Who supports the supporters?
Alcoholism and alcohol use disorder are among the most common, devastating, and costly problems in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than half of all US adults have a family history of alcohol use disorder, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has alcohol use disorder. Additionally, recent studies by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have shown that approximately 53 percent of adults in the United States have reported that one or more of their close relatives has a drinking problem.
Not only is alcoholism hazardous for the alcohol dependent individual, but it is also harmful to families and the institutions who employ those families. According to Siblings Against Drunk Drivers, members of families with an individual who is alcohol dependent use ten times as much sick leave as families without. Additionally, 80% of these family members report an impaired ability to perform at work due to living with a family member who is alcohol dependent.
Often the emphasis in providing treatment and resources is focused solely on the individual who is alcohol dependent. However, taking this approach can be shortsighted as family members experience their own stressors, and frequently play a key role in supporting their addicted loved one.
So, given that, who supports the supporters? Anne Smith and Lois Wilson began to answer this question when they founded what would become Al-Anon in 1951. Al-Anon is a peer support organization created by the spouses of the founders of AA, Bob Smith, and Bill Wilson. Its purpose is to help relatives and friends of individuals with alcohol dependence. Members meet in groups and share their own experience, strength, and hope with each other. Topics focus on problems common to family members and friends of alcohol-dependent individuals such as excessive care taking, boundaries, guilt, and shame.
Al-Anon is not affiliated with any sect, denomination, or particular religion. Al-Anon describes itself as a spiritual fellowship, not a religious one. They avoid discussion of specific religious doctrine, and members of all faiths (or of none) are welcome to attend. There are no dues for membership, as Al-Anon is self-supporting through voluntary contributions of members.
While Al-Anon can be a great supportive peer-based resource for some, it does have its limitations. Confidentiality cannot be fully guaranteed due to the group format. However, the spirit of the group is to provide a supportive as well as an anonymous forum for members. In addition, due to being a peer support model, the scope of support is non-clinical. However, this is also a strength of Al-Anon as many times peers have a deeper understanding of the individual experiences of friends and family members of individuals with alcohol dependence. As a counselor, I often recommend Al-Anon in addition to individual clinical counseling as well.
If you want to learn more about Al-Anon, or are interested in attending a meeting check out their website.
If you are an MSU employee, spouse, or benefits-eligible family member of an MSU employee and are interested in individual counseling contact the MSU Employee Assistance Program to schedule a discussion with a licensed professional today.