The Al-Anon Faces Alcoholism magazine is designed to introduce relatives and friends concerned about someone’s drinking to Al-Anon Family Groups and to the concept of alcoholism or problem drinking as an illness affecting everyone in the family.
Elizabeth Corsale, Marriage and Family Therapist
San Francisco, California
The partners and/or family members of alcoholics often ask, “Why should I have to go to a meeting? This isn’t my problem!” Yet they quickly begin to realize how much, in fact, the problem of alcoholism is their problem too, and how much it has impacted their lives.
I have found that Al-Anon can be an excellent supplement to psychotherapy. In Al-Anon, my patients can find support and insight from people who have also been affected by addiction.
Al-Anon is a program that is enormously helpful in reminding family members that they cannot control everything, in spite of how hard they try. Al-Anon Family Groups support the process of helping individuals to focus on themselves and their own lives.
Ed Hughes, MPS, LICDC
In working with the families of alcoholics, I provide education about alcoholism as a disease, how the disease progresses, the process of hitting bottom, the impact of the disease upon the family, and how someone can recover.
There eventually comes that moment when a family member tries to change the way they respond to the alcoholic’s behavior, only to find that this change is much more difficult than anticipated.
A mother of an alcoholic said that she had decided to say “no” to her son’s next request for money. When the request came, she was surprised that she said “yes.” She said she was aware that her “help” was really hurting him; that the money was going to alcohol; that the promise she extracted from him, “that this would never happen again,” was not going to be kept; and that she was going to feel awful afterwards. Knowing all this, however, she still gave him the money.
This was my opportunity to introduce her to a word she thought only applied to the alcoholic, powerlessness. I told her that she was powerless to say “no.” She responded by asking, “If I am powerless, then how am I ever going to say ‘no’ and stop enabling?” I said, “That is what Al-Anon is for, to help you do the right thing for yourself and your son.”
In my 32 years of providing counseling services, I have seen family members go to Al-Anon to find help for their addicted family members, but instead find help for themselves.
Alcoholism thrives in an environment of secrecy and shame. Al-Anon is a powerful influence for families to break the silence that surrounds their family, while breaking the cycle of shame that fosters misunderstanding and a reluctance to seek help.
For some family members, being in recovery has initiated changes that dramatically changed the role they were playing in perpetuating the disease of alcoholism for their loved one, thus creating motivation for the alcoholic to recover. Other family members found a path to happiness, peace, and serenity, despite the continued drinking of their loved one.
As a treatment professional, I realize that each person in recovery carries the hope and potential to help many others. The power of recovering
Al-Anon members who share their stories with a newcomer far exceeds any power that I have ever witnessed in a professional treatment setting.
In Al-Anon, I know they will receive acceptance, love, and guidance.
An interview with Cynthia Moreno-Tuohy, BSW, NCACII, SAP, Executive Director, NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals, Alexandria, VA
This interview is adapted from an Al‑Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.’s First Steps to Al‑Anon Recovery audio podcast series.
Question: Why is it important for the alcoholic’s family members to receive help?
Answer: The family needs to get healthier whether or not the alcoholic is receiving treatment or maintaining sobriety. But, when family members receive help and information, they are able to provide a support system and help build a safety net at home for themselves and for their children. Every family member needs to feel they have support.
Part of our protocols as addiction professionals is to look at what’s happening with the family. We don’t want to forget the family. The family needs to participate in a family information night or a family treatment program, if available from the treatment center. Al‑Anon is talked about there as well.
If the alcoholic is or has been in treatment, the family needs to understand that treatment arrests the addiction but does not cure it. Recovery is an ongoing, daily process for alcoholics and their family members.
Question: Newcomers to Al‑Anon frequently want to know what the cause of alcoholism is. They want to pinpoint how, when, where, and why their loved one acquired a drinking problem.
Answer: Today, we know the disorder of alcohol or drug addiction is genetic and that we're going to have intergenerational addictions within families. We also know that alcoholism has roots in environmental causes such as the inappropriate behaviors, poor parenting, and communication skills within a family over one or multiple generations. So, an alcohol use disorder can be both a combination of nature (genetics) and nurture (environmental, psychological, social, or cultural).
It is possible for both the drinker and the family to recover from the trauma and negative patterns they have experienced. As a result, change begins within the family system and that's what we want to see. We want individuals and families to get healthier.
Question: Do you recommend that counselors and therapists refer family members to Al‑Anon?
Answer: Absolutely. The first step for the family is to understand that they do not have power over the drinker’s alcoholism. They need to learn what issues and actions they can and cannot touch.
Question: How do family members benefit from attending Al‑Anon?
Answer: When the family or anyone close to the drinker goes to Al‑Anon, they first need to focus on themselves. Then, they can begin to learn some of the skills and better ways of approaching the alcoholic family member. The family becomes healthier and they get the support they need from attending Al‑Anon.
Joe Herzanek, Addiction Counselor and author
Alcoholism is devastating to all members of the family. Family members may have watched someone they love turn into a stranger. They ask, “How did this happen? Why didn’t we see it sooner? Are we somehow to blame? How do we make it stop? What if we can’t make it stop? Why won’t this person listen to us? Can’t they see what’s happening to them?” The list is long.
From the shared experiences of Al-Anon members at meetings and in Al-Anon literature, the family learns that alcoholism is not their fault. With that understanding, some of the pressure is lifted. By attending Al-Anon meetings, my clients gain clarity and peace of mind, so that they can take positive action.
Al-Anon supplements and reinforces the information I give my clients about alcoholism as a disease. My clients gain encouragement from attending Al-Anon meetings. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
Doing what’s best (which sometimes means doing nothing—but allowing consequences to happen) is often extremely challenging. Al-Anon members help and play a special role because they are like-minded and share common experiences as a result of living with an alcoholic.
My clients who attend Al-Anon meetings come to understand that they can have peace, regardless of their loved one’s poor choices. Family members learn that recovery is a process that takes time. But they learn that they are not alone, and that help is available from the Al-Anon program.
Michael Yeager, B.A., LCDC, CAS
I recommend attending Al-Anon to my clients who are family members of alcoholics. Participation in Al-Anon supports the “work” the family members do while they are in therapy. Al-Anon also acts as an effective aftercare program.
Al-Anon offers these people the opportunity to end their self-imposed isolation, taken on by living in an addicted family environment. Al-Anon members support each other through many life-changing experiences. Discussions at meetings help members discover choices and in turn they can feel empowered to be free, flexible, and vibrant.
I clearly see my clients benefitting from their participation in Al-Anon by:
- Developing and enhancing their inner strength and self-worth.
- Feeling their feelings.
- Rebuilding and taking responsibility for their lives.
- Setting healthy boundaries.
Therapy offers a safe environment for family members to get to the bottom of their limiting behavioral and belief problems. It is available from time to time, when the going gets tough. Al-Anon, however, acts as a supportive fellowship for further growth and development for lifelong living.
Gail Barker, LCPC
We had our Alateen group meeting today and I have to tell you how grateful I am for Alateen. It has made such an amazing difference in these students’ lives. Many of them shared how they are now getting along better with their family—both the drinking and the non-drinking family members. I often hear how this is the one safe place they have in their lives—to be able to share whatever is on their minds, where others won’t judge, pass it around, or get mad.
It is amazing to see the transformation in these students. I see them going from a beaten down, angry, hopeless teenager—trying to cope with alcoholism in the family—to gradually feeling and finding peace, hope, and strength from others, loving each other and being happy. I so love it. It gives them assurance and hope that one counselor can’t possibly convey to them. It is a group process and an inspired process, and to have this opportunity in the school is amazing, since most of these kids would not be able to get to an evening meeting in the community. Their home life in their alcoholic families is such that they wouldn’t be able to get transportation at night or feel free to do so.
Alateen is supportive for them—safe and consistent. Children in alcoholic families do not know consistency, but in Alateen they learn to trust. It affects their outlook, their self-esteem, their grades in school, their friend and family relationships, their confidence, their ability to show concern for others, patience, peace of mind—so many things they probably would not get anywhere else.
The students ask if Alateen will be at their next school, if they are moving or when they go on to high school. It is a safety net for them. They count on it, and I am so grateful we have been able to get Alateen in so many other schools.
I so appreciate the Alateen Group Sponsors that are here faithfully each week. The Alateen members love them. I feel such overwhelming gratitude for the Alateen program. I know without a doubt the changes it has made in these children’s lives—changes and tools that will stay with them and affect their whole lives.