Al-Anon Family Groups: Newcomers and Members

Objective: Empirical knowledge is lacking about Al-Anon Family Groups (Al-Anon), the most widely used form of help by people concerned about another’s drinking, partly because conducting research on 12-step groups is challenging.

Our purpose was to describe a new method of obtaining survey data from 12-step group attendees and to examine influences on initial Al-Anon attendance and attendees’ recent life contexts and functioning.

Method: Al-Anon’s World Service Office sent a mailing to a random sample of groups, which subsequently yielded surveys from newcomers (n = 359) and stable members (n = 264).

Results: Reasons for groups’ nonparticipation included having infrequent newcomers and the study being seen as either contrary to the 12 Traditions or too uncomfortable for newcomers.

Main concerns prompting initial Al-Anon attendance were problems with overall quality of life and with the Al-Anon trigger (a significant drinking individual), and being stressed and angry.

Goals for Al-Anon attendance were related to the following concerns:

  • better quality of life,
  • fewer trigger-related problems, and
  • less stress.

Members reported better functioning in some of these domains (quality of life, relationship with the trigger) but did not differ from newcomers on physical and psychological health.

Newcomers were more likely to have recently drunk alcohol and to have obtained treatment for their own substance misuse problems.

Conclusions: This method of collecting data from 12-step group attendees yielded valid data and also was seen by many in Al-Anon as consistent with the Traditions.

Both newcomers and members had aimed to improve their overall quality of life and well-being through Al-Anon, and, indeed, members were more satisfied with their quality of life than were newcomers.

J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 74, 965–976, 2013. Christine Timko, Ruth Cronkite, Lee Ann Kaskutas, Alexandre Laudet, Jeffrey Roth, Rudolf H. Moos