Al-Anon offers new life to families of alcoholics
Alcoholism touched every aspect of Brenda’s family life. She lost a father to alcoholism, and her brother developed the disease. She also married a problem drinker. They had a large family, and her husband left the job of parenting to her.
"I had out-of-control children at home," she says. "There was no structure–no rules, no bedtime schedules. It was just chaos." Brenda tried to structure the household but found that she couldn’t do it alone. Some of her children developed behavior problems at school and eventually abused alcohol themselves.
For nearly a decade, Brenda searched for support. She went to parent meetings at school. She went to marriage counseling. She went to churches and Bible study groups. Finally, a therapist suggested Al-Anon.
"I remember listening to people at my very first Al-Anon meeting and thinking, this is where I belong," Brenda recalls. "The stories I was hearing there were about the very kinds of things happening in my life."
Al-Anon offers free and confidential support for anyone affected by an alcoholic or problem drinker. This includes parents, grandparents, spouses, partners, coworkers, and friends. Alateen, a part of Al-Anon, is a recovery program for young people impacted by a loved one’s alcoholism.
Founded in 1951 by the wives of two Alcoholics Anonymous members, Al-Anon is based on AA’s Twelve Steps. There are no dues and no fees. Rather than relying on mental health professionals, members lead self-help meetings in a spirit of mutual help. The purpose is to share their hope, strength, and experience in dealing with an alcoholic loved one.
It works. Today more than 26,000 Al-Anon groups exist in 115 countries.
Al-Anon begins with the principle that alcoholism is a family disease. And those who care most about the alcoholic are affected the most.
Al-Anon literature compares life with an alcoholic to a drama where people develop stereotyped, almost scripted, roles. Their behaviors center on the alcoholic and are dominated by:
Obsession–going to great lengths to stop the alcoholic’s drinking, such as searching the house for hidden stashes of liquor, secretly pouring drinks down the drain, or listening continually for the sound of opening beer cans.
- Anxiety–worrying constantly about the effects of the alcoholic’s drinking on the children, the bills, and the family’s future.
- Anger–feelings of resentment that result from being repeatedly deceived and hurt by the alcoholic.
- Denial–ignoring, making excuses for, or actively hiding the facts about the alcoholic’s behavior.
- Guilt–family members’ belief that they are somehow to blame for the alcoholic’s behavior.
- Insanity–defined in Al-Anon as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
With help from their peers, Al-Anon members learn an alternative–detachment with love. This happens when family members admit that they did not cause their loved one’s alcoholism; nor can they control or cure it. Sanity returns to family life when members focus on taking care of themselves, changing the things that they can, and letting go of the rest.
As a result, alcoholic family members are no longer shielded from the consequences of their own behavior. This, more than anything else, can help them face the facts about their addiction and admit their need for help.
"Since I’ve been in Al-Anon, my life has totally changed," says Brenda. "I filed for divorce and set up my own household. Now my children are getting a lot more of their needs met with a lot more stability in their lives, and I’m a much happier parent. Since I moved out, my son has been on the honor roll at school and my daughter has had the best two years of her life."
To learn more about Al-Anon go online to http://www.al-anon-alateen.org/, or send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org. A basic text, "How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics," explains the Al-Anon program in detail.
Alive & Free is a health column that provides information to help prevent substance abuse problems and address such problems. It is created by Hazelden, a nonprofit agency based in Center City, Minn., that offers a wide range of information and services on addiction.