Being a family member or loved one of someone who has an alcohol addiction can take a heavy toll on your sense of wellbeing and quality of life. You may feel a mix of conflicted emotions—you may want to help, but you also may be wary of how your help will be received, especially if your loved one’s alcoholism has caused damage to your relationship in the past. If someone’s drinking has caused you trouble, you’re not alone; data shows that one-third of people in the U.S. report that drinking has caused trouble in their families.
One of the most beneficial ways to repair relationships and move forward when you have a loved one who is struggling with alcohol addiction is to cultivate an in-depth understanding of the condition of alcohol addiction and the process that your loved one needs to undergo to break free from their addiction and stay sober. An Al-Anon support group can help you do just that.
Here’s what you need to know about the Al-Anon support network that is available for you and how the 12 steps can help set you free from a complicated emotional burden.
The Origins of the Al-Anon 12 Steps
One of the premier support networks founded to help alcoholics support one another in their addiction recovery and sobriety journey is Alcoholics Anonymous or AA. This program is a fellowship of people formed by members with one singular aim—they must have the desire to stop drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous has helped countless alcoholics stay sober over its 87-year history. Seeing how important the program was for recovering alcoholics and intimately understanding what it is like to be a loved one of a recovering alcoholic, the wife of one of the original AA founders developed AA’s mirror program, known as Al-Anon. The twelve steps of Al-Anon parallel the twelve steps of AA.
If you have a loved one who is part of an AA program or who is in the contemplation stages of joining, you can rest assured that they will be able to find effective help through AA. However, seeking support for yourself is just as important, as you will embark on a separate journey as they navigate their own recovery.
What Is Al-Anon?
Al-Anon is a support group that recognizes that alcoholism is not only a disease of individuals, but also a disease of families and communities. When you have grown up with an alcoholic, or you’ve been in a close relationship with an alcoholic, it can have a big effect on your own life. You may have developed personal habits or patterns to try to compensate for how an alcoholic loved one has failed you, or you may feel an undue amount of pressure to be perfect. According to official Al-Anon resources, certain personality traits are more common in people who have grown up with someone with a drinking problem, such as:
• Constantly seeking approval or affirmation
• Failing to recognize, or minimalizing, your own accomplishments
• Overextending yourself
• Having your own problems with compulsive behavior
• Feeling uneasy when things are going well and always waiting for the “other shoe to drop”
• Feeling more alive during a crisis
• Feeling responsible for the behavior of others
• Caring for other people at the expense of caring for yourself
• Isolating yourself from people
• Fearing authority figures or angry people
• Feeling that you are getting taken advantage of by others
• Having difficulties with intimate relationships
• Seeking the affection of, or being attracted to, people with compulsive or abusive behavior
• Clinging to relationships because you’re afraid of being alone
• Mistrusting your own judgment or intuition
• Having difficulty expressing your emotions
It can be hard, at first, to recognize these traits for what they are—products of your experiences with an alcoholic loved one. However, being part of a supportive group such as Al-Anon and following the 12 Steps can help you come to an understanding of how your life has been affected by another person’s alcoholism, and how to move forward positively.
What Are the 12 Steps of Al-Anon?
The 12 Steps of Al-Anon provide a helpful structure to guide your journey of gaining a deeper understanding of your loved one’s Alcoholics Anonymous recovery process—while allowing you the opportunity to heal yourself, as well. The steps are mirror images of the 12 Steps of traditional AA programs.
One important thing to note as you read through the 12 steps is that Al-Anon considers itself to be a spiritual fellowship that does not follow a particular religious tradition. In the following twelve steps, you will see references to God as a greater power; however, this “power greater than ourselves” is not necessarily religious. You are free to interpret the nature of that power in whatever way feels most natural to you.
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” In this step, Al-Anon attendees come to recognize the fact that alcoholism is a disease and that they cannot control its presence in other people.
“We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” In this step, Al-Anon attendees recognize that they cannot control their loved ones, and they are powerless to try to change their loved ones.
“We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” In this step, Al-Anon attendees learn to let go and accept the reality of their loved one’s alcoholism.
“We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” In this step, Al-Anon attendees look inward and think of how their own deeds have caused personal harm (such as getting into a car with a loved one who has been drinking) or have harmed others.
“We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” In this step, Al-Anon attendees examine the moral inventory they have created to take a closer look.
“We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” In this step, Al-Anon attendees recognize that a key part of moving past their wrongdoings is accepting help from a higher power.
“We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” In this step, Al-Anon attendees recognize that they may have harbored feelings of judgment, or they may have tried to control their alcoholic loved one.
“We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. In this step, Al-Anon attendees often realize that they have done themselves a great amount of harm by blaming themselves for a loved one’s addictive behavior, and they must learn to forgive themselves first before they can forgive others.
“We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” In this step, Al-Anon attendees take steps to show that they can forgive themselves and others.
“We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” In this step, Al-Anon attendees acknowledge that their journey is a continuous process.
“We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” In this step, Al-Anon attendees reach for comfort and acceptance from a higher power.
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” In this final step, Al-Anon attendees vow to use the growth and insight they’ve gained in their 12-step journey to help support and foster growth in other Al-Anon members.
How Are the 12 Steps of Al-Anon Used?
The twelve steps of Al-Anon provide helpful guideposts and benchmarks for people who have been affected by someone else’s drinking. Although they form the foundation of the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve steps, they can be equally useful in helping family members of alcoholics frame their experiences with alcoholism and come to understand what is within their control and what has been out of their control.
By studying and trying to embody the twelve steps of Al-Anon, you can come to learn that you are not responsible for another person’s problem drinking, or their actions. However, you are responsible for your own actions and your reactions to another person’s behavior. Once you internalize that you are in control of your own actions, you can move forward because you can then realize that your life is under your control. Researchers have shown that participating in an Al-Anon support group can help you learn to change your worldview. You can learn how to see alcoholism as a disease that has affected your family, you can assign the responsibility to the disease (and not to yourself), you can accept the fact that you were negatively impacted by the disease, and then you can eventually learn to accept the shortcomings of the individual with the disease of alcoholism.
Who Can Join Al-Anon?
If you are worried about someone who has a drinking problem, then you meet the criteria to be a part of Al-Anon. Al-Anon brands itself as being “help and hope for families and friends of alcoholics.” Al-Anon can help connect you with other people who understand the problems you have experienced having loved an alcoholic. You may find that there are certain things that you do (such as searching for hidden alcohol or lying on behalf of someone else) that others have done as well, and you may feel a sense of relief that you are not alone.
There are subgroups of Al-Anon that may be beneficial depending on your situation—for example, if you are a teen who has been affected by someone else’s drinking, a specific Alateen meeting may be most beneficial for you. Al-Anon meetings are free, and they are anonymous and confidential. You also have a choice of whether or not you would like to speak at a meeting—you can share your own story and experiences, but you can also simply listen to others as they share. You don’t have to make an appointment to participate, and there’s no obligation to participate on an ongoing basis. You can simply show up, listen, and then leave.
How Can Al-Anon Help?
One of the most valuable aspects of joining an Al-Anon group is that it can provide you with a community of people who understand what you are going through. Although everyone’s circumstances are different, and no two individuals will have the same journey when it comes to loving an alcoholic, Al-Anon can give you the chance to learn from the unique experiences of other people who have encountered similar struggles in their life. You can talk about the difficulties you’ve encountered and offer encouragement to one another, and you can also help each other find ways to cope with challenges and resolve conflicts.
What Does Research Say About the Usefulness of Al-Anon’s 12-Step Program?
Researchers have looked specifically at ways in which attending an Al-Anon meeting can help members, and they have found that these meetings can improve your quality of life, give you more self-esteem, and cause you to feel more hopeful and less depressed. Researchers have noted that one of the most useful mantras that can come out of attending an Al-Anon meeting is the idea that “I am not responsible for other people’s happiness,” which means that, rather than trying to change a person or their problematic behavior, you can, instead, let go of this responsibility and focus on your own mental health.
How to Find Effective Support for Yourself When a Family Member or Loved One Is Recovering from Alcoholism
If you are struggling with how your relationship with a person with an alcohol use disorder has impacted your life, it’s hard to know where to turn. This is why the fellowship found within Al-Anon can be so valuable. Following the 12 steps of an Al-Anon program can help provide you with the healing you need to move forward and the tools you need to help the person you love maintain their sobriety.
If you would like help finding a local Al-Anon support group, this support group locator tool can connect you with the resources you need.