Al-anon and Alateen – Powerful Tools for Recovery
The average family member of someone in an active addiction suffers unbelievable stress. The person typically worries endlessly about a family member and feels helpless to make changes. If you told the average person who is dealing with this kind of situation that that there was a specialized group that completely understands what they are going through and wants to act as a support system for them, they would probably be skeptical. If you further explained that this group process is:
- Widely Available
The person would probably think it sounds too good to be true. In fact, Al-anon and Alateen provide just this exact process. These anonymous support groups are for the members of the family who are “caught in the crossfire” of their loved one’s active addiction.
A Confusing Name Because it’s For “The Rest of the Family”
The name Al-anon probably doesn’t help get the group more exposure. As you might have guessed, it’s an abbreviation for Alcoholics Anonymous – but Al-anon groups are most definitely for “the rest of the family,” unlike “regular AA” meetings.
The unimaginative name for Al-anon might be the result of how informal the beginnings of the group were. It was simply a meeting created by the family members of recovering alcoholics to discuss and support each other with the issues that family members must face. This group has many similar processes as “regular AA”, but addresses issues that are very common amongst the loved ones of an alcoholic or an addict.
Alateen is a branch of Al-anon that is targeted toward the younger children of adult alcoholics (or possibly a sibling or another relative or loved one). The names Alateen and Al-anon are basically interchangeable.
Group Therapy Process for the Family
From their literature:
Al-Anon has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps, by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics, and by giving understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic.
The typical Al-anon meeting format will have an introduction to the program and some basic literature being read (for instance, the 12 steps of the recovery process). Then members then take turn sharing their experience, whether it be one of an actively addicted family member, or a family member in active recovery. Often, there will be offers of help and support (or ‘sponsorship’) for new visitors to Al-anon that can continue after the meeting, but this type of support is completely voluntary, and the entire support group system is built upon allowing participants to maintain anonymity.
Denial, Codependency, Tough Love, and Enabling Behavior
Those are all terms that will be part of the Al-anon experience. Al-anon explicitly states in its literature that it approaches alcoholism “as a family disease.” Much like the actual alcoholic himself, the family members are often deeply in denial about the role that they are playing in the active addiction.
The mother, father, husband, wife, sibling, or child of someone who is an active addict might scoff or even be offended at the suggestion that they attend a 12-step support group. “Why should I have to go? I’m not the one doing drugs!”
However, this same person will probably find immediate comfort in hearing the stories that others have to share about their own family struggles. The stories are often quite similar to each other, and this is a great relief. There is also a huge sense of relief in sharing your own story (which is always completely voluntary). Many people describe the process of accepting ‘sponsorship’ from a fellow recovering person in a 12-step program to be the turning point where they ended actively supporting the addiction and started actively supporting recovery instead. Those who have recovered are so grateful to the program they spend time working with others who might benefit from their guidance (or ‘sponsorship’).
This powerful and symbiotic relationship is the crux of the entire 12-step model’s effectiveness and why it is participated in by millions of people every day worldwide, and also integrated into virtually all treatment models.
Ending the Cycle of ‘Codependent Enabling’
Also, an attendee at an Al-anon meeting might get guidance that can save their loved one’s life (or their own life or the life of another family member whose health is being affected by the stress of addiction). Many family members of addicted individuals unwittingly play the role of an enabler – someone who is complicit in the addictive activities by enabling the addiction to continue. Providing rent and lending money to a son or daughter who is abusing drugs would be the most obvious example, but little things like lying to cover up the extent of the abuse is also a form of enabling.
When someone is an enabler, they are “codependent,” meaning they are “also addicted” to the substance (or rather, their role in the cycle of addiction). The underlying reasons for someone to play this role should probably be addressed (and often is as part of the Al-anon 12-step process or in outside private counseling), but the important thing is that the person immediately stop the enabling behavior and start giving “tough love.”
“Tough love” means creating boundaries and sticking to them, even when they seem extremely counterintuitive (like kicking your son or daughter out of the house). The fact of the matter is, that assisting the abuse by enabling the addictive activities to continue is often worse than hastening the using individual to reach their “bottom” and start the process of recovery. As many families have found out in recent years, if the substance their loved one is using is an opiate (like fentanyl or heroin), then the danger of facilitating even a single additional use of those deadly drugs might lead to the fatal overdose of your loved one.
Get in Touch With Al-anon/Alateen
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