What You Need to Know About Helpful Al-Anon Family Groups and Meetings

Much of the focus in recovery ideology is placed on those in recovery, but friends and family members of individuals diagnosed with substance use disorders (SUD) should also be considered when discussing treatment options. The stressors of loving someone struggling with SUD can be difficult to manage, and the litany of questions that plague friends and family often seem to have no clear right or wrong answer. Are you enabling or supporting? How much tough love is too much? What do you do with feelings of resentment? 


Navigating these grey area scenarios can be difficult, especially when taken on alone. The emotional toll that friends and family members experience can cause significant stress and impact mental health in their own right. Thankfully, with an increased focus on recovery that has further reduced stigmas surrounding addiction, treatment options have extended beyond client service to include those individuals’ support networks, as well. Al-Anon is the most well-known and widespread of these organizations and has the reputation of being the first support group for support networks. Al-Anon is a peer help fellowship that provides a form of group therapy for friends and family members of those in recovery. 


Family Can Get Help


Al-Anon is a self-professed support group that considers alcoholism a family illness — meaning that addictions affect all people close to those in recovery. Founded in 1951, the program makes a point to state that first, it is not an intervention program, and second, that it is welcome to all individuals affected by a loved one’s addictive disorder. That includes individuals who have yet to address their SUD as a problem. The meetings are entirely volunteer-based and hold many of the same anonymity practices as Alcoholics Anonymous. Family and friends of those in recovery meet to discuss topics related to loving someone struggling with addiction. This can take on the form of a lively discussion, informative tips, or venting to others.


Attending a meeting can be intimidating. Here’s a run-down of what to expect from a meeting, including the benefits of Al-Anon for family and friends and those with SUD. Supportive individuals for those in recovery can hardly lend a helping hand if they struggle with mental well-being.


The ABC’s of Al-Anon Meeting Etiquette


Al-Anon meetings are set up as a type of group therapy session for any family or friends of an addiction recovery patient. Local chapters organize weekly meetings with a frequency that depends on the area in which they occur — larger cities will generally have more meetings and vice versa with the more rural areas. Al-Anon points out that all are welcome to attend meetings, and participation is voluntary. Meetings are free and usually last up to an hour.


Each meeting will differ; however, moderators follow some general guidelines for every meeting across the country. Moderators will generally begin with the Serenity Prayer and a reading of the principles of Al-Anon that explain what the fellowship is and intends to accomplish. Introductions are made by your first name, but it is voluntary and anonymous. Then peers will discuss a topic at length, sharing thoughts and experiences on that topic. After about an hour, the meeting closes with a prayer, and members can stick around to discuss topics further or enjoy friendly conversation. 


The group therapy aspect is maintained with respect given to every member of the gathered group. Topics usually stay on track, and each individual who wants to share is given the courtesy and time to speak without interruption and with serious consideration given by fellow members. 


The meetings are intended to be open-armed and welcoming in spirit. Topics can range from learning to set boundaries, facing fears, increasing self-esteem, or dealing with resentment. Although Al-Anon had its founding in alcoholism, all are welcome no matter the substance of choice of the affected loved one in recovery. There is also a variety to the types of meetings with specific groups geared towards younger audiences, parents, or friends of individuals in recovery. Al-Anon suggests first-time visitors try out roughly six different meetings to get a feel for the program and find the right meeting to fit their emotional needs.


Benefits for Those in Recovery and Supportive Loved Ones


The benefits of attending an Al-Anon meeting are far-reaching, from promoting personal well-being in both mind and spirit to providing a safe space simply to vent. Friends and family that make up a support network will not want to burden loved ones with their problems; Al-Anon provides a much-needed, healthy outlet to ensure family and friends receive the support they need. These benefits can extend to those in recovery themselves as a healthy support network will be better assist in the long term for SUD and mental health issues.


Substance use disorder (SUD) can take an emotional and psychological toll on all individuals, from those in recovery to their family and friends. Peer help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon support ongoing treatment, but many times both clients and their loved ones need additional treatment services. If you or a loved one requires further treatment for SUD with co-occurring mental health issues, then Choice House has dual-diagnosis treatment services to help. We offer men the opportunity to achieve initial sobriety as they build a new foundation of love and empathy to better approach their friends and family as they eventually return to life outside of active treatment. Located in the Boulder County region of Colorado, our programs include a 90-day inpatient service, an intensive outpatient program, and a sober living campus. We utilize a variety of therapeutic modalities, including family therapy, to address SUD from all angles. For more information regarding Choice House’s facilities or treatment methods, please give us a call at (303) 578-4977.

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