By Lauren Smith

Last updated: 20 April 2024

Al-Anon is a mutual aid society for people affected by someone else’s drinking, seeking to empower the family and friends of alcoholics—not primarily to stop the addict’s drinking but to heal themselves first and foremost. Like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon is grounded in anonymous, confidential community meetings and a 12-step program.

Key takeaways:

  • Through Al-Anon, these loved ones of drinkers mutually support each other. The aim of Al-Anon isn’t to help these family members stop the alcoholic’s drinking.

  • There’s also a 12-step program, closely modeled on AA's 12 steps and beginning with the loved one accepting that they are powerless over the addict.


What is Al-Anon?

Al-Anon was founded in 1951 by Lois W., wife of AA co-founder Bill W., and Anne B. to support the family members and friends of alcoholics

Al-Anon was founded on the principle that alcoholism is a family disease and that the loved ones of alcoholics are suffering too. Too often family members focus on the alcoholic, trying to control their drinking, and internalize blame, guilt, and shame when they are unable to do so, and “become addicted to the alcoholic.”[1]

Through Al-Anon, these loved ones of drinkers mutually support each other. The aim of Al-Anon isn’t to help these family members stop the alcoholic’s drinking. Typically, families have already tried to do so, often at the expense of their own well-being, and feel shame and guilt when they fail. 

Rather Al-Anon puts the focus back on the non-drinkers, allowing them to address their often neglected needs, heal from the trauma of addiction, and find peace—whether the alcoholic is drinking or not.

Like Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon works through confidential meetings, held in the community and open to all. There, family members share their experiences, learn about addiction, and find solidarity with other people affected by alcoholism. 

There’s also a 12-step program, closely modeled on AA's 12 steps and beginning with the loved one accepting that they are powerless over the addict.

How is Al-Anon different from AA?

AA is for helping alcoholics recover from addiction and reach abstinence. Al-Anon is specifically for people impacted by someone else's drinking. It doesn't seem to address the alcoholic’s problems or assist their loved ones in staging an intervention. Rather it offers solidarity and hope to those living in close proximity to addiction. 

The partners, family, and friends of alcoholics commonly experience co-dependency, engage in excessive caretaking of the drinker, and have difficulty distinguishing between pity and love. They overestimate their control over the person’s drinking and, when they fail to stop them drinking, experience self-blame and guilt. Over time, their self-esteem erodes.

Al-Anon stresses the “three Cs,” helping loved ones understand that:

  • I didn’t cause the addiction

  • I can’t control it

  • I can’t cure it [2]

Al-Anon also believes that if the loved one changes their attitudes, addresses their own problems, and creates a healthier environment in the home, the alcoholic may see their problems more clearly and be propelled to recovery. But their recovery is not the primary aim of Al-Anon.[3]

Related: Living with an alcoholic

What happens at an Al-Anon meeting?

Al-Anon meetings aren’t conducted as therapy sessions or classes. Members aren’t taught or devise ways to intervene in their loved one’s drinking. Rather, they share their personal experiences of living in close proximity to alcoholism. Members non-judgementally listen to each other’s accounts, not responding or debating. Conversations are reserved for before and after the meeting. Sharing is entirely voluntary. You can attend Al-Anon meetings and just listen.

Keeping with the tradition of AA, members are referred to by their first names and everything they disclose is confidential.

Al-Anon meetings are free although donations are accepted from attendees. They’re often held in community centers, libraries, and churches. These spaces are chosen because they're affordable and accessible. However, Al-Anon isn’t affiliated with any institution or faith. The literature and some meetings refer to God or an unspecified higher power, but Al-Anon stresses that it is spiritual rather than religious and welcomes people who are secular.

What is the Al-Anon opening statement?

Many Al-Anon meetings begin with the chairperson reading an opening statement, laying out the group's purpose for newcomers.

“We welcome you to the Al-Anon Family Group and hope you will find in this fellowship the help and friendship we have been privileged to enjoy.

"We who live, or have lived, with the problem of alcoholism understand as perhaps few others can. We, too, were lonely and frustrated but in Al-Anon we discover that no situation is really hopeless and that it is possible for us to find contentment and even happiness, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.

"The family situation is bound to improve as we apply the Al-Anon ideas. Without such spiritual help, living with an alcoholic is too much for most of us. Our thinking becomes distorted by trying to force solutions and we become irritable and unreasonable without knowing it. 

“The Al-Anon program is based on the Twelve Steps (adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous) which we try, little by little, one day at a time, to apply to our lives along with our Slogans and the Serenity Prayer. The loving interchange of help among members and daily reading of Al-Anon literature thus make us ready to receive the priceless gift of serenity. 

“Anonymity is an important principle of the Al-Anon program. Everything that is said here, in the Group meeting and member to member, must be held in confidence. Only in this way can we feel free to say what is in our minds and hearts, for this is how we help one another in Al-Anon.”[4]

Who can attend an Al-Anon meeting?

Al-Anon meetings are open to anyone affected by another person’s drinking. This includes the partner and immediate family members of the alcoholic, those affected by this "family disease."

The effects of alcoholism also ripple out beyond the home and touch more distant family members, friends, and colleagues. They’re also welcome to attend Al-Anon meetings.

The alcoholic doesn’t have to be drinking and the relationship doesn’t have to be active for you to seek help at Al-Anon. Some people join Al-Anon years after a childhood with alcoholic parents.

Al-Anon publishes a list of 20 questions that can help you decide if the program can help you. For example:

  • Do you worry about how much someone drinks?

  • Do you tell lies to cover up for someone else’s drinking?

  • Do you feel that if the drinker cared about you, he or she would stop drinking to please you?

  • Are plans frequently upset or canceled or meals are delayed because of the drinker?

If you answer yes to any of the 20 questions, Al-Anon may be for you. 

The youth branch, Alateen, is specifically for young people affected by someone else’s drinking.

The alcoholic themselves shouldn’t come to Al-Anon meetings. They’re encouraged to attend AA meetings.

Where can I find Al-Anon meetings online?

Al-Anon meetings are held in over 133 countries and online. To find one near you, use Al-Anon’s meeting locator.

To explore addiction treatment options in your area, click here.