many people build lives free from alcoholism.

But what about the people around them?

Alcoholism is often called a family disease. It’s because alcohol addiction doesn’t just affect the individual – it affects everyone around them. Al-Anon (and Alateen, their support group for teens) offers resources and help to people who are close to someone with a drinking problem.

Alcohol Abuse by the Numbers:

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) published the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). According to the survey, 29.5 million people aged 12 or above had alcohol use disorder (AUD). Among them, 16.6 million are male, while 13.0 million are female.

Underage drinking is also a severe problem in the country since 13.4 million people are aged 12 to 20. Here, 6.4 million people are males, whereas 7 million are females. Non-drinkers may not be aware that alcohol impacts not only the life of the drinker but also the people who are associated with them. Al-Anon is founded on this basis only. 

What Is Al-Anon?

Al-Anon Family Groups is a program based on the thinking that alcoholism affects both the drinker and their loved ones. Both Al-Anon and Alateen are recovery programs. Where Al-Anon programs are designed to support and help family members such as parents, spouses, and siblings, Alateen programs focus on helping teens and people of a younger demographic who may be living with an alcoholic.

Al-Anon is an open program for everyone who has ever been negatively impacted by someone else's alcohol problem. It has a non-religious yet spirituality-based atmosphere where everyone can collectively find support in each other instead of engaging in one-on-one counseling or help.

Despite varied backgrounds and circumstantial differences, everyone finds a familiar ground due to similar emotions and experiences at an Al-Anon meeting. These familiar emotions include sadness, anger, depression, guilt, and confusion because of their loved one's alcoholism.

Others may not realize this, but these everyday emotional experiences forge a strong bond among Al-Anon members. This is why Al-Anon and Alateen were founded in the first place. 

Despite this support, it is vital to note that both programs are not intervention programs. They cannot intervene in an individual's drinking problem. Instead, they focus their energies on recognizing the traumatic effect of alcohol and supporting their individual needs. Al-Anon and Alateen have AA similar models of 12-step facilitation.

Al-Anon and the 12 Steps

The 12-step model helps in the spiritual growth of an individual. A few topics of Al-Anon meetings can include:

  • Acceptance

  • Alcoholism as a disease

  • Coping with anger

  • Making choices

  • Dealing with crises

  • Gaining courage

  • Detachment

  • Enabling

  • Honesty

  • Denial issues

  • Changing attitudes

  • The importance of forgiveness

  • Dealing with feelings of emptiness

  • Self-esteem

  • Self-care

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The History & Origin of Al-Anon

The Al-Anon Family Group was founded in 1951 by Anne B. and Lois Wilson. It is an international mutual aid organization whose foundation was laid as early as 1939 when many alcoholics started attending AA meetings with their family members. One of the founders of Al-Anon, Lois Wilson, was the wife of AA co-founder Bill Wilson.

Al-Anon, the name, is derived from the initial syllables of Alcoholics Anonymous: “al” and “anon.” When the family members of alcohol-afflicted people started attending meetings, they engaged with the Twelve Steps model adopted by the AA. They started benefiting from it and incorporating its core components into their household and daily life. 

After some time, such families came together to start their own meetings. These independent groups grew in numbers, and by 1948, they went to the AA General Service Office to be enlisted in the member directory. Unfortunately, they were denied inclusion. Lois W. and Anne B. stepped up to help and support them, and they decided to find their own committee. The primary purpose of this committee was to coordinate and service such independent meetings and groups. Finally, in 1951, Al-Anon was established officially.  

With as many as 56 member groups, Al-Anon was established across the country. Since it was based on the 12-step principle of AA, the name originated from there too. The 12-step is now the modified 12 traditions in the Al-Anon meetings,

Al-Anon: The History of Alateen

Alateen started a few years later, in 1957, for younger people within the 12 to 19 age dynamic. Alateen functions differently. Even then, they are facilitated by a sponsor in the shape of an Al-Anon adult member. 

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Al-Anon & the 12 Steps

Since Al-Anon and Alateen work on the same 12 Steps system established by AA, they are almost identical.

The primary principle of the 12-step model is to seek healing when they surrender to a power higher than them. However, not everyone is comfortable with these recovery programs' spiritual components and ethos.

For them, there are several different alternative programs. People who do not believe in a higher power also get a chance to heal and help each other. This helps those who struggle hard with the recovery programs' religious, spiritual, and even male-centric elements. 

The twelve steps of Al-Anon and Alateen are as follows:

  1. The first step is to admit that one is powerless against alcohol and their life has become unmanageable. This step is meant to admit that their life is in the grip of alcohol. 

  2. The second is to believe that there is a power greater than oneself who restores their sanity.

  3. The third step is to decide to turn one's will and life over to God's care in whatever capacity. This step is a ray of hope and shoulder responsibilities with the higher power to gain rest. 

  4. The fourth is for taking a fearless moral inventory of oneself.

  5. The fifth step is to admit the precise nature of the wrongdoings done by you in front of yourself, God, and others. This step is about admitting responsibility to the alcoholic and those who enabled them. This step is vital to move forward. 

  6. The sixth is to believe that God will be able to remove the defects from your character. 

  7. Asking God to remove those defects from your humbly. This seventh step is to surrender to the power higher than everyone else. 

  8. List all those people one has harmed and is willing to make amends.

  9. The ninth step is to actively make amends, except when doing the amends would cause them harm. 

  10. Continue to take a fearless inventory of yourself and admit when you are wrong.  

  11. Seeking to make a strong bond with God with the help of prayers and meditation. Pray for the power and knowledge to carry out God's will. 

  12. Once you've enlightened yourself, you must share this knowledge with others and follow these principles daily. 

The slight change from AA's 12-step principle comes in the last step, where AA uses the word 'alcoholics' instead of 'others.' 

What Happens at Al-Anon Meetings?

Al-Anon is an open recovery program where there are no set rules. The members share and say whatever they like while respecting others. No one judges them on whatever they share at the meeting. The atmosphere is confidential, positive, and supportive. This sense of mutual understanding, support, and solidarity makes Al-Anon meetings powerful. Another crucial point of Al-Anon meetings is that since they are mutual support groups, they do not discriminate and give special status to people. 

The nature of these meetings should not be considered therapy. No one in these meetings is qualified to advise anyone about addiction. You are free to share your experience as it helps you and others.

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How Long Are Al-Anon Meetings?

Most Al-Anon meetings last about an hour and are held once a week. If you want to attend them every day, many separate groups are nearby. The members do not pay any membership fees. Still, they can purchase literature material in meetings that are of an optional nature. 

AA Vs. Al-Anon: Similarities & Differences

The biggest difference between Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon is that AA is for people with alcohol issues, and Al-Anon is for friends and family members impacted by their addiction. Another slight difference is that AA has a slightly more religious tone and affiliation than Al-Anon. Even though they follow the 12-step approach, there is slight modification there too. The meetings of both groups are never combined and are kept separate only. Just like differences, there are a few similarities between the two.

First, they both have a group-based model instead of one-on-one meetings. Secondly, there is a possibility that a member of AA can have a family member in the Al-Anon meeting. Lastly, the nature of the meetings is similar and has discussion topics or prompts. 

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Benefits Associated With Al-Anon

There are many benefits of attending Al-Anon meetings, and some of them are:

  • Al-Anon helps people who have loved ones with AUD and suffering from self-esteem issues, guilt, and pity.

  • Alateen has a specific demographic that addresses the concerns and stress of that particular age. 

  • The purpose of Al-Anon is to move on and stop blaming themselves for their loved one's condition.

  • The siblings of alcoholics can understand that they have no part in their condition if their mother or father also had this issue.

Al-Anon: Long-Term Alcohol Treatment

Alcohol Use Disorder is a chronic condition that negatively affects not only the health but the overall life of the drinker. So, it is vital to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Thankfully, there are numerous treatments available for long-term recovery. Most treatment centers will include the following combination of treatments.

Behavioral Therapy

The main purpose of behavioral therapies and counseling sessions is to identify negative behavioral patterns and focus on altering them. Talk therapies are wonderful for addressing such issues. Some standard behavioral therapies are 12-step programs, contingency management, and cognitive behavioral therapy.


Medication has a vital role to play in the recovery of an AUD-afflicted individual. Several US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications like naltrexone and acamprosate to treat AUD. Other medications like topiramate and gabapentin are also given to lower the intensity of cravings. A few years earlier, disulfiram was given to reduce the obsessive thinking around alcohol. 

Support Groups

This is another component critical in improving a person's mental condition. Such groups include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which motivates a person to stay sober. Other support groups include the Buddhist principles-focused group Recovery Dharma and the Christian principles-focused group Celebrate! Recovery and the non-spiritual group Rational Recovery. 

These are some common treatment types combined to relieve the patients but are not fixed. The treatment of any AUD patient is determined by their individual condition, intensity of addiction, and stage of recovery. Some may require inpatient rehabilitation, while others can do outpatient treatment.  

Al-Anon: Why Is Getting Treated for Alcoholism So Important?

Alcohol addiction and abuse are problems often overlooked by people. Since alcohol has become a part of our culture, many people have accepted its negative consequences. A large population is alcohol-dependent and is at high risk of abusing drugs and other dangerous substances. Many drugs, including prescription medications, are potentially lethal when combined with alcohol.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction disorder. In that case, you must seek medical attention. This should happen as quickly as possible.

Like Al-Anon, The Edge Treatment Center Knows Alcoholism Is a Family Disease

The Edge Treatment Center is a leading drug rehab facility. Family-owned, we have a deep understanding of both addiction and the recovery process. Many of our clients’ families are involved with Al-Anon programs.

Guided by a trauma-informed philosophy, our drug rehab is a serene, welcoming, and non-judgmental facility where the complex roots of addiction can be safely explored and treated. We also highly value family input and welcome their participation in our programs.

You’re not alone, and you don’t have to recover from alcohol abuse on your own. At The Edge, we’ll help you through the entire process safely and comfortably. To learn more about our effective, evidence-based alcohol treatment programs, reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

August 9, 2023