Why should I join Al-anon?

by Ned Wicker
(Wisconsin)

For over 50 years, Joining Al-Anon (which includes Al-ateen for younger members) has been offering hope and help to families and friends of alcoholics and drug addicts.

It is estimated that each addict/alcoholic affects the lives of at least four other people... alcoholism is truly a family disease. No matter what relationship you have with an alcoholic, whether they are still drinking or not, all who have been affected by someone else’s drinking can find solutions that lead to serenity in the fellowship.

Al-anon offers emotional support for the family of addicts for as long as they need it. Many attend Al-anon for years after the addiction issue has been resolved either through recovery, divorce or death. Al-anon provides the emotional support they must have to get up every day and face the world.

How can Al-anon help me?

Many who come are in despair, feeling hopeless, unable to believe that things can ever change. We want our lives to be different, but nothing we have done has brought about change. We all come to meetings at Al-Anon because we want and need help.

People share their own experience, strength, and hope with each other. You will meet others who share your feelings and frustrations, if not your exact situation. We come together to learn a better way of life, to find happiness whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.

For over 50 years, joining Al-Anon (which includes Al-ateen for younger members) has been offering hope and help to families and friends of those suffering from an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.

My spouse is drinking all the time, but I don’t know if he/she is an alcoholic?

The important point to focus on is the frequency of drinking. Drinking “all the time” is a red flag in this situation. However, that does not mean they are alcoholic. They may be abusing alcohol, which is also a serious concern. In either case, you need to get your facts gathered and then you need to verify those facts and try to avoid making judgments or jumping to conclusions.

“Drinking all the time” signifies a pattern of behavior. In so many cases, a person would rather admit to being mentally ill than admitting they can’t control their drinking.

In the Spring 2007 edition of About AA, Dr. Marsha Epstein, of the Tucker Health Center in Los Angeles, said “No one is quick to admit to current problems with drugs or alcohol. When I was in private practice years ago, I saw about 2000 patients over four and a half years and NO ONE ever admitted current heavy drinking.”

"You can read by her thoughts that you may know there is a problem, but your husband/wife is not likely to agree with you. You are going to need some help.

"The reason I suggest documenting the behavior is to give a professional person the “lay of the land” so to speak, to facilitate their assessment." Dr. Epstein also says that people will readily talk about the drinking habits of another family member or friend, all the while not admitting to any problem of their own.

There are techniques involved in helping a person open up and talk to a therapist, but not everybody is going to know how to be a counselor and do professional assessments. Rather, partner with a professional to get the help your husband/wife needs.

How can spouse is abusing alcohol or if he/she an alcoholic? The line might be a thin one, but in general, alcohol abuse is drinking to the point of negatively effecting health and personal relationships. They may have some problems at work. Alcoholism is when the person becomes dependent on alcohol.

They develop a craving and will continue drinking no matter what happens to them. They may develop health problems, they may lose interest in their family and friends, and they need to drink more and more just to get the same effect. When they stop drinking, they need a drink.

Again, you need a partner to help you. As the one closest to the person who is abusing alcohol or may already be an alcoholic, you need training and support. You can’t be therapist and husband/wife. It would be like a marriage counselor trying to help their husband/wife. Get a professional partner.

Al-Anon groups were created for people in your situation, to help you get the support you need. There are local groups all over the country. Find a group in your area and allow that group to be your sounding board, your confidant and your source of support. Allow a professional alcohol counselor to do the heavy lifting in dealing with your husband/wife. You’re not alone.

How do I talk to them to get them to stop using?

There is no sense in arguing with an addict. Why? You don’t want to argue because you are wrong. You have been wrong, you are wrong and you will always be wrong. Only the addict is right. Against hundreds of reasonable, rational and correctly-formed opinions, the addict firmly believes he/she is right and the rest of you are wrong.

The hard part is separating your love of the person from what is in their best interest. People become enablers. We feel sorry for them, or don’t want to hurt them, or we just don’t want to face the problem head on and deal with it.

The husband goes into his workshop to drink, and rather than having a fight, the wife allows it. Maybe the husband has given up because he does not believe there is anything he can do to stop his wife from using.

Sometimes a mere loving suggestion is helpful. But as the abuse of a substance grows into addiction, your loving suggestion is meaningless.

You’ve heard of “tough love,” and that’s just what is needed. Depending on your situation, rather than going through the pain of endless arguments over their using, go to an interventionist and get help. That person is a professional and trained to implement the best strategy. In other words, don’t be a hero. Let the interventionist be your coach.

By allowing an independent third party into your situation, you are giving yourself an opportunity to take a step back, while still doing the right thing and being a helpful part of the scenario. People go months, years without ever knowing what to do. Meanwhile the addict continues. Do they care what you think? Do they make sense to you? You need a plan and the interventionist is the first step.

You may be asked to do something you really don’t want to do, such as allowing “tough love” to take its course. Again, be “coachable.” When the therapist lays out the plan, allow that plan to unfold without interference. You will be allowed to give your input and ask questions.

Remember this-- if the addict does not allow anyone to help, if the addict refuses treatment and if the addict continues down the path to destruction, you can know that you did your best. You sought professional help. You did that which the addict was incapable of doing. Seeking professional help and getting the addict into treatment is a strong, loving move. Being supportive of the treatment plan is the right thing to do. Being a source of love and emotional support is good. Calling an interventionist is a smart, proactive move.


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- Matthew 7:7-8


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