Are there secular alternatives to Al-Anon?
March 15, 2008 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Looking for secular alternatives to Al-Anon.

My partner has some ongoing problems with alcohol, and while he's working on treatment, I am also feeling like I need some help doing my own dealing with the situation. I'm looking into finding an individual therapist, but meanwhile, I thought maybe I'd look into an Al-Anon meeting for some support.

I am very determinedly atheist, and at least the particular meeting I went to had more of a religious flavor than I was comfortable with, and I won't be going back. I've got a list of some other meetings and will probably try out the ones that I can make work with my work schedule since I gather the religious component can vary from group to group, but I'm wondering whether there might be explicitly secular programs out there for friends/family of people with addiction problems.

I've looked through the couple of previous thread about sobriety and recovery and found a couple of suggested secular programs for people with addictions, but the websites are so convoluted that I can't figure out whether there's any support offered for friends and family.

So I turn to the hive mind - can anyone offer any pointers toward the secular equivalent of Al-Anon? Bonus points if there are groups in PA, but for now any sites with useful resources would be great. Personal recommendations would be even better, but since I'm doing this anonymously I can hardly ask anyone else to speak up. I do have a gmail account set up for any comments people might not want to post publicly:
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:37 PM on March 15, 2008

TheOtherGuy, that thread is about AA, not Al-Anon.
posted by astruc at 2:49 PM on March 15, 2008

There is a good deal of difference group to group. If you go to a group on a college campus for example you might find less God.

But "less God" will still have some fuzzy spiritual/higher power talk which might be too much for you.
posted by shothotbot at 2:53 PM on March 15, 2008

Check your local hospital (it might have to be a mental hospital) to see if they have a substance abuse program. If so, they may very well have a "family program" for those affected by the addiction as well.
I've been to a family program of this nature, and there was no religious component at all.
It helped a lot - if only to not feel so alone in dealing with it.

Good luck.
posted by Tbola at 3:12 PM on March 15, 2008

From my wife: Google "James Christopher" and "Save OurSelves". She also says she believes there is a book called So Dependent No More that's a take off on CoDependent No More. The latter uses the 12 steps which has higher power stuff...

A UU church might know of some groups as well...
posted by tcv at 4:32 PM on March 15, 2008

These are the biggest secular recovery organizations: SMART recovery: and lifering recovery:

I am highly knowledgeable about addiction issues and I have to say, I have never heard of an Al-Anon alternative that is nonreligious and the non-12-step recovery organizations themselves tend to be very small and to be primarily online, so I'd imagine any family support organizations they have are even smaller.

That said, there is a form of family therapy called Community Reinforcement and Family Therapy (CRAFT) that is completely secular that might be of use. You can find information about it and about harm reduction approaches (which do not require abstinence but do not oppose it either-- they 'meet the addict where he's at') here:

And I did a book with an addiction expert at U Penn called Recovery Options: The Complete Guide: How You and Your Loved Ones Can Understand and Treat Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, that may be of use. You can get on Amazon, please excuse self-link:
posted by Maias at 6:57 PM on March 15, 2008

Seconding the idea of trying out different Al-anon meetings, though the more rural you are the harder time you'll have finding finding more secular meetings.

Secular Al-anon meetings do still reference higher powers, but people's higher powers tend more towards "wisdom of the people who went before me," and "the ideal me that I'd like to become," etc. There are also higher powers like Gaia, the ocean, nature, the universe... Not sure where those fall on the secular-spiritual continuum.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:07 PM on March 15, 2008

There's little to no evidence that 12-step programs work even as well as therapy, so I'd suggest focusing on the therapy route. Finding a support group of other partners/relations of alcoholics might be useful, I suppose, but don't sell (good) therapy short.

/fellow atheist
posted by callmejay at 8:08 PM on March 15, 2008

May be worth watching.
posted by sourwookie at 8:16 PM on March 15, 2008

Al-anon != Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
posted by Netzapper at 9:43 PM on March 15, 2008

No, Netzapper, Al-anon is for loved ones of addicts who are not addicts themselves
posted by holdkris99 at 9:47 PM on March 15, 2008

I think that's what Netzapper meant by the != (not equal to) sign.
posted by peacheater at 12:39 AM on March 16, 2008

Though I don't know it's stats compared to therapy, and in no way do I think it's everyone's cup of tea, Al-anon HAS worked for a lot of people, and you just can't beat the price. I'm generally in favor of trying the cheap way before I try the expensive way.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:11 AM on March 16, 2008

my apologies netzapper. did not know about !=
posted by holdkris99 at 2:39 PM on March 16, 2008

Just a word of caution, if you do manage to find a secular alternative: it may be wholly different demographic than you'd see in a pure AA setting. I went to one meeting at a Unitarian church in Utica, some years ago, which advertised itself as a secular addiction recovery group. Most of the folks there (while perfectly lovely individuals of their own rite) were recovering from heroin or crack addiction. There was also no concept of a 12-step program, and was more group-therapy oriented than I was expecting. They have the potential to be a horse of a slightly different color than an AA group, I think, and might not be as applicable to your partner.
posted by Mayor West at 5:49 AM on March 17, 2008

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