Al-Anon and Alateen

History and Philosophy of the Family Support Fellowship

Support group members comfort family member
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Al-Anon and Alateen are two programs that are part of a worldwide fellowship which offers support to families of alcoholics. Al-Anon is designed to help spouses, parents, siblings, and other family members, while Alateen is geared specifically toward younger people living with an alcoholic.

Both groups are based on a spiritual, non-religious ethos from which members derive insight from being part of a collective (as opposed to engaging in one-on-one support).

While many people turn to Al-Anon and Alateen for help with a loved one's drinking problems, neither are intervention programs. Rather, they recognize that people living with an alcoholic can be traumatized and focus their efforts on caring for those individuals' needs.

As with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon and Alateen are closely based on a 12-step model (known, aptly, as the Twelve Steps) which is designed as a "tool for spiritual growth."

History of Al-Anon and Alateen

As early as 1939, families began to attend AA meetings along with their alcoholic family member. By actively engaging in the Twelve Steps, many of these people began to see the benefits of incorporating the principles into their own lives and family dynamics. Over time, some of these family groups formed their own independent meetings.

In 1948, several of these groups applied to the AA General Service Office to be listed in the member directory. After being denied inclusion, Lois W. (wife of AA co-founder Bill W.) and Anne B., a close family friend, decided to create a committee to help coordinate and service these independent groups.

In 1951, Al-Anon was officially established with 56 member groups across the continental United States. They chose the name from the first syllables of "Alcoholics Anonymous" and, in keeping with the founding principles, adopted the Twelve Steps (and later the Twelve Traditions) in a slightly modified form.

The first Alateen meetings, meanwhile, were established in 1957 specifically for members between the ages of 12 and 19. While functioning on their own, these groups are facilitated by an adult Al-Anon member, called a sponsor.

Al-Anon and Alateen Twelve Steps

The Al-Anon and Alateen Twelve Steps are closely aligned to those of AA. The basic principle of the model is that people can help heal each another but only if they surrender to a higher power.

While the Twelve Steps can be a force for good in families who are suffering, there are those who struggle with the spiritual, quasi-religious, male-centric premise of the program. For these individuals, there are alternatives to the 12-step methodology which do not rely on the concept of a "higher power."

For those who embrace the Al-Anon and Alateen approach, the 12 steps are broken down as follows:

  1. Admitting that you are powerless over alcohol and that your life has become unmanageable
  2. Believing that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity
  3. Making the decision to turn your will and life over to the care of God in whatever form that may be
  4. Taking a fearless moral inventory of yourself
  5. Admitting to God, yourself, and others of the exact nature of your wrongdoings
  6. Being ready to have God remove these defects from your character
  7. Actively asking God to remove these defects
  8. Making a list of all those you have harmed and being willing to make amends
  9. Making amends wherever possible (except when doing so would cause harm)
  10. Continuing to take a moral inventory of yourself and admitting when you are wrong
  11. Seeking to improve your connection with God and to pray for knowledge and the power to carry out God's will
  12. Carrying these message to others and practicing these principles in your daily life
View Article Sources
  • Timco, C.; Cronkite, R.; Kaskuta, A. et al. "Al-Anon Family Groups: Newcomers and Members." J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2013; 74(6):965-76. PMCID: PMC3817053.