If you are in the Tampa, FL area (or just about anywhere else on Earth) and have an alcoholic or substance-addicted loved one, there is somewhere you can go for help.
Al-Anon is a support group designed for individuals, typically family members or other loved ones, affected by someone else’s alcoholism, whether or not that person has sought treatment or undergone treatment. It provides a confidential and understanding environment where people can share their experiences, strengths, and hope with one another.
The focus of Al-Anon is on mutual support and the open sharing of coping strategies for dealing with the challenges associated with having a friend or family member struggling with alcohol addiction.
Al-Anon meetings frequently align with a 12-step program, offering a structured framework for individuals’ personal reflection and growth. Al-Anon members benefit from the collective wisdom of the friends they make in these groups, who are frequently facing similar circumstances. The goal is to create a sense of community and empowerment, for people dealing with the difficulties of living with someone with alcohol dependency.
History of the Al-Anon Program
Al-Anon was established in 1951. In the time since, it has grown into a vital support network for those grappling with the effects of alcoholism on their families. The Al-Anon family of programs now offers similar support groups for family members and friends of people struggling with other forms of substance abuse.
Born as an extension of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), it owes its creation to Lois Wilson, wife of AA co-founder Bill Wilson, who recognized the need for a dedicated space for the loved ones of alcoholics. Alcoholics Anonymous was already open to women, but Lois, not an alcoholic herself, felt there was a need for groups for those who were struggling with the substance abuse of those close to them.
Why Al-Anon Is Necessary
Each person who lives with alcoholism touches the lives of several others, and these people are in need of the same emotional support that Alcoholics Anonymous offers to the people who are actively struggling from the illness. Al-Anon draws on the “primary purpose” of AA, which is “to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.” Al-Anon’s parallel primary purpose is “to provide support to the friends and families of alcoholics.”
By emphasizing mutual support and compassion, Al-Anon stands as a lasting source of hope for countless individuals facing the complex dynamics of relationships affected by alcoholism. These individuals find solace in the support of those around them in these programs, as they address questions and problems that they face in their daily life.
Al-Anon’s Global Reach
Named “Al-Anon” to signify its connection to “Alcoholics Anonymous,” the organization has since expanded globally, reaching individuals worldwide dealing with the challenges of a family member’s alcoholism.
The organization employs a “twelve steps” program within its meetings. These meetings provide a secure environment for open conversations and the exchange of strategies to navigate the difficulties associated with living alongside someone battling alcohol addiction.
The program has expanded its influence globally, spreading the message of resilience, understanding, and empowerment. The program’s World Service Office administers global guidelines and service opportunities, while allowing groups to operate independently. Members in countries worldwide help each other find happiness, whether or not their partner (or parent, or child, or friend) recovers from the disease of drinking or abusing drugs.
Who Is Included in Al-Anon Groups?
Spouses and Romantic Partners
Having been started by the spouse of an alcoholic, the program has always included wives and husbands of those who are currently drinking, are in recovery from alcohol abuse, or are at risk of a relapse. Like parents, spouses often blame deficits in the relationship for the problems their spouse experiences. In order to pass through to a free state of mind and a healthy relationship, they must free themselves of this unhealthy belief. At meetings, they are welcome to speak about their issues, visit with others who have dealt with the same struggles, and engage in acts of service that help them recognize their importance to the community at large.
Children of alcoholic parents have also often joined the discussion at meetings, and have their own notes to offer on how to solve the problems that come when families include an alcoholic or addict. Alateen is an offshoot that centers on teens from the families of addicts. An Alateen meeting is typically run by and focused on the unique challenges faced by Alateen members.
Other Family Members
Parents, sisters, brothers, and extended family members of anyone struggling with or in recovery from drinking are welcome at any meeting of the group. Often, family members (particularly parents) feel that they are at fault for their loved one’s substance abuse. At meetings, families learn how to understand their feelings of self blame, and to only feel responsible for what they can control. Ultimately they may learn that when another person is involved, there is very little that you can control.
Friends of those with substance abuse problems are also welcome to participate in a meeting. For many, it may be difficult to reckon with the continued struggles of friends they used to “run with” in younger days, and they may need to address these feelings of guilt. For others, it may be beneficial to be part of a group dedicated to service, so that they can find ways to feel beneficial and helpful, even as the person they are concerned for refuses their help.
Observers are those who do not personally identify as the loved one of an alcoholic or substance abuser, but are interested in attending a meeting to learn more about the program or to develop a deeper grasp of the role of alcohol or drug abuse in their own life. Observers are welcome at most group meetings. In Tampa, FL, a list of meetings can be found here: https://tampabayalanon.org/meetings/.
Meetings of the program do not consist of treatment for substance abuse, nor do they include clinical psychotherapy or counseling. As noted above, they are independently organized by families and friends of addicts.
How Al-Anon Meetings Happen
Voluntary contributions are accepted at each meeting of a program group. These contributions pay for location rentals, refreshments, and service projects, decided upon by the group via democratic process.
An Al-Anon meeting may be held in a church, a recreation center, a coffee shop, a treatment center, or even someone’s home. You can find a location to attend an Al-Anon meeting in Tampa, FL here: https://tampabayalanon.org/meetings/.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in meetings held remotely via Zoom or other video platforms. Zoom meetings offer observers and participants who live outside of a city center or in less populated states an opportunity to get in contact with others.
The Twelve Steps
Members of Al-Anon are encouraged to apply the twelve step model, originally part of AA, to their relationships with people struggling with addiction. For this reason, the steps are frequently read aloud during meetings.
Speakers and Sharing
Following this reading, the structure of the center of the meeting varies from group to group. Some groups invite a long-term member to speak extensively about their experiences as an act of service. In other groups, affected persons (but typically not observers) are chosen at random or freely allowed to share what they have dealt with recently.
As a meeting closes, families, friends, spouses, and observers often visit with one another and share suggestions and questions about topics that arose during the meeting. New members are encouraged to get contact information for members who have long-term experience.
Everything shared in a meeting is presumed to be confidential and cannot be shared outside of the meeting, a restriction that applies to participants and observers alike. The confidential nature of Al-Anon meetings is another element drawn from Alcoholics Anonymous and ensures that the friends and families participating can speak freely without fear of their private business being shared elsewhere.
When a Treatment Center is Necessary
While Al-Anon is helpful for friends and families of those affected by the disease of addiction, clinical treatment is often necessary for addicts to recover. A certified and licensed treatment center like Turning Point of Tampa is the best option for individuals struggling with addiction.