Fifteen million Americans over the age of 12 suffer from alcohol use disorder, and for alcoholics in particular, the disorder can lead to a variety of losses ranging from health, employment, and family, all the way to the 88,000 people who die from alcohol-related causes each year. Their friends and family members who care about them suffer also. While Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offers help to alcoholics who wish to become sober, the Al-Anon Family Groups offer help to the friends and family who seek recovery from the effects of living, or having lived, with an alcoholic.
For family and friends, efforts to control alcoholic drinking are seldom successful. As one of the Al-Anon publications titled Understanding Ourselves— Families and Friends Are Affected says, “Friendships, employment, childhood, parenthood, love affairs, and marriages all suffer from the effects of alcoholism. Those special relationships in which a person is really close to an alcoholic are affected most, and the people who care are the most caught up in the behavior of another person. We react to an alcoholic’s behavior. Seeing that the drinking is out of hand, we try to control it. We are ashamed of the public scenes but try to handle it in private. It isn’t long before we feel we are to blame and take on the hurts, the fears, the guilt of an alcoholic. We, too, can become ill.”
People who find Al-Anon are often in despair with anxiety, anger, denial, and guilt. They often have lost themselves, and their lives have become unmanageable. Through regular Al-Anon meetings, they can learn that alcoholism is a disease recognized by the American Medical Association and that they alone cannot cure the alcoholic. They realize that their well-meant aid is actually keeping the alcoholic from finding recovery. The program helps them focus back on themselves, even if their loved one is still drinking.
One Al-Anon member, whom we’ll call “Ally,” shared that in her mid-twenties she started to feel depressed and anxious. She was in a romantic relationship with a man suffering from substance abuse including alcohol.
“I felt like I was going crazy. I became hysterical, controlling, and very watchful of my loved one. I stayed in this relationship for many years, even though the relationship was not healthy. Later on, a few years after this first relationship ended, I began a new relationship with another man who was recovering from alcoholism. Once again, I was in a relationship with an alcoholic.
“When the relationship ended, I felt in despair. This led me to walk into the rooms of Al-Anon. As I listened at meetings, I realized that I was affected by growing up in an alcoholic home and engaging in relationships with those struggling with substance abuse was familiar. This program saved my life.
“I have attended Al-Anon meetings since 2009, and I continue to find them extremely helpful. The meetings have improved my relationships, confidence, self-worth, and spirituality. I will continue to attend meetings for the rest of my life because they are full of wisdom. The members of the program have different stories and different situations that brought them into recovery. Some members have a spouse, a sibling, a son or daughter, or grandchildren who struggle with the disease of alcoholism. My situation is that I grew up in an alcoholic home.”
The Al-Anon Family Groups were formed in the 1930s by two wives of alcoholics who realized that they too needed recovery, Lois W. and Anne B. Today, the Al-Anon groups exist in the United States as well as other countries. The Al-Anon literature is translated into Spanish and French. “We work on the 12 steps with a sponsor, and we keep the focus on ourselves, not on the alcoholic. We learn to have compassion for the alcoholic and allow them the dignity to recover on their own,” said Ally.
Currently there are 22 Al-Anon meetings held in the Santa Barbara area each week. Some of them meet in person and others via teleconference. There are also a few meetings for Spanish speakers. Membership is anonymous and confidential. There are no dues. No one’s social status, profession, or level of education matters at Al-Anon meetings.
Beginners meetings are held via Zoom on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. For details about this meeting and for other information about Al-Anon Family Groups, please visit the Al-Anon website, https://www.alanonsantabarbara.info/ or call our phone line at (805) 899-8302.