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What is Families Anonymous?

Families Anonymous (FA) is a 12-step program designed specifically for the family and friends of those suffering from substance abuse and other addictive behavioral issues. The program began in 1971 on a premise similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

FA started with in-person meetings but has integrated an online meeting system in recent years. It became particularly beneficial during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meetings are free to attend, but donations are welcome.

Similar to other programs, FA aims to encourage members to go through a 12-step series to heal psychological issues that contribute to substance abuse problems. These steps are based on twelve traditions and twelve promises, each providing guidance and focused statements about healing.

Like other 12-step programs, FA respects member anonymity and provides literature to educate families on offered programs. They also provide additional information on addiction and addiction-related issues.

These similarities are designed to help Families Anonymous members better understand what loved ones have gone through on the road to recovery. Many recovering users have attended Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-step programs.

FA also works to prevent members from engaging in the following destructive forces that often prevent healing:

  • Religious discussion
  • Gossiping about members
  • Dominating or taking over meetings
  • Dwelling on or constantly revisiting the past

Who Can Attend These Meetings?

FA meetings are primarily for family members and friends of people suffering from addiction or currently in recovery. 

The goal of FA is to allow loved ones to gather and share experiences. Sharing is believed to be cathartic and often helps people heal from experiences caused by substance abuse and behavioral issues of loved ones.

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What Takes Place at Families Anonymous Meetings?

Families Anonymous meetings follow a similar structure to other 12-step programs, but with some additional advantages that cater to flexibility and inclusivity, such as allowing any FA member to lead a meeting. In fact, it is encouraged to have different people lead each meeting.

FA provides a suggested meeting format for leaders to refer to when conducting a meeting, but this is just for guidance. Leaders are encouraged to conduct meetings in the way that makes them feel most comfortable and best supports the people present in the group. 

A typical meeting may begin by welcoming newcomers and making announcements, followed by asking attendees if they would like to share their own announcements. If there are new members present, they may also describe the goals and structure of Families Anonymous. 

Members often start off by reading FA's twelve steps, twelve traditions, and twelve promises, as well as information about drug abuse. Members can also provide contact information to others.

Meetings usually feature "discussion time" that is often centered around any piece of FA literature. This can be a bookmark, a reading from Today a Better Way, or one of the twelve steps, promises, or traditions.

Everyone present in FA meetings are encouraged to participate in discussions. However, crosstalk is discouraged. 

Examples of crosstalk include:

  • Talking without recognition from the leader or while someone else has the floor.
  • Having side conversations during the meeting with others in a one-on-one setting.
  • Counseling other members.
  • Questioning the decisions or actions of other members.

During discussion sessions, members request to be recognized by the leader to make comments. This allows everyone to contribute while making sure the focus is on the current person speaking. This lets the speaker know they can be truly heard, which helps to provide a strong emotional boost at an often critical time.

Following discussion time, baskets are usually passed around for voluntary donations like in typical churches. At this time, newcomers are usually asked if they have questions or comments before asking if anyone else has something they would like to share.

Near the end of meetings, leaders often remind members that Families Anonymous values anonymity and strongly discourages sharing anything that was said or discussed in meetings in any other setting. 

Families Anonymous meetings often close with a Serenity Prayer, which is similar to the format that other 12-step programs offer. 

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Types of Families Anonymous Meetings

There are three main types of Families Anonymous meetings: face-to-face, phone meetings, online or virtual meetings, and email meetings. Each of these are designed to allow members access to the help and support they are seeking.

Face-to-Face Meetings

Families Anonymous began with face-to-face meetings, and it remains the most popular type of meeting in the organization. There are in-person FA meetings across the United States and throughout the world.

Phone Meetings

After face-to-face meetings, phone meetings were the next form of FA gathering to be introduced. Phone meetings occur at a set time each week, on Saturdays at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST). They can be joined by dialing 1-855-641-0395 in the United States and entering the access code 164804#.

Online Meetings (Virtual Meetings)

Online meetings have grown in popularity during the 21st Century, but they became invaluable with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Virtual meetings began for people that lacked access to in-person gatherings in their area or because of other mobility issues. These meetings are referred to as Meetings Without Walls (MWW), and they enable real-time voice chats with members over the internet. Script templates are available for MWW online sessions.

Email Meetings

Families Anonymous email meetings are designed for people who prefer writing about personal feelings and thoughts on their own time. These are essentially email discussion groups that allow members across the world to help one another heal.

Families Anonymous vs. Al-Anon: Which is Right For You?

Both Al-Anon and Families Anonymous share much of the same traditions and structure; the main difference between the two is their focus. 

Al-Anon focuses on alcohol use disorder and its effects on the family, while Families Anonymous focuses on a wider range of addictive behaviors. These include substance use, sex addictions, gambling problems, and other behavioral compulsions. 

Each of these programs offers an anonymous, safe space to share how addictive behaviors affect loved ones and their families. Supporting members is the core goal of Al-Anon and Families Anonymous, rather than controlling loved ones' behaviours. 

Finding which program is right for you primarily depends on the type of behavior that is affecting you. If alcohol abuse and alcoholism is the main issue, Al-Anon is likely the better choice, whereas any other type of addictive behavior is probably better dealt with through Families Anonymous.

How to Find a Meeting

Everyone is welcome to join Families Anonymous, and finding meetings that best fit your needs is simple and straightforward. You can find nearby face-to-face FA meetings by visiting the Families Anonymous website, where you can also find information on how to join an online meeting or take part in a phone or email meeting. 

FA is active in all regions of the United States and across the world, making it very accessible to attend meetings in most cases.

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Resources

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Families Anonymous. About FA: What is Families Anonymous? FA https://www.familiesanonymous.org/about-fa/.

National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK). Drug Misuse: Psychosocial Interventions. Leicester (UK): British Psychological Society; 2008. (NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 51.) 13. ABBREVIATIONS. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53222/.

Eells MA. Interventions with alcoholics and their families. Nurs Clin North Am. 1986 Sep;21(3):493-504. PMID: 3638703. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3638703/.

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2006. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 47.) Chapter 6. Family-Based Services. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64085/.

Sussman S. (2010). A review of Alcoholics Anonymous/ Narcotics Anonymous programs for teens. Evaluation & the health professions, 33(1), 26–55. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163278709356186

National Health Services. Advice for families of people who use drugs. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/advice-for-the-families-of-drug-users/

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