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WHEN THE ONES THEY LOVE ARE ALCOHOLICS
people know about the work done by AA (Alcoholics Anonymous),
an organization in which alcoholics help one another overcome
their drinking problems. Fewer realize there is a somewhat
similar group devoted to helping the families of alcoholics.
Al-Anon Family Groups have no official connection with AA,
though the two organizations work closely together. Like
AA, Al-Anon is a nonprofit, voluntary association. The family
groups sprang up informally when wives and husbands of AA
members met to discuss mutual problems. In 1951, Al-Anon
Family Groups headquarters were set up to serve as a clearinghouse
for the exchange of ideas and information. The member groups,
however, remain autonomous and decide their own rules and
procedures. At present there are some 1,300 groups-about
1,000 in the U.S. and Canada, with the remainder scattered
throughout 20 foreign countries. The average group has an
active membership of about 25.
Membership is open to anyone with an alcoholic relative
or friend; even teen-agers are welcomed. (In some communities,
teen-age children of alcoholics have set up their own groups,
called Alateens.) Most members are women, largely because
there are many more men alcoholics than women. There are
no bylaws or dues; members make small, voluntary contributions
to cover the rental of a meeting place and the cost of refreshments.
In addition, each member is encouraged to contribute a dollar
twice a year for the support of the national headquarters.
Most groups meet once a week or twice a month. A typical
meeting might open with a nondenominational prayer for serenity,
followed by the introduction of new members. Next might
come a group discussion, an address by an outside speaker
(a doctor, psychiatrist, or clergyman), or a reading of
inspirational literature. Typical problems discussed might
be: how to protect the children from the impact of alcoholism;
whether the wife (if the husband is the alcoholic) should
go to work to ease the financial situation; or what the
basic cause of excessive drinking is.
heart of most Al-Anon meetings, however, is the “personal
story” period, in which two or three members recount
their own experiences in living with an alcoholic and either
ask the group’s help in easing some of the problems
or recount the methods they themselves have found successful.
Members are encouraged to be frank but urged to withhold
particularly intimate or emotional problems for private
discussion with individual members.
Basic to Al-Anon’s philosophy is the idea that the
family of an alcoholic is powerless to control his drinking.
But a nonalcoholic can control himself, and the Al-Anon
program tries to help its members by urging them to live
one day at a time; to accept the idea that alcoholism is
a disease; to examine their own consciences and try to remove
from their conduct toward the alcoholic any trace of self-righteousness,
resentment, or irritation; and to live full lives themselves,
even if that means developing interests and activities the
alcoholic cannot share. In carrying out this program, Al-Anon,
like AA, stresses the need for reliance on spiritual help.
promises no miracles. About ten percent of its new members
usually drop out after two or three meetings, when they
discover the organization does not attempt to solve the
basic problem of alcoholism itself. In other cases, the
alcoholic relative bitterly resents having his problems
discussed with strangers. Often the Al-Anon program just
does not take. But even more often, Al-Anon says, its members
are greatly helped by simply being able to talk over their
problems with others in the same situation. As they struggle
to overcome their own resentment, fear, or despair, they
make at least their own lives more bearable. And in some
instances, the resulting improvement in home life encourages
the alcoholic relative to seek help himself from doctors,
psychiatrists, clergymen, or AA.
For further information, write to Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters,
Inc., Post Office Box 182, Madison Square Station, New York
10, New York.
Good Housekeeping, January 1960)