Al Anon: How it works (12 step groups for families)

Do you wonder how 12 step groups work for families of drug addicts or alcoholics? Social worker, Nachshon Zohari, describes how support groups can help the wives, husbands and children of addicts or alcoholics. And how you can prepare yourself for 12 step support meetings. More on what to expect from 12 step support groups like Al Anon and how it works here.

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Please help…wife of an addict

A reader to my previous blog post: “How family members can help drug addicts” wrote:

I have a question. My husband is addicted to prescription drugs. He has made several attempts at recovery. Recently we (our family) have begun attending a 12 step group through Celebrate Recovery. This is my first experience with this type of group. I am confused because “sharing” in a small group is not really giving me any advice or insight on how to cope with my situation and how to help my family. Am I missing something?

How 12 step support group meetings work

A group of this type can be useful in a variety of ways. Like most things in life, what you get out of this type of group will depend on what you bring to it. Seeing it as an opportunity to get support, learn how to give support, and explore new paths of growth for yourself will make the experience worthwhile, and hopefully, help you look forward to attending the next one. Following are some suggestions for how to prepare for a twelve step meeting, and what you can experience and learn from a group like Celebrate Recovery, Al Anon, and Alateen.

1. Ask yourself some hard questions

First, before you attend the next meeting, ask yourself a few questions.  For example:

  • Where are you struggling most?
  • Does your husband’s addiction affect your finances?
  • Does he have to lie to you or others in order to get his fix?
  • Do you feel like you are missing out on many of life’s opportunities because so much energy is put into this problem?
  • If you have children, are they being negatively impacted by the drug use?
  • Are you embarrassed by it?
  • Do you just wish life would get back to normal?

2. Share an important issue with the 12 step group

When it is your time to share in the group bring up one of these issues. Just put it out there and see how the group responds. You may be surprised that many other family members of addicts struggle with the exact same issues and can give you some helpful support and advice. You may also feel relief by simply articulating your feelings and getting them off your chest. Finally, if your husband is present at these meetings then this may be a unique opportunity to express your thoughts to him in a setting that encourages him to sit there and listen rather than getting defensive and leaving.

3. Learn by listening at 12 step meetings

Along with giving you some needed support, this group should also help you and your family learn how to give the appropriate support to your husband in his long road to sustained recovery. For example, these types of groups can teach family members the difference between helping and enabling. They can model good boundary-setting behavior. That is, families should not have to waste all their energy on micro-managing the addict’s behavior. Establishing some mutually agreed upon “house rules” around the addiction puts the onus for appropriate behavior in the home on the addict. Perhaps it would be appropriate for someone to take over the addict’s finances while he is getting stable in his recovery, for example. This type of group can help you explore this idea and come up with a plan of implementation that makes sense for your particular family.

4. Continue to grow by reflecting on your life

Finally, these types of groups are great opportunities for family members to grow themselves. Most people are not regularly put into situations that encourage them to reflect on their lives. Family members can learn a lot about themselves by examining how they relate to the addict. For example, do you have a hard time confronting your husband when he is caught up in the addiction? Does the situation trigger anger or does it shut you down emotionally? Do you find yourself regretting lost opportunities and wishing you could pursue new options? Attending a group like this might just be the start of a new approach to life for you too.

About the author
Nachshon Zohari is a licensed clinical social worker and the Program Administrator for Mental Health and Substance Treatment in a major U.S. city. His private practice includes individual, couples and family counseling; parenting classes; substance abuse education and treatment; and individual and group clinical supervision. He is an expert in the holistic practice of family focused addiction treatment.
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