Last Updated on March 20, 2023 by Dr. Alberto Solà

When it comes to addiction and addiction recovery these days, the focus seems to be on opioids and opioid abuse disorders. This is not surprising.  The opioid epidemic is immense and has taken many lives; it continues to do so as it grows, and therefore it is fitting that the abuse of this particular class of drugs is getting the most attention.

However, there are still many people in our country who are suffering from substance abuse disorders that have nothing at all to do with opioids. Their families, friends, and loved ones are suffering right along with them.  One of the most prevalent addictions today, besides the addiction to opioids, continues to be alcoholism.

Alcoholism in the USA Today

Although it has been in many ways eclipsed by pharmaceutical addiction, alcoholism is still very real and is widespread. Alcohol continues to be legal and widely available in our country and because it is socially acceptable, substance abuse disorders related to alcohol are often overlooked or underestimated.

It’s a much bigger issue than many people think. According to one study by JAMA Psychiatry that was published in the Washington Post in 2017, it’s possible that as many as one in every eight adult Americans abuses alcohol to the point where he or she could be considered an alcoholic. Some of these people recognize that they have a problem and seek help and subsequently begin walking the path of recovery. Unfortunately, many others do not.

Support for People Who Love People with Alcohol Use Disorders

In the meantime, the people who love these people suffer right along with them. Although friends and family members may beg them to seek treatment, in the end, it is up to the individual whether or not to do so.

While the afflicted individual makes his or her decision, however, there is support out there for that person’s loved ones. Al-Anon Family Groups have been around since 1951, and exist nationwide. They exist to support the people who love people with alcohol use disorders, and their programs and systems have been helpful to many thousands over the past almost seven decades.

History of Al-Anon Family Groups

Many people confuse Al-Anon with Alcoholics Anonymous because of their names being similar. There is reason for that; Al-Anon was founded by a woman known as Lois W. Lois W. is the wife of Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are other similarities as well, but it’s their differences that are most important. Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group for people who personally experience alcohol use disorder. Al-Anon is for the friends and families of individuals with the disorder.

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935, and sixteen years later, in 1951, Lois W. and her friend Anne B. began this similar but independent group. As the wife of an alcoholic, Lois W. knew that spouses, friends, family members, children, and other loved ones of alcoholics needed support, too.

In time, a need for a specific organization to help children and young people affected by others’ alcohol abuse became clear. In 1957, a young man named Bob and five other youths met for the first Alateen meeting. This organization is also still very active today nationwide, and it is a subgroup of the larger Al-Anon Family groups.

Another similarity between Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon Family Groups is the adaptation of the famous Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps for the second group. At the beginning of Al-Anon group meetings, these steps are often read; Al-Anon adopted them word for word, except where the word “alcoholics” is used, they use the word “others.”

Al-Anon Program

As in Alcoholics Anonymous, participants in Al-Anon and Alateen meet in support groups on a regular basis and gain strength from these sessions. Through these groups, they are able to discuss their challenges and to discover ways to overcome them. They experience the understanding and camaraderie that comes from connecting with others going through similar things.

Al-Anon and Alateen meeting attendees are reminded that their loved one’s drinking is not their fault, and helps them to build self-esteem. It teaches them strategies to help their loved one to succeed while taking care of themselves at the same time.

These groups are available locally nationwide; in most communities, there are meetings on several or all of the days of the week. For people who do not live near a city or town, there are online meetings as well.  In all cases, participation is anonymous and confidential.

Successes of Al-Anon

Al-Anon Family Groups’ World Service Office has conducted a membership survey every three years since 1984. The most recent study, completed in 2018, is it’s twelfth. This study is very comprehensive and includes a vast amount of information about the people who participate in Al-Anon and Alateen and the benefits they feel they have received from being a part of it.

Outside studies seem to indicate successes as well. According to one, when an alcoholic’s spouse is active in Al-Anon and the person suffering from substance use disorder is active in AA, the person struggling is more likely to stay abstinent, and the marital happiness and parenting in the home are both likely to improve.

Try Al-Anon or Alateen

Al-Anon and Alateen have been offering support for friends, families, and other loved ones of people suffering from alcohol use disorder for almost three-quarters of a century. In that time, they have provided friendship and relief to thousands of people, and have helped teach those people constructive ways to provide support or understanding for people suffering from alcohol dependence.

If you know someone who is affected by the alcohol use of another, encourage them to check out Al-Anon or Alateen. If you are someone who is in recovery for alcohol yourself, you may want to let your own loved ones know about this organization.  When someone is suffering from alcohol use disorder, everyone around them suffers too.  Al-Anon and Alateen can help make that suffering more bearable.  Contact Al-Anon today to find out more about what they provide in your area.

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