Al-Anon and Family Recovery

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Addiction can cause great damage in families. For such families there are arguably too few family support groups around. Al-Anon has a solid presence in many Scottish cities (there are about 800 groups in the UK). There are a tiny number of Families Anonymous groups (two recently opened in Lothian) and although SMART Family groups are about to be piloted here, and Vocal runs a well established support group for carers, families are currently generally poorly served by treatment agencies in Scotland. This is something the recent Expert Review on Opioid Replacement Therapies identified. Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs are constantly developing family support and lobbying on the issue.

Despite the size of the resource (25,000 groups in 130 countries approximately), there’s not a lot of research on Al-Anon. What troubles the members about the drinkers in their lives? In a paper written by some of the heaviest hitters in mutual aid research (Moos, Kaskutas, Timko, Laudet, Roth and Cronkite) the microscope is focused on this very question. The authors describe Al-Anon:

Al‐Anon Family Groups (Al‐Anon), a 12‐step mutual‐help program, is the most widely‐used form of help in the US for concerned other people (COs) who are family and friends of problem‐drinking individuals.

625 members responded to their questionnaire. The attendees reported that their drinkers, on average, were male, in their mid-forties, had been drinking for 20 years or more and for about half, were in regular daily contact. 68% of ’their drinkers’ had drunk in the previous month.

Most reported difficulties in their relationships with arguments being problematic. The authors report that ‘nearly 30% had “a lot” of concern about their drinker’s prescription and non‐prescribed drug use. In the most recent Al‐Anon membership survey, 34% of members initially joined Al‐Anon because a person with a drug problem was negatively affecting their lives.’

Why did Al-Anon members go to meetings? Not particularly to get the drinker sober it seems. They ‘focused more on the drinker’s quality of life, relationships, and psychological functioning than on the drinker’s drinking’. Interestingly, ‘close to 50% of drinkers were reported to have attended 12‐ step groups during the past 6 months’, prompting speculation that ‘there may be reciprocity between a CO’s [concerned other person’s] Al‐Anon participation and the drinker’s 12‐step group participation.’

One interesting thing for me about this study is how willing groups were to take part. It has been said by some that you can’t do quality research on 12-step groups due to the Traditions governing the groups. However, less than one in five groups interpreted the Traditions in this way. We have a dearth of research on mutual aid in Scotland, but it looks like the barrier to such research is not coming from the Fellowships.

Timko, C., Cronkite, R., Laudet, A., Kaskutas, L., Roth, J., & Moos, R. (2014). Al-Anon family groups’ newcomers and members: Concerns about the drinkers in their lives The American Journal on Addictions DOI: 10.1111/j.1521-0391.2014.12122.x

Al-Anon meetings can be located via the Al-Anon Website or phone the helpline: 020 7403 0888

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