Al-Anon Family Groups, commonly known simply as Al-Anon, is a confidential program for families and friends of alcoholics. The goal of Al-Anon isn’t to provide interventions or convince a loved one to stop drinking, but an opportunity to get together and share common experiences and much-needed mutual support.
The program is beneficial for friends and family of problem drinkers, even if the alcoholic doesn’t acknowledge the problem or isn’t ready to seek help.
Al-Anon meetings are often formed for particular groups such parents, adult children, men, women or LGBT individuals. Many meeting locations are handicapped-accessible, and some provide babysitters for members with young children.
The Al-Anon fellowship also sponsors Alateen which is a fellowship of young members, primarily teenagers, who have been affected by someone else’s drinking. Like adult meetings, Alateen groups provide confidential support and encouragement while helping young people understand the Twelve-Steps.
Al-Anon is available free of charge to all friends and family of alcoholics. There are no membership dues and the organization is self-supporting through voluntary contributions. However, meetings may be designated as open or closed. In some situations, meetings may be restricted.
Open meetings: Anybody is welcome to attend open meetings, including doctors, counselors and other interested professionals as well as students and people who are simply curious about learning more about the program. It isn’t necessary to have a friend or family member with a drinking problem in order to attend open meetings.
Closed meetings: On the other hand, while closed Al-Anon meetings aren’t actually “closed,” people without an alcoholic loved one are asked not to attend, and the same goes for people who aren’t willing or able to abide by the organization’s confidentiality guidelines. Alateen meetings are open only to teens and children who have been affected by the alcoholism of another person.
Restricted meetings: Some meetings are closely restricted and attendees require special clearance or permission by the facility sponsoring the meeting. Examples of restricted meetings are those held at a juvenile detention center, jail, domestic abuse shelter or group home.
Al-Anon 12 Steps
The Twelve Steps, originally published by Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939, provide a recommended, step-by-step course of action for physical, mental, spiritual and mental recovery from alcoholism. Over the years, the Steps have become the foundation of many Twelve Step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous. South Jersey Information Services notes that Al-Anon’s program is based on an adaptation of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The Twelve Traditions, which are closely affiliated with the Twelve Steps, provide operating guidelines for Twelve-Step groups in matters such as religion, publicity and finances.
History of Al-Anon
Although people with alcoholic family members were meeting as early as 1936, groups weren’t organized and meetings were often held in member homes. According to a history of Al-Anon published on the website of Al-Anon Family Groups in District 5 of Michigan, meetings, primarily attended by wives of alcoholics, were often informal gatherings held in the kitchen while the husbands conducted their Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in another room.
The organization as we know it today was co-founded in the early 1950s by Lois Wilson, wife of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson, along with her neighbor and close friend, Anne B., whose husband was also an active member of AA.
The two women, realizing that friends and family of alcoholics benefit greatly from the emotional support of others, organized the scattered, informal groups into a cohesive whole. When they asked Alcoholics Anonymous for permission to adopt the 12 Steps, the organization agreed, although many AA members believed that Al-Anon should be a separate organization.
Al-Anon initially consisted of 48 groups, but expanded to 200 groups within months. The organization, initially attended primarily by spouses, continued to grow and become more diverse.
Publicity boosted interest considerably as Al-Anon was featured on radio and television programs and in national magazines. Newspaper columnist Ann Landers was a tremendous proponent and her frequent mentions of Al-Anon helped spread the word in the United States and around the world.
Lois W. (Lois Burnham Wilson) continued to be active in the organization. She died in 1988 at age 97.
What Does Al-Anon Stand For?
Al-Anon Family Groups in District 5 of Michigan relates that early organizers polled a number of member groups to determine if they approved of the name “AA Family Group.” Although many alternate suggestions were offered, most members approved of the name. However, Alcoholics Anonymous objected to the use of “AA” in the name because the Sixth Tradition states that the fellowship should never lend its name to any outside organization. As a result, a distinct organization was formed, carrying the abbreviated form of “Al-Anon Family Groups”.
What Happens at Al-Anon Meetings?
Each group is different and members choose how to conduct the meetings. However, Al-Anon provides certain guidelines that must be respected, primarily those pertaining to confidentiality, anonymity, and cohesiveness. Groups are usually relatively small, typically consisting of five to 25 people.
Although meetings are often held in churches, Al-Anon is not a religious organization and is not affiliated with any particular belief system. The purpose of meetings is solely to help individuals cope with the drinking of another person, not to proselytize or discuss religious beliefs.
Everybody is equal at Al-Anon meetings and nobody is asked to offer advice to another person. However, it’s common practice for new members to ask a more experienced person to serve as a mentor, usually known as a sponsor.
Most meetings focus on a particular topic such as one of the Twelve Steps, typically presented by an invited speaker. A discussion generally follows. Participation is encouraged but certainly not required. While comments and questions are welcome, it’s perfectly acceptable to just sit back and listen, especially at first.
Al-Anon organizers recommended attending at least six meetings before making a determination to continue attending.
Al-Anon and Alateen of the Greater Baltimore Area notes that slogans are tools for recovery that often provide a lifeline for members during difficult times. Common Al-Anon slogans, many of which are adopted from Alcoholic Anonymous, include the following:
- Together we can make it
- Keep it simple
- Progress, not perfection
- Let go and let God
- Love, learn and grow
- Let it begin with me
- Keep an open mind
- Just for today
- Principles above personalities
- First things first
- Stop and think
- Easy does it
- Feelings not facts
- Anger is just one letter short of danger
- If in doubt, don’t
- Keep coming back
- Live and let live
- One day at a time
- Quiet the mind, open the heart
- This too shall pass
- Keep the focus on yourself
- Look back without staring
- Detachment, not amputation
According to Al-Anon.Alateen.org, Al-Anon Family Groups has published more than 100 pamphlets and books since the organization was founded. Al-Anon literature is created specifically to help individuals recover from someone else’s drinking. It supplements regular, in-person Al-Anon meetings, and is best used in conjunction with regular attendance.
The Forum is a monthly Al-Anon magazine that offers personal stories of inspiration for friends and family members of problem drinkers. Some of the stories are published on the Al-Anon Family Group’s website, as authorized by Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.
Al-Anon literature is available online or from Al-Anon Literature Distribution Centers. Many books and pamphlets are also published in French and Spanish; some are available in audio form or published in Braille or large print. Although there is usually a nominal charge for books and pamphlets, some reading material is available online for download, free of charge.
If someone you love is struggling with alcoholism or addiction and you need help, or just have questions, please call Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available now.