Those who love people with drinking or addiction problems suffer, too. Unfortunately, they rarely have anyone to talk to because all the focus is on the person with the problem. Bottling up all your emotions is unhealthy and dangerous, but that's just one of the reasons why Al-Anon exists. You need to cope as you help your troubled loved one.
Understanding Al-Anon and Alateen
People who aren't familiar with Al-Anon often mistake it as being the same thing as Alcoholic Anonymous (AA), but it's distinctly different. Al-Anon is a 12-step program, but it's not for the people who suffer from addiction. It's geared toward the loved ones of alcoholics — spouses, family members, and friends. Alcoholics don’t seem to realize how their behavior and choices affect those closest to them. It was initially started by Lois Wilson, the wife of AA Founder Bill Wilson. More than anyone, she understood the need to have someone to talk to when you love someone who is an addict.
Alateen is associated with Al-Anon. However, as the name implies, Alateen is solely for teenagers, and sometimes preteens. Not everyone realizes how upsetting and destructive addictive behavior is to young adults and teens. Attending Alateen meetings gives them a safe place to discuss their feelings, their secret resentments, and their problems. It's particularly helpful to the children or grandchildren of alcoholics.
Why People Attend Meetings
People attend Al-Anon meetings in Toronto, Chicago, Butte, Houston, and everywhere else you can imagine for the same reason: to cope. They need to vent, yell, get angry, cry, and spend time with others who understand what they're going through and how they feel. People join Al-Anon to understand the nature of addiction — and what to do when you're someone who loves an addict.
Some attendees generally just need to vent. They need space and time to voice their anger without repercussions. They need to complain about how alcoholism is affecting their lives, their family, and their finances. Some learn valuable lessons about themselves and their loved ones that help them to handle the issue. For example, the relatives who attend Al-Anon meetings may discover that they exhibit enabling behavior that makes it easier for the addict in their lives to drink or do drugs.
To that end, Al-Anon and Alateen are technically just for the loved ones of people with drinking problems. But there are specific groups geared toward drug addicts and the loved ones of those who use narcotics. Al-Anon is a haven for anyone who knows someone dealing with alcohol and/or drug addiction.
Where to Look
Where do you live? In the United States? There are meetings in most major cities and many smaller towns. For Canadian Al-Anon meetings, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Calgary, and Vancouver are sure bets, but there are meeting locations all over Canada and the United States. A quick Web search reveals most of them, or you can visit Al-Anon's Website for a list of meeting sites. If there's nothing close to you, then check out the possibility of attending virtual meetings online.
Open Meetings vs. Closed Meetings
Many meetings are open, which means that newcomers and non-members are welcome. These are the best meetings to attend if you're new to the program because you have the opportunity to see if it's right for you. It doesn't work for everyone, and that's all right. You need to figure it out.
Closed meetings are only open to Al-Anon members. If you decide to proceed with the program, then you can join it. Then, you can attend any meeting. In time, you should consider going to open gatherings to help mentor new people. Someone will take you under their wing, as well, and you'll want to pay it forward in the future.
Alateen meetings are always closed to adults. Only teens are allowed. That's because they need a space free from judgment, fear, or recriminations. They need to be able to vocalize all their emotions, good or bad. That isn't always possible when adults are around.
What You Talk About
You can talk about anything at an Al-Anon meeting. Nothing is off-limits. Allow yourself to feel angry. You might be grieving the person you once knew. Now, you have a safe place to let it flow. Talk about ways to stop enabling your loved one. Share some of the worst experiences you've had. You're in a place with no judgment. Everyone is unbiased, and everyone understands.
If you are dealing with a loved one who is an addict, you need to remember to take care of yourself, too. Do you think Al-Anon or Alateen meetings are right for you?