Support groups are critical to individuals recovering from an addiction. But, addicts aren’t the only ones who need guidance and support. Families, too, need people to share things within a supportive, non-judgmental environment. That’s why support groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon were created; to help the family members of problem drinkers and drug addicts come together to help one another.
The groups that are available include :
- Al-Anon – For families of alcoholics.
- Nar-Anon – For families of addicts.
- Coda – For co-dependent individuals.
- Gam-Anon – For families of gamblers.
- Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) – For adult children of alcoholics and addicts.
- Alateen – For teenagers of alcoholics.
These groups follow a similar format but are specific to the issue at hand. This allows members to form a close-knit group and be truly supportive and understanding of each other’s struggles. Anyone who is interested in the addict’s welfare is welcome to join the group, which generally includes family members, close friends, co-workers or neighbors.
What Happens at the Meetings?
During the meetings, friends and family members share their experiences and listen to the experiences of others. Not only does this help clear the mind, but also it reminds people that they are not alone. Addiction is something that many families hide out of shame or embarrassment, but the truth is that addiction can affect anyone regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status.
Al-Anon meetings are open groups that welcome anyone who needs support. Some of the ways that members come together are by:
- sharing their experiences, strength, and hope
- discussing difficulties
- learning effective ways to deal with problems
- encouraging one another
- helping each other understand the principles of Al-Anon
- learning how to apply the 12 steps
Like any 12-step meeting, one thing that members must keep in mind is that everyone is equal. It doesn’t matter if one person has been attending meetings for years, and another is coming for the first time. No one is in a position to tell another what to do. Also, since each group is led by its members, each Al-Anon group is different. If an individual doesn’t like the way one particular group is led, they are encouraged to try several others.
Who Attends the Meetings?
Al-Anon meetings are open to the family and friends of alcoholics; although since it is a commitment, most people who attend are close to the addict and highly affected by their behaviors. Here are some things to consider when determining whether or not Al-Anon is right for you.
- Do you worry about how much someone drinks?
- Do you have money problems because of someone’s drinking?
- Do you tell lies to cover up someone’s problem drinking?
- Have you been hurt or embarrassed by a drinker’s behavior?
- Are holidays and gatherings ruined because of someone’s drinking?
- Do you search for hidden alcohol?
- Are you confused, angry or depressed because of the drinker?
- Do you cancel plans and outings because of the drinker?
- Do you feel that you are alone in dealing with your problems?
If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, Al-Anon may be of help to you.
What About Anonymity? Religious Affiliations? Cost?
It’s only natural to feel hesitant or vulnerable about attending a meeting. Sometimes, there are groups specifically designed for newcomers or beginners to help them get a feel for what Al-Anon is really about. Some people are natural listeners; others are talkers. But, it’s not mandatory that a person speak. It’s completely acceptable to listen in on a few meetings before deciding that Al-Anon is right for you.
One factor that people are most concerned about is their level of anonymity. Attending a meeting in itself is a big step for many, as they have spent months or years dealing with a loved one’s addiction in silence. Anonymity is one of the main principles of programs like Al-Anon. Meetings are confidential, and nothing is disclosed to others outside of the meeting. Anonymity is taken very seriously because members must be able to let down their guards and share their true feelings and emotions without having to deal with the critical opinions and views of others in the real world.
As for religion, Al-Anon is a spiritual fellowship, but not a religious one. Members of all faiths are welcome, and no one religion is practiced. Even meetings that are held in religious buildings are not tied to that faith. The 12 steps are rooted in spirituality and ask addicts to find a “power greater than ourselves,” but that power can be anything. Do not let your religious beliefs, or lack of them, stand in the way of attending Al-Anon.
Lastly, it is important to note that there are no fees or dues required to be a part of Al-Anon. Most groups will pass around a basket to collect voluntary contributions. These contributions are used for literature, rent and other costs associated with holding the meetings, but members are only asked for what they can afford.
Only you can determine if meetings like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon are right for you. But if you are affected by a loved one’s drinking or drug problems, the emotional support and understanding that comes from family support groups are invaluable. Whether your loved one stops abusing or not, you need to have your own outlets for dealing with stress and taking care of your health and well being.