Al-Anon: What Is It and Who Is It For?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) does not just affect the person with this condition—it affects those around them as well, such as friends and family members. If you have struggled with a friend or relation who misuses alcohol, Alcoholics Anonymous Family Groups (Al-Anon) is intended for you. Many loved ones seek help through Al-Anon, a mutual support group for those whose lives have been affected by the alcohol use of another.1 Al-Anon can help you, even if your loved one with alcohol use disorder does not seek help.2

In this article:

Who Can Attend Al-Anon Meetings?

Friends, family members, and anyone else concerned about the alcohol misuse of another person can attend and benefit from Al-Anon principles. Some realize their current behaviors or reactions are not improving the alcohol misuse of their loved one and only heighten existing tensions. Those who want a better solution can benefit from the group.3

Al-Anon is an excellent place for anyone looking to meet others who understand what it is like to love someone with an alcohol use disorder. While the group is open to all friends and family, it is not always appropriate for a person with an AUD to attend.3

Can I Attend Both AA and Al-Anon Meetings?

Both Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) feature similar approaches and steps on the continuum of care but their perspectives are different. While AA is intended for those with alcohol use disorder, Al-Anon addresses the needs of those who are affected by the person with AUD. If you are closely related to or friends with someone who misuses alcohol and their use has impacted you negatively, Al-Anon is meant to help you.3

Attending both AA and Al-Anon would be redundant and ill-advised for most persons with an AUD. However, if you struggle with AUD and your life has been affected negatively by the alcohol use of someone else—say, a parent or sibling—Al-Anon may be appropriate for you as well. Remember that your membership in AA is discrete and you should not mention it in Al-Anon meetings. In AA, you participate as someone with AUD; in Al-Anon, you contribute as someone affected by another person with AUD.3

While many people attending Al-Anon do not misuse alcohol and may not drink at all, persons without an AUD should not participate in Alcoholics Anonymous.3

Can I Attend Al-Anon Meetings with a Family Member?

If you and your family are trying to heal from the effects of another’s alcohol use disorder, seeking help from professionals is one of the most significant steps to take. Families have many options, including relationship counseling, group therapy, and family therapy. But if you want to attend Al-Anon with a family member, an open group may be your solution.

Open vs. Closed Groups

Most groups under the Alcoholics Anonymous umbrella operate on an open and closed group system. Open groups allow anyone with interest in the program to attend a meeting. Most open meetings are general and often have an educational goal.4 For example, guest speakers or alumni may offer information on Al-Anon principles to help the public understand alcohol and its risks.

Closed Al-Anon meetings are available only to members of the group. Participants may share personal information in closed meetings, and confidentiality is prioritized.

Attending open Al-Anon meetings with a family member is beneficial for healing the whole family. However, attending closed meetings or meeting with the same therapist presents many challenges and is not advised.3

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What Does Al-Anon Teach?

Al-Anon steps are like those of AA. However, you will apply these steps through the lens of a relative, friend, or other acquaintance who does not have AUD. As one such person, you follow these steps:5

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives have become unmanageable.

Until now, you and your loved one with an alcohol use disorder have been trying to overcome a disease using your methods. So far, you have been unsuccessful. Step 1 means you are ready to be honest and admit that alcohol controls your lives.

  1. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step 2 is about believing in something greater than yourself that can guide you and your loved one to a better life free from the grips of alcohol. Step 2 is your spiritual foundation.

  1. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.

Step 3 is practicing Step 2—learning to hand over your burdens to your higher power and allowing Him to guide you through the recovery process. Step 3 helps you give up trying to control and heal those diagnosed with AUD.

  1. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step 4 helps you analyze why your situation is the way it is, how you contributed to the problem, and the strengths you can use to overcome it.

  1. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

After your self-discovery work in Step 4, you likely will have a list of secrets you would rather keep hidden. However, doing so will prevent you from obtaining freedom from the effects of external alcohol misuse. Step 5 releases those secrets to someone you trust, preferably a sponsor or fellow  member.

  1. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Step 6 is about accepting yourself and your family, including flaws and mistakes, and then asking your higher power to remove them and believing that you deserve it.

  1. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

After Step 6, it is time to ask your higher power to remove the flaws and help you replace them with spiritual traits.

  1. Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 8 teaches you Al-Anon principles of accountability and how to take responsibility for your actions—something most people avoid on their own when dealing with the alcohol misuse of others. Step 8 teaches forgiveness, courage, honesty, and humility.

  1. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step 9 is the process of making things right. If you owe someone an apology, even if it stems from decades-old actions, give the apology. Get rid of the burden to gain emotional freedom.

  1. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Step 10 can be done daily to prevent a buildup of wrongs, which could lead to a setback in the healing of the person with AUD. It helps you become mindful of your needs. You quickly discern what works for you and eliminate what does not work.

  1. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Step 11 involves building your relationship with your higher power through meditation, prayer, and other sources.

  1. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Step 12 involves paying it forward by sharing your story, the Al-Anon principles, and how they positively affected your life.

What Happens at Al-Anon Meetings?

Al-Anon meetings usually are formatted according to a universally styled agenda. While the contents vary across groups, the meeting structures are the same. Below are examples of what happens at such meetings:6

  • Opening led by the meeting leader
  • Introductions from all present
  • Welcome message and preamble
  • Reading of the 12 steps
  • Reading of the 12 traditions
  • Main program or activity (sharing experiences, guest speakers, topic discussions)
  • Closing remarks

These meetings are entirely voluntary; there is no requirement to attend and they are free to anyone with a loved one with an alcohol use disorder. Meetings typically do not last longer than a couple of hours. You are not required to speak at a meeting. Sometimes observations can be more helpful.

Maintaining anonymity is crucial to maintaining the integrity of Al-Anon. Your focus must only be on your recovery.6 Even if you know everyone else in the group, it is not okay to repeat what they have said or even note they were in attendance outside the group.

What is Alateen?

Everyone in your family, perhaps especially adolescents, is affected by a member with an alcohol use disorder. Teenagers have specific emotional, physical, and psychological needs, and so require a group to meet those needs.

Alateen addresses their requirements by providing teens a space to learn skills and receive support from peers. Alateen is based on the Al-Anon principles and Al-Anon steps to aid in recovery.7, 8

How Can I Find Al-Anon Meetings Near Me?

You can attend Al-Anon meetings virtually and in person. An internet search for “Al-Anon meetings near me” may be sufficient to discover them. However, you also can contact your local chamber of commerce, hospital, physician, and library for a community schedule. Some local newspapers list dates and times for Al-Anon meetings. Because all meetings must be registered in the AA database, you can call the main call line for information.9

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How Does Al-Anon Fit into Addiction Treatment?

Treatment for substance use disorders must work to fix the whole person. Integrated treatment often is the choice of treatment professionals. Integrated treatment includes components, such as the following:10

  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Psychotherapies
  • Family therapy
  • Recovery support in the community
  • Holistic and alternative therapies
  • Nutritional and fitness therapy
  • Aftercare planning

Al-Anon complements each of these therapies. You do not have to complete all the treatments listed, but you may benefit from having access to them. Work with an individual therapist to choose therapies that best support the Al-Anon principles and Al-Anon steps that further your progress and growth in recovery.

If you need help locating a therapist or treatment center, call 800-839-1686Who Answers?. We can connect you directly to the right service provider at any time.

Resources

  1. Timko, C., Cronkite, R., Kaskutas, L. A., Laudet, A., Roth, J., & Moos, R. H. (2013). Al-Anon Family Groups: Newcomers and Members. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 74(6), 965-976.
  2. O’Farrell T. J., & Fals-Stewart, W. (2003). Alcohol abuse. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 29(1), 121-46.
  3. Al-Anon Family Groups. (2016). Al-Anon Guidelines: The Shared Experience of Al-Anon and Alateen Members.
  4. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2022). What to Expect at an AA Meeting.
  5. Al-Anon Family Groups. (2021). The Twelve Steps.
  6. Al-Anon Family Groups. (2014). Al-Anon Guidelines: A Meeting on Wheels.
  7. National Resource Directory. (2022). Al-Anon and Alateen.
  8. Al-Anon Family Groups. (2022). Teen Corner.
  9. Al-Anon Family Groups. (2022). Getting In Touch with Al-Anon/Alateen.
  10. Yule, A. M., & Kelly, J. F. (2019). Integrating Treatment for Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 40(1), arcr.v40.1.07.

Where do calls go?

Calls to numbers on a specific treatment center listing will be routed to that treatment center. Additional calls will also be forwarded and returned by a quality treatment center within the USA.

Calls to any general helpline (non-facility specific 1-8XX numbers) for your visit will be answered by Boca Recovery Center, Daylight Recovery Center or another licensed drug and alcohol rehab facility, a paid advertiser on AlcoholicsAnonymous.com.

All calls are private and confidential.

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