Oftentimes the forgotten victims of drug and alcohol abuse and dependence are families. In that sense, addiction truly is a family issue that needs to be addressed on multiple levels. Support groups focusing on helping families of drug and alcohol users provide valuable support in this regard.

Three of the most well known support groups operating in the UK are: Al-Anon, FamAnon (families Anonymous), and AdFam. Each group has its own focus and strengths, aimed at providing for the families of abusers and addicts. There are other groups as well, but we’ll focus on these three in this space.

Al-Anon – ‘Strength and hope for friends and families of problem drinkers’

As an international support group for friends and family members of problem drinkers, Al-Anon is one of the most well-known groups of its kind in the world. Their approach is a combination of some of the 12-step principles of the Alcoholics Anonymous organisation and the concept of mutual support by mutual participation.

Al-Anon’s primary means of support is through group meetings held at various locations around the country. There is no ‘formal’ membership required to participate in group meetings, and participants are encouraged to take away from the meetings those things they like while leaving the rest behin

The interesting thing about this organisation is that it does not offer direct consultation and advice. Rather, it relies on the personal experiences of participating families to act as a guide to those who are seeking help. For participants who want to take it to the next level, they have set up a sponsorship programme whereby veteran families are paired with new faces in order to provide mentoring and more personal support.

Al-Anon offers services for different family groups, including spouses, parents, grandparents, young children, and teenagers. Friends of problem drinkers are also encouraged to participate as well. It is a very open-ended organisation with the purpose of being as helpful as possible to as many as possible.

You can find more information about Al-Anon by visiting their website. There you will be able to easily locate a local support group. They also provide a help line you can call if you need a listening ear.

Families Anonymous (FamAnon)

In 1971 a group of American families got together to start Families Anonymous upon discovering a lack of support services for the families of substance abusers. The first chapter in the UK was established in London in 1980. Today, FamAnon is one of the largest international fellowships for families and friends living with loved ones using mind-altering substances.

Like Al-Anon, FamAnon does not offer direct counselling or intervention. It is a self-help organisation that relies on each participating family reaching out to help wherever they can. That might be through relaying their own experiences, providing a safe environment for discussion, or even offering suggestions based on what has worked for them and others in the group.

The help offered by this organisation is primarily through organised group meetings. These meetings provide a safe and open environment where honesty is always expected. The best part is that no one is turned away. Anyone can participate in a group meeting, even if they only suspect a family member or dear friend is using drugs or alcohol.

The principles used to provide support are based on the same principles adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous when they developed the 12-step programme back in the 1930s. In that sense, the support provided by the group is designed to help families take ownership of their lives so they are no longer controlled by the actions of the substance abuser.

You can find a local group and meeting place near you by visiting the FamAnon website. They also provide a number of literature resources that are freely accessible to anyone who wants them. If you would like to volunteer to help others, there are plenty of opportunities available by contacting them.

AdFam – ‘Families, drugs and alcohol’

The AdFam organisation was established in 1984 by the mother of a heroin addict unable to find the support she needed during her time of crisis. It is interesting to note how frequently these types of situations will lead directly to a solution. Such is the case with AdFam.

What makes AdFam different is the scope of their mission. In other words, they are on umbrella organisation rather than a single, independent entity offering group meetings and other types of services. Their status as an umbrella organisation allows them to work with multiple independent groups and government agencies to ensure families of substance abusers are being helped.

In the 29 years since AdFam was founded, they have made remarkable strides in helping individual families through in-house support and through helping smaller, independent support groups establish themselves. The organisation also prides itself on making sure family issues always remain at the forefront of the discussion surrounding drug and alcohol abuse.

On the AdFam website, you will find plenty of information about how the organisation operates and what it offers. More importantly, you will find literature that directly answers many of the questions the families of addicts ask. You will find answers to questions like:

  • How do I know they are using drugs?
  • Why do they use drugs/alcohol?
  • Is it my fault?
  • How can I cope with their behaviour?
  • What can I do to help?
  • Where do I get the help I need?

DrugFAM – Support for Loved Ones

DrugFAM founder Elizabeth Burton-Phillips lost a son to heroin addiction in 2004. In her struggle to find healing, Burton-Phillips also struggled to find the kind of support she needed for her family as they dealt with her son’s addiction and eventual death. The grieving mother went on to create DrugFAM in 2006 with the mission of ensuring that no one affected by drug use – not family members, friends, or caregivers – is left feeling isolated and fearful of seeking help from local or national support organisations.

The primary objective of DrugFAM is to support and educate the family members of drug and alcohol abusers. It is to let them know that they are understood and cared for by passionate people who are generally interested in the welfare of those they serve. As one of the most respected national charities for the families of drug and alcohol abusers, DrugFAM assists those in need through:

  • weekly support groups
  • one-to-one support and befriending
  • education and awareness
  • theatre in education
  • bereavement support
  • telephone and e-mail support.

Support groups are the core of DrugFAM services. Group attendees get the support they need from trained facilitators and other family members and loved ones experiencing the same difficult trials. Through mutual accountability and encouragement, the family members and friends of substance abusers are strengthened to face the challenges drug and alcohol addiction creates.
DrugFAM offers a telephone helpline available from 9am to 9pm seven days a week, along with e-mail support. Check out their website for more information.

The Strength of Support Groups

Addiction Helper has counselled with many families who are reluctant to seek out the support available from groups like Al-Anon and FamAnon. They mistakenly believe that because help is not provided directly from licensed professionals it will be of no value. But in fact, that is the very strength of such support groups.

While it is true that licensed and certified professionals bring plenty of valuable experience and knowledge to the table, there is an awful lot to be said about the personal experiences of other families who have gone through the same things. Why? Because there’s a vast difference between book knowledge and real world, day-to-day reality.

The strength of the local support group comes by way of families who have already dealt with the same issues you are currently dealing with. It comes from a heart of caring and compassion among others; people who know what it’s like to deal with the unpredictability and irrationality of a substance abuser. Support group members have lived it; they know what it’s like.

When you participate in a self-help group like Al-Anon, there are some things you should be aware of:

  • Honesty – any support provided will be useless if you’re not open and honest about everything; honesty is one of the fundamental basics of group support
  • Accountability – group members are there to provide accountability to one another in the areas of enabling, intervention and denial
  • Participation – there are few support groups, if any at all, that force attendees to actively participate in the discussion; participation is voluntary
  • Confidentiality – you can expect complete confidentiality when you attend a support group meeting; it’s expected you maintain that same confidentiality on behalf of others
  • Anonymity – participants who want to remain anonymous usually have the freedom to do so
  • Sponsorships – support groups that offer sponsorships allow for deeper level of support on a one-on-one basis
  • Spirituality – be aware that any support group based on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme will include a spiritual component.


The Future of Your Family

We cannot be too strong in urging you to seek out the support of one of the three organisations we have listed here or, if not possible, some other like-minded support group. Please understand that the friend or loved one using drugs and alcohol may never change. He or she may continue what he or she’s doing until it finally puts them in the grave. You cannot change that. However, you can decide that his or her substance abuse is not going to ruin your life for the rest of your family relationships.

Support from groups like AdFam and Al-Anon is vital to the future of your family. Without it, there is no telling where you will end up two, five or 10 years from now. Without it, you may eventually get to the point where you cannot cope; a point that leads you to begin exhibiting behaviour that is equally unhealthy and destructive.

Addiction Helper counsellors are standing by right now to assist you in finding an appropriate support group close to where you live. If you have reached a place where your loved one is beginning to contemplate seeking treatment, we can prepare you for an eventual decision by walking you through the treatment options currently available. We can even assist you in making arrangements when that time comes.

The important thing is that you do not delay getting the help you need any further. Whether it is through Al-Anon, FamAnon, or AdFam, taking advantage of family support services could mean the difference between keeping your family together and watching it fall apart before your very eyes. Please do not let that happen. Help for family, friends, and close ones is just as important as the help people suffering with addiction need. Seek support to find the right path.