If you’re considering attending an Al-Anon meeting, you’re probably a bit nervous. It can be nerve-wracking at best to walk into a situation where you are essentially admitting that your loved one has a problem with drugs or alcohol. And, in a world where social stigma and shame about substance use disorders about, that can be a significant step.

Getting to know what happens in an Al-Anon meeting can help. As can keeping in mind that everyone there is in the same position you are. And, with over 40 million people struggling with drug and alcohol abuse in the United States, 1 in 5 Americans has a loved one who’s struggling with substance abuse. There’s nothing to be ashamed about, and most importantly, you can learn a lot from your peers in groups like Al-Anon.

What is Al-Anon?

Al-Anon is a self-help support group for the families of people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. It uses the same 12-step approach as the more famous Alcoholics Anonymous. And, the goal is to offer support, to help people step away from enabling and codependent behaviors, and to get the resources and education they need to get their loved ones into help.

What Happens at Al-Anon – What does that mean? 12-step is a group talk-format support group. Here people show up and spend time talking, listening, and sharing. Different meeting topics share different types of information. In some cases, you’ll have assigned topics and will be asked to share around those topics. In some cases, you’ll come together to help someone, which may involve donating money if you can. In others, it will involve listening to one person talk – perhaps even a guest and an expert in their field. In most cases, you’ll have interpersonal sharing on topics, discussion, and learning.

Confidentiality – Here, the basic tenant is also that you get support. That means safe, structured, and anonymous attendance. No one is allowed to share information outside of the group, people’s names and professions stay anonymous, and if anyone breaks this confidentiality, they are removed from the group.

Childcare – Most Al-Anon meetings expect that at least some members will have children. Many rotate out childcare duties, with one or two members caring for children during the meeting, and then others doing the same the next meeting. This allows everyone to participate without creating responsibilities for daycare or paying for babysitters. 

What Do You Get Out of Al-Anon?

The basic tenant of Al-Anon is to help the friends and family of addicts to cope with that trauma. It gives you a place to go to share resources, to share pain, and to talk about problems with people who have been through similar things, who might be able to offer insight, different worldviews, and different experiences. It can help you to understand your loved one’s addiction in light of how other people with addiction behave to their loved ones, and it can help you understand which behaviors are enabling and which help your loved one into therapy. That all involves:

Peer Support – Al-Anon introduces you to groups of people who are going through similar things to what you are doing. Everyone is an equal, everyone has the right to share, everyone has the right to listen. There is no set leader, and the position of group leader moves around the circle depending on how many attendees want to take it up. With everyone present for the same or similar problems, you can share knowing you won’t be judged. You can share knowing that everyone has problems. That makes it easier to find relief in sharing pain, to share in the first place, and even to listen and hear what others are experiencing.

Finding Friends – Having loved ones with severe behavioral disorders can isolate their close friends and family. That’s especially true if your friends and family are judgmental, don’t understand, or blame you for the issue. Finding and making friends who understand the problem can help you to better relate to them and to grieve and recover in public.

Discussions – Al-Anon always includes topic-guided sessions, in which participants are asked to share around a specific topic. This topic might be as simple as discussing meal prep and how to reduce responsibilities during the week and as complicated as safely and ethically raising children around an addict. Topics are almost always centered around addiction, recovery, and treatment. However, you’ll also discuss how you cope, how you keep yourself safe, and how you take care of your family.

 Listening and Sharing – Al-Anon expects most members to occasionally talk, to share stories, and to contribute to topics. There’s no obligation to. However, doing so can be good for you, it can make you feel better, sharing is therapeutic, as is being heard. And, listening to others can give you insight, while making you feel like you’re making a difference for them.

Learning and Reading – Al-Anon will always have a strong element of learning about addiction, learning about treatment, and learning about mental health. That means you’ll often be asked to read pamphlets or books. You might be asked to research things on the Internet in your own time. You might even also create projects as a group and learn about things together.

couple during discussion about admission at the treatment center

Getting Started

When you walk into your first meeting, you’ll follow a structured meeting outline. Normally, meetings start at a pre-planned time and may or may not have a formal end-time. Every meeting starts with an introduction. Here, the group leader may read the introduction from the Al-Anon Service Manual. They might read the 12 Steps. Everyone is expected to stand or sit in a loose circle, to introduce themselves, and may be asked to answer questions. There is no obligation. In addition, you can always leave at any time.

In addition, the first few times you go to Al-Anon, you can go to beginners’ meetings. These have topics focusing on welcoming newcomers and introducing you to Al-Anon and what it’s about. Once you graduate from those groups, you can move on to other meeting types.

  • Regular Meeting – A speaker is given a topic
  • Open Meeting – Members and visitors are welcome, and you can bring friends
  • Closed – Only members and existing applicants are welcome
  • AlaTeen – Teenage or younger members only
  • Adult & Children – Topics focus on family issues
  • LGTB – Topics focus on LGTB problems and solutions
  • Problem Solving – A group or local problem is highlighted, and the group tries to find a solution
  • Topic – A topic is chosen and discussed by the group
  • Tradition – An Al-Anon tradition is chosen and discussed by the group
  • Literature – Books, pamphlets, and other literature are chosen, read, and discussed
  • Slogans – The group discusses Al-Anon slogans
  • Meditation – The meeting is broken by a break for meditation or may focus on meditation
  • 12 Step – The meeting covers the 12 Steps
  • Men’s / Women’s / Parents – The group focuses on specific group issues but may or may not welcome people outside those groups

Al Anon is a self-help group designed to help people cope with the traumas of living with someone with drug or alcohol use disorder. In some cases, groups will actively help you try to get your loved one into treatment. In other cases, you’ll get passive support for your own mental health. Ine very case, Al-Anon is made up of non-professional groups of your peers, which can give you an outlet, insight into your and your loved one’s behavior, and the help you need to make it through.

If you or you loved one need help with mental health treatment, drug rehab, or alcohol rehab Compassion Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us to ask about our mental health programs and how we can support your specific requirements as you move into treatment.