Addiction Support Groups: Families Anonymous vs Al-Anon

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The minute I found myself in a [Families Anonymous] meeting, I knew I was in the right place. The friendly faces and gentle voices put me at ease and the stories I heard were similar to mine. At last, I could speak about the unspeakable, shameful things that were happening in my home. Nobody criticized or blamed me. We were all suffering the same pain and could freely share it.

~ Carole

Your loved one is struggling with an addiction. And it’s not just wrecking their life – it’s turning your life upside down, too.

You need support. Encouragement. Guidance. And it’s available.

Families Anonymous and Al-Anon addiction support groups meet across the U.S. and around the world. You can likely find a meeting to join nearby with either group.

So, which support group would better suit your needs? Well, that depends…

Choosing the Right Addiction Support Group

Families Anonymous and Al-Anon have a lot in common.

They share the following qualities:

  • Both are free to join
  • There’s no registration or sign up
  • They follow a typical 12 step meeting format
  • Neither require a commitment
  • Both are completely anonymous
  • Both focus on supporting those whose lives are affected by a loved one’s addiction (not the person with the addiction)
  • Both teach attendees how to develop coping skills and positive life changes

A Key Difference in Addiction Support Groups

addiction support group meetingAs you can see, these programs offer a lot of the same benefits and are organized in much the same way. Both offer a safe place to share your struggles and find support. Both focus on you (not on controlling your loved one’s behavior or getting help for them).

But there is one key difference between the groups.

The purpose of the Families Anonymous program:

Families Anonymous is a 12-step fellowship for the family and friends of those individuals with drug, alcohol, or related behavioral issues. We are here to help!

The purpose of the Al-Anon program:

Al-Anon is a mutual support program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. By sharing common experiences and applying the Al-Anon principles, families and friends of alcoholics can bring positive changes to their individual situations, whether or not the alcoholic admits the existence of a drinking problem or seeks help.

Did you catch it?

Al-Anon is specifically focused on alcohol use disorder. Al-Anon’s primary goal is “to provide support to the friends and families of alcoholics.”

Al-Anon completed a member survey and found that 35 percent of members said they joined the program because of a loved one’s drug addiction.

Families Anonymous, on the other hand, focuses more generally on addictive behaviors. This includes substance abuse, gambling, sex addictions, and other behavioral addictions.

So, if your loved one’s behavior is related to an addiction other than alcohol, Families Anonymous might be a better fit. (Although, plenty of Al-Anon members say they joined because of a loved one’s drug addiction.)

Still, if the issues you’re facing aren’t related to alcohol abuse, you might feel less connected at Al-Anon, since alcoholism is the sole focus.

Exploring Options in Addiction Support Groups

If you’re still not sure which support group is right for you, the best thing to do is jump right in. Attend some meetings. See which works for you.

Remember, there’s no cost or commitment required. Attend as many and as often as you like.

Keep in mind that you may need to attend the same meeting several times before you feel comfortable with the format. Only then can you really make a solid decision about whether to continue with the program.

Families Anonymous recommends making a six-week commitment to a group to fully provide an opportunity to study the literature, ask questions, and share experiences (when you’re ready).

When I first came to Al‑Anon, I was depressed and sad. I didn’t know how to live with active alcoholism, and honestly, I didn’t know how to go on living anymore. I could have died, but Al‑Anon saved my life.

~ Shiloh

Choose the Group Where You Feel Most Supported

In the end, your choice will probably boil down to personal preference. It’s always a good idea to try out a few groups (including some from different programs) – see which one feels like a better fit.

You may connect with regular attendees at one meeting better than others. Or one location may simply be more convenient for you than another.

The top priority, though, should always be to find the place where you get the support you need – to bring healthy, positive changes into your life. And that could be in either addiction support group – or it could be in both!

If you or someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, help is available. Call 800-681-1058 (Info iconWho Answers?) today.

Kerry Nenn
Kerry Nenn, BSW
Expert Author, Editor
Kerry is a full-time freelance writer and author whose work has received awards both locally and nationally. Based in the Chicago area, she holds a bachelor’s degree in social work and psychology (BSW) from Evangel University. Kerry is a regular contributor to international newsletter publications, industry-leading consumer blogs, and Christian ministries.