Al-Anon and Other 12-Step Programs

If you have a family member or friend who is an addict, the best place to learn how to deal with the impacts of addiction on you is to go to support groups like Al-Anon , Nar-Anon (for families of narcotics addicts), Co-Anon (for families of cocaine addicts) or, if age-appropriate, Alateen (click on “For Teens” in the menu on the top of the Al-Anon website).

Why? You need to hear their message. In a word, it’s “Detachment.” It means separating from the adverse consequences of another’s addiction and learning to distinguish between what one can control and what one can’t: that family members don’t cause their kin’s addiction, they can’t control it, nor can they cure it, what Al-Anon calls “the 3 C’s”. Al-Anon teaches to distinguish between the disease and the diseased, that you can refuse to abet addict behavior. Crucially, Al-Anon urges detachment with love.

Detaching with love from a mom or dad, brother or sister, son or daughter, is one of the hardest things anyone can do. It’s unnatural and feels that way. That’s why you need continuing help to learn how.

Al-Anon provides families with a 12-step program parallel to what AA offers addicts. Yes, it’s a spiritual program. One of the phrases you’ll hear often is “Let go, and let God.” (If that’s a stumbling block please click on Doubt a Spiritual Program Works?) With practice, it prompts you to look at your role as an enabler and helps you transform your relationship with the disease and your addict loved-one. It’s very difficult to do which is why group experience, guidance and support is so important.

Relapse, for example, is a frequent challenge for families. Al-Anoners learn to accept, usually after a good bit of suffering, that however dismaying, relapse is part of the disease. They find it easier to grasp that relapses happen and they aren’t responsible for them. In contrast, families who don’t attend Al-Anon often have no frame-of-reference for relapse. They tend to view it as total failure, an inexplicable return to the insanity they were hoping they’d come through and were likely to lose all hope. They’re liable to go from enablers to parole agents, not a healthy recipe for a lasting relationship.

Changing a previously co-dependent relationship is a difficult process for everyone involved, just the kind of emotional upheaval that used to prompt drug use and could again. It’s dangerous territory, tailor-made for emotional blackmail, guilt, anger and fear. You need a community of guides to get through. That’s what Al-Anon is.

Attending other 12-Step meetings that are open to non-addicts, whether it’s Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or Marijuana Anonymous can also be helpful for families of addicts. Hearing the stories of strangers who have struggled with addiction and sobriety will, over time, shift your view. You will gain an appreciation for the commonality of the disease. You will hear stories that remind you of yourself and your family. Knowing you’re not alone, that others have faced what you face and much worse and have come through it provides hope, direction and positive motivation.

Addict accounts at 12-Step meetings are also likely to deepen your grasp that addiction is truly a disease, which in turn can help shift your perspective about your own responsibility and alleviate guilt. After you’ve heard dozens of stories of people who all disintegrated into addiction immediately on having their first drink or drug, for example, you’ll come to accept the powerful role of genetics in addiction (For more click on Are Some People Born Addicts? )

Most important, hearing addicts’ stories reinforces the basic lesson: addiction is characterized by irrationality. It’s likely you’ll need to keep hearing and reinforcing that message until you accept it emotionally as well as intellectually. In the process, you can learn how to deal with that irrationality.

Since addiction is a family disease it affects all members of a family regardless of age. Following are links to the websites of support groups that may be useful in addition to Al-Anon. Many family members struggle with co-dependency and may find help at Co-Dependents Anonymous. Children of alcoholics face their own set of challenges dealing with an addicted parent or parents. For them, Alateen (click on “For Teens” in the menu on the top of the Al-Anon website) or the National Association for Children of Alcoholics may be helpful resources. Growing up with a parent who’s an addict can have lasting adverse effects well into adulthood. For them, there’s Adult Children of Alcoholics.

For the next article in the For Addicts’ Loved Ones series click here.

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2 Responses to “ Al-Anon and Other 12-Step Programs ”

  1. ACOA – Adult Children of Alcoholics has helped me so much in my life. Thanks for posting this article! Thank you

  2. I wonder if it’s ever possible to be ‘healed’ without the concept of a higher being.

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