Substance use disorder has upended the lives of so many, but only in recent years has it been truly acknowledged as a disease—one that can be fatal if left untreated. As society catches up to the severity of it, and more treatment is being made available, it’s become apparent that there is another population in need of support: loved ones.
Family and friends feel the devastating ripple effects of addiction, often in silence. Just as programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and other peer support groups have helped those with substance use disorder, there are similar networks that are specifically geared toward this group. Today we’ll look closely at Al-Anon and the type of support it provides.
What is Al-Anon?
Addiction does not discriminate. While it may begin with simple curiosity or even by mistake, once it has hooks in a person, they are no longer “driving the car,” so to speak. This is often very difficult for a person without substance use disorder to understand, especially as the consequences begin to pile up and impact those around the addict. While doing their best to navigate the damage that stems from the addiction, these friends and relatives need answers and guidance, too.
Al-Anon is a non-profit organization based in Virginia, but it has chapters around the world. It was founded in 1951 and is based around the 12-Step model Alcoholics Anonymous employs. They self-describe as a “worldwide fellowship that offers a program of recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics, whether or not the alcoholic recognizes the existence of a drinking problem or seeks help.”
Al-Anon conducts meetings that consist of peer support group for friends and relatives of people who are struggling with substance use disorder. Group attendees connect through their common struggles, and discuss their feelings and experiences around it. Their philosophy is based around the idea that substance use disorder is a “family illness,” and that everyone who is affected should have support.
These meetings allow people to process what is happening with their loved one, and the 12 Steps are incorporated to do so. Meetings are divided into ‘chapters’ determined by locality. At a meeting, attendees are invited to share but can simply listen if they so choose.
A few more key takeaways about the meetings:
- Free to the public
- Offer in-person and virtual meetings
Who Can Attend Al-Anon?
Al-Anon meetings are open to anyone who is experiencing addiction in their life. This can be a parent, spouse, sibling, child, friend, colleague, or family member. It is not recommended as a means of intervention, or to find out how to get someone to stop their use. It is simply intended to be a group therapy option in which members can brainstorm coping strategies and ways to manage their own feelings about the situation.
Al-Anon was originally founded by two wives of two Alcoholics Anonymous founders, which is why the guiding principles are notably similar.
Why Would Someone Need Al-Anon?
Having a loved one with a substance use disorder problem can be incredibly taxing mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically. It can hinder a person’s happiness and feeling of safety, lead to emotional disturbances when the person is under the influence, and general upset in their relationship.
Some of the other stresses include:
- Mentally: Can cause stress and anxiety worrying about the person
- Emotionally: Lead to depression or feelings of neglect from the person using
- Physical health: Worrying can lead to difficulty sleeping or eating
Al-Anon aims to help its members gaining knowledge, strength, and emotional maturity through the peer support network. In doing so, attendees can better deal with their loved one’s addiction. They can also learn to set boundaries for themselves that can keep them more protected.
By sharing their experiences with addiction, they can help others who are going through the same thing. Newcomers are often very unaware about substance use disorder and may not even understand why they are so disturbed by their loved ones’ use. They may also learn ways in which they can stop contributing to their loved one’s use, also called ‘enabling.’
Does My Loved One Definitely Have a Problem?
If you are concerned about a loved one and feel they have a problem, the first thing to do is some research. The DSM checklist provides a set of guidelines medical professionals use to determine substance use disorders and mental health diagnoses. While it’s important to remember that Al-Anon is not able to diagnose your loved one or show you ways to get them into treatment, this checklist can help you better assess the situation.
To give you an idea, a few signs of Alcohol Use Disorder include:
- Difficulty controlling amount of alcohol consumed
- Numerous unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop drinking
- Secretive drinking habits and dishonesty around alcohol intake
- Continuing to drink despite consequences
- Financial hardship due to drinking
- Cravings for alcohol and physical illness if it is not consumed (such as needing a drink first thing in the morning)
- Heightened tolerance so more is needed to achieve the same feeling
Even if you aren’t sure whether your loved one has a problem, you can still attend a meeting to find out more information and get some more support for yourself.
If your loved one may have a drug problem, a popular alternative to Al-Anon is Nar-Anon, which functions similarly, but primarily focuses on drug addiction.
Where Can I Find an Al-Anon Meeting?
Al-Anon is a helpful resource for people to vent, share, and discover new coping strategies to deal with the sickness that has been brought into their life from addiction. Just as the person with the substance abuse disorder needs support, so do their loved ones.
If you would like to look into attending an Al-Anon Meeting, check out their website to get exact details and more information.
For more information about Green Mountain Treatment Center and the addiction treatment options we have, please give our Admissions team a call at 855.712.7784. Our team of Specialists is happy to answer any questions you may have, and is available 24/7.