How Can I Help My Spouse Understand AA?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a worldwide peer-led support group that can provide you with motivation to maintain abstinence from, the opportunity to improve recovery skills, and support to reduce cravings and impulsive behaviors.1 Support and understanding from your spouse or partner can be a key part of your recovery. Open AA meetings, the sister group Al-Anon, and other tools can help your significant other understand the role of AA in your recovery journey.

In this article:

Why Is Support From a Significant Other Important?

The level of support you receive can impact your recovery and your relationships. Studies suggest that those close to you, such as your significant other, have the most influence in long-term recovery and that there is a correlation between family dynamics and abstinence from alcohol.2

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Understanding AA helps you and your partner or spouse improve the dynamics of your relationship. For example, AA can facilitate setting healthy boundaries, learning effective communication as a couple, and improving how you regulate emotions and handle distress in discussions or even arguments.3

How Can My Spouse Get Involved in AA?

You may decide to attend some AA meetings with your significant other. AA meetings that are designated as “open” allow anyone to attend, including spouses, significant others, domestic partners, and other family members affected by an alcohol use disorder or who want to learn more information. The goal of open meetings is to further attendees’ understanding of Alcoholics Anonymous.4

At the meeting, your significant other can expect an opening with a moment of silence and the Serenity Prayer, followed by introductions, readings, and sharing of stories. Your partner discovers how AA meeting attendance gives you a higher chance of recovery success. They can learn how working the 12 Steps and attending meetings helps you maintain abstinence from alcohol. They can also get information on other types of support.4

Your significant other can also attend Alcoholics Anonymous Family Groups (Al-Anon). Al-Anon is a group for family and friends of a person with alcohol use disorder. You would not attend Al-Anon with your spouse or partner.

Al-Anon is a place where your loved one can learn to:5

  • Improve their personal health and well-being
  • Increase their self-esteem
  • Improve their attitude toward recovery and the future
  • Improve coping skills
  • Decrease mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety
  • Decrease negative emotions like guilt, shame, and stress
  • Improve satisfaction in life

Your significant other can attend both AA and Al-Anon meetings to learn more about the principles of AA, learn how they can support you, learn how to process their own complex emotions, and empower you to progress in your relationship as a couple.

How Can My Spouse Be Involved Outside of AA Meetings?

AA has published many pieces of literature and offers many activities outside of meetings to provide educational information and to allow for many different kinds of participation.

AA Literature

One valuable resource for AA information is The Big Book. The “Big Book” is a nickname for Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism.6

Knowing the history of AA and reading success stories can be motivating for both you and your partner. You want to be part of the growing group of people who have overcome an alcohol use disorder. Your partner can hear how other family members have helped aid in recovery. They can learn from the life of the founder of AA, known as Bill W., and how it affected his marriage.7

The Big Book addresses everyone who is affected by drinking. It helps the whole family participate in the recovery. It is an example of how sharing recovery experiences encourages others. It also discusses the importance of a higher power and gives guidelines to help you maintain abstinence for the rest of your life.7

Other resources that provide insight into AA, its history, and its effect on the lives of many in recovery include:7

  • Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions explain the principles of AA and how group unity contributes to success
  • Daily Reflections, written by members of AA, are used for inspiration and encouragement
  • Came to Believe, a book of stories, provides members perspectives of spiritual awakening

AA Activities

While available activities vary by region, many branches of AA hold open and public activities regularly, such as annual fundraisers and monthly get-to-know-you events. Include your loved one in activities, such as:8

  • Providing service to others through organized community volunteering efforts
  • Seeking and participating in AA-specific community-based activities
  • Attending AA conferences
  • Volunteering at AA events, such as fundraisers

Which Treatment Services Can Help My Spouse Understand Recovery?

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, especially step meetings, are often used as complementary or supplemental elements of alcohol addiction treatment.

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Non-AA services can be used both to enhance your AA involvement and to help your significant other better understand your recovery journey more broadly.

Couple’s Counseling

If you decide to see a couple’s counselor, you may choose to meet with a clinician who incorporates 12-step principles and has experience with AA is beneficial. They can create a treatment plan for you and your partner that increases their knowledge of AA and is informed by your involvement with AA.

A counselor may help you choose other relevant 12-step fellowships to attend. There are many 12-step fellowships modeled on the 12 Steps of AA. Examples are groups that focus on:

  • Codependency
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Gambling
  • Mental illness, such as Depressed Anonymous
  • Spirituality
  • Co-occurring conditions

A counselor can help heal your whole relationship, not just issues directly related to alcohol use.9

Recovery Education Groups

Recovery education groups cover a variety of addiction-related topics and can be intended for a range of audiences. Education groups may cover: 13

Groups often have experts that provide lectures, hold group discussions, and participate in exercises that increase participants’ understanding of recovery.

Individual counseling

A substance use counselor can provide individual counseling to your partner, helping them identify relationship patterns that may need to change to support your recovery and repair the relationship.

A specializing counselor can help your significant other understand:13

  • What to expect during various recovery stages
  • Identifying relationship strengths and how to build on them
  • The importance and practice of self-care, so they are healthy physically and psychologically while supporting your recovery

Couples’ Recovery Retreats

At a couples’ recovery retreat, you and your partner can spend a weekend learning to rebuild your relationship now that you are in recovery. You can learn to improve communication, trust, forgiveness, and many other essential factors that support your recovery. You will also learn how to have fun again.13

SMART recovery tools

SMART stands for self-management and recovery training. It’s a program to help people in recovery, but it also has a supplemental program to help significant others. SMART Recovery is an online program offering your partner access to family and friend groups, reading materials, and podcasts that help them understand and support your recovery.14

Your significant other can start learning more about recovery and the importance of AA today, and you can help. Direct them to the right resources, walk with them in their journey so they can walk with you in your journey.

For information on getting treatment for an alcohol use disorder for you or a loved one, call us today at 800-839-1686Who Answers?.

Resources

  1. Kelly, J. F., Humphreys, K., & Ferri, M. (2020). Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol use disorder. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 3(3),
  2. McCrady, B. S., & Flanagan, J. C. (2021). The role of the family in alcohol use disorder recovery for adults. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 41(1).
  3. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2003). Alcohol Problems in Intimate Relationships: Identification and Intervention. A Guide for Marriage and Family Therapists.
  4. Krentzman, A. R., Robinson, E. A., Moore, B. C., Kelly, J. F., Laudet, A. B., White, W. L., Zemore, S. E., Kurtz, E., & Strobbe, S. (2010). How Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) work: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 29(1), 75–84.
  5. Timko, C., Laudet, A., & Moos, R. H. (2016). Al-Anon newcomers: benefits of continuing attendance for six months. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 42(4), 441–449.
  6. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous.
  7. Gross, M. (2010). Alcoholics Anonymous: Still Sober After 75 years. American Journal of Public Health, 100(12), 2361–2363.
  8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. US Department of Health and Human Services.
  9. Chanin, A. (2000). Twelve-step programs as an adjunct to psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. Primary care companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2(4), 130–133.
  10. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Outpatient Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 47. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).
  11. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Caretaker Support Resources. NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator.

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