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The chaos of addiction isn’t limited only to addicts and alcoholics. It extends outward to a person’s family and friends, who suffer right alongside their addicted loved one. While addiction is a disease, it’s a unique medical condition that can tear families apart, and often permanently damage or destroy precious relationships, unlike cancer or other medical disorders.
For somebody that doesn’t suffer from addiction, it’s often difficult to understand why a friend or family member has to get drunk or high every day. Many people see it as a choice that can be stopped at any time through sheer willpower.
The addict needs proper treatment to understand their problem and recover. Their friends and family also need help along the way to better cope with the situation. Fortunately, there are many places to find help based on 12 step and non-12-step therapies.
Al-Anon and Alateen are 12 step support communities for the family and friends of those struggling with, or are in recovery for, alcoholism or substance abuse addiction. These groups can be incredibly helpful in learning to deal with the complicated emotions and difficult situations that come with addiction issues.
One of the goals is to stop focusing on the addicted person and focus on yourself so you can deal with the personal problems that the addiction is causing YOU. It doesn’t matter if your friend or family member is using a 12 step or non 12 step method to recover, because they aren’t your focus. YOU are the focus.
It’s estimated that some 23 million Americans suffer from the disease of addiction, either to alcohol or drugs or a combination of both, according to The Partnership At Drugfree.org. For every person living with this complex disease of the brain, there are many more trying to cope with their loved one’s difficult behavior.
What are some statistics on the damage addiction can have on families?
- Approximately 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 in the United States are exposed to alcohol dependency or abuse in the home
- Over half of American adults have a close family member that is an alcoholic
- Children with an addicted parent are at a greater risk for mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety
- Children of addicts are 3 times more likely to be verbally, sexually or physically abused, and are 4 times more likely than other children to be neglected
- 75 percent of domestic violence victims report their abuser had been drinking or using drugs at the time of the incident
Al-Anon, and its partner organization for teenagers, Alateen, are spiritually-focused and are not associated with any outside institution. With groups across the country, Al-Anon offers support meetings where people can attend and listen to the experience of others who have dealt with similar issues.
Newcomers to these support communities learn that it’s impossible to stop the cycle of addiction in another person. Trying to control an addict’s drug or alcohol consumption can actually have an adverse effect, and create more problems. When an individual is unable to help their loved one, they often blame themselves and experience feelings of shame and guilt.
Those living with dependency issues might make promise after promise to change their behavior, but continue to fail. Over time, this can traumatize the people that love them the most. Groups like Al-Anon and Alateen attempt to help family members and friends deal with this perceived betrayal and emotional pain.
The Goal of Al-Anon and Alateen
The goal of Al-Anon and Alateen is not to stop drug addiction or alcoholism in another person. Members of these groups learn to keep the focus on themselves, while understanding that addiction is a disease. They learn that they were not the cause of and cannot cure someone else’s disease.
In many cases, the best thing a person can do for a family member or friend suffering from addiction is take care of themselves by seeking support and developing skills to accept and understand their loved one’s shortcomings, as well as their own.
Al-Anon and Alateen are two popular and widespread support groups for friends and family members of people with an addiction. They have many different local groups, so if one doesn’t seem to fit, don’t give up hope, find a different one.
There are also other types of support groups to try, such as SMART Recovery Family & Friends, which is a non 12 step support group that is completely secular and an alternative to Al-Anon.
To get the most out of a support group, it’s important to find one that feels right and that will offer continued and beneficial support. Because addiction isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.