Support for Families of Alcoholics That Isn't Al-Anon

My brother (my only sibling) has been an alcoholic since he was a teenager (we in our forties now), and recent events and my own growing self-awareness have led me to the conclusion that I could benefit from some support from others who have been in similar situations. He is on his way to an early death, and I see now that I need to start finding ways to cope with where he and I are now and also how I will get through losing him.

I've tried Al-Anon several times, and while I absolutely believe it is beneficial for many people, it isn't my thing. My struggle to get past the religious aspect and "asking a higher power to remove defects" etc. has made it very difficult for me to benefit. I do understand that the program is open to interpreting "God" however you understand that concept, but it simply doesn't work for me. I've also found it very disheartening that some people in "the Program" have suggested that because I can't get on board and accept that 12 steps is the only way to find relief, I simply don't want help or support. 

Does anyone have recommendations for support groups that aren't based on 12 steps? I'd love to find something that incorporated meditation and is completely secular, or that has a Unitarian approach. Thanks so much. 

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There are many al-anon groups that are not religious - including an amazing women's meeting in San Francisco on Monday night worth the trip across the bridge. (Monday, 6:30 pm, Holy Innocents Church). If you go a few times to any meetings you'll find folks who don't believe in god but also don't think they have power to change others.  It's an awesome program and has been helpful beyond words. - avowed atheist

SF Zen Center runs a Meditation in Recovery program:

They may be able to refer you to a similar program for family members.

I guess it's not completely secular but it's not Al Anon either!

One possibility.  You could look into LifeRing Secular Recovery.
service [at]

I have no personal experience pro or con with them; I picked up a brochure today, so you will have to investigate for yourself.  But this is definitely a secular, non 12 step group aimed at alcoholics looking to abstain.  If you contact them, perhaps they can refer you to a secular companion society that fulfills the same function as Al-Anon.

A second thought is to contact some of the local meditation centers and ask if they have or know of meditation-friendly groups for relatives of alcoholics.

Re Al-Anon and many of the 12-step groups, one thing they are supposed to address is the kind of attitude you encountered: rigid, black/white thinking.  "If you can't get with the program you just don't want help" is a lot like, "you have to believe in XYZ to be saved or you are going to hell."   Anyone who tells you this is very far from "recovery."

For many people, the primary benefit of 12-step programs isn't the steps; it's hearing other people's personal stories and struggles.  You can always pick a Higher Power like thermodynamics or natural selection or your better nature; no one will be the wiser.

I wish that I had a recommendation for you. I'm writing to tell you that I had the same experience at Al-Anon. I was in a very bad place (my husband had just OD'd and I saved his life by doing CPR) and really needed someone to talk to. I found that the weird Al-Anon structure kept me from getting any help at all. I really needed a group of people who had been through a similar experience who I could vent to and get feedback from. While I was able to vent at Al-Anon, I was not able to get feedback or assistance because that is not their model. I left wondering how anyone got anything from it. No one offered to help me understand how I could get something out of Al-Anon, there were far too concerned with reading whatever passage they were supposed to read on that particular day. It was never clear to me how I was supposed to be working any steps. Basically, the experience didn't help me in the least. And that's not even touching on the religious aspects of the service. I found the whole religious aspect was incredibly off-putting. I felt like I was at church with my grandma, especially when they passed around the donation plate at the end (I have no issue with contributing money but the way that It was done was far too similar to church for my tastes). There has to be a support group out there that has nothing to do with religion or a "higher power" and where people can actually talk to each other and provide support. I was truly appalled by how useless the Al-Anon meeting that I attended was to me.

I, too, wish I had something to recommend.  I posted a similar question about 14 months ago, and even though my post specified "please do not recommend Al-Anon," nearly every response did.  Someone has already posted a response here that describes my experience at Al-Anon meetings perfectly.  (Thank you!)  No feedback or assistance.  No one able (or willing?) to explain "how I could get something out of" it.  No opportunity for people to speak to each other and provide support.  My qualifier is my (now) young adult daughter.  Over the course of the past 9 years, she's been in rehab several times.  There was always a required family/parents component to her programs, and I found those meetings terrifically supportive.  I'd love to find something like that on the "outside."  And Al-Anon is not that.

I am sorry that the Al-Anon group you attended was off-putting and did not serve your needs.  I wish I had an Al-Anon alternative to suggest.

I believe my teenage son has a substance abuse problem, of which he and his father are in denial.  I needed support and, in January, joined an Al-Anon Parent group that meets in Menlo Park on Wednesday nights.  Because Al-Anon is a an organization run by and for the people it serves, each meeting has its own character.  I am not a religious person - given an abusive Catholic upbringing, I bridle at anything religious.  However, this particular group is not overtly religious and indeed pokes a little fun at the "God as you see him" bit of the program.  Yes, it's structured, but I now find that comforting.  While the formal part of the meeting has no cross-talk, the social time afterward is very supportive with people offering one-to-one comfort and advice when appropriate and I'm receptive.  While the steps are talked about, its not a requirement to work through them.  A more formal mentor relationship is available for those who want that, but I've not gone that route.  I did recently call a person in the group when I was in a difficult situation and needed immediate support.  They responded immediately and I ended the conversation feeling much better.  

If you cannot find an alternative, you might try a different Al-Anon meeting.

I just wanted to say that after years of getting great support from Al-Anon meetings on the east coast, I moved to the Bay Area and immediately tried to replicate the experience. There is some kind of regional disconnect in this program. I don't know what the deal is, but Al-Anon is much more fussy and strict and judgmental and offputting out here. I'm only saying this to validate your POV and let you know you're not alone. The idea of Al-Anon is great, but since it's run by volunteers, there's no quality control, and I found myself hurt more by attending meetings than just going back to my books and reading about the weird psychological effects of being connected to an alcoholic. I'm sorry you haven't found help yet, and I wish you strength and support.