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How Does Addiction Impact Families?

Battling addiction is viewed by many as a personal experience. Because substance use disorders have devastating effects on the user, many do not think about the other people directly involved and how addiction affects family members’ health and well-being.

Partners, children, and parents who experience a family member battling addiction struggle with emotional damage. They may also experience financial, legal, and medical problems.

The effects of substance use can be short-term and long-term. Close, loving homes can be divided by the problems caused by drug and alcohol use. Conflict can become normal as family members and friends fight because of drug and alcohol problems.

Trust may begin to dismantle. Relatives may become more guarded if a family member is using illegal drugs and acts in aggression or tries to hide their problem. Mental health problems can arise.

Marriages can end because of changes in the relationship caused by addiction. Communication may become more challenging, leading to frustration. Family members may witness their relatives experience harsh side effects of drugs or become aggressive while under the influence of alcohol.

Some people may see their loved ones lose weight quickly, becoming unrecognizable. Others may not hear from a family member for long periods, only to find out that they live on the street or have overdosed. 

This shock can lead friends and family members to experience severe trauma or develop unhealthy coping mechanisms such as codependent behaviors to deal with their feelings.

What Support Groups are Available?

There are many types of support groups available for the family members of people experiencing substance addiction. Nar-Anon and Al-Anon are two of the most popular support groups available.

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What is Nar-Anon?

Nar-Anon is a 12-step program to support people with a relative or friend with drug abuse problems. Nar-Anon is not a religious group, but it focuses on a spiritual way of life and the assistance of a higher power as each individual interprets it.

The treatment program provides a list of 20 questions to understand if the program is suitable for you. If you answer yes to at least four of the following questions, Nar-Anon may be suitable for you. 

Some of the questions include:

  • Is it becoming hard for you to believe your loved one’s explanations? 
  • Are your savings mysteriously disappearing? 
  • Are you becoming more reluctant to invite friends to your house? 
  • Are you unable to talk about the situation with friends and relatives due to embarrassment?

Nar-Anon provides 12 steps, 12 traditions, and 12 concepts of service for family therapy. The 12 steps are very similar to the Narcotics Anonymous 12 steps, except there are some slight phrasing changes. 

Members of family groups like Nar-Anon can give each other support and advice and offer helpful solutions to issues that friends and relatives of drug addicts experience.

Members of Nar-Anon can learn some of the best ways to encourage their loved ones to seek addiction treatment at a treatment facility.

Who can go to Nar-Anon Meetings? 

Anyone who is a friend or family member of a narcotic addict can go to a Nar-Anon meeting for support and advice.

Types of Nar-Anon Meetings

There are various types of Nar-Anon meetings. 

During a speaker meeting, one or more speakers share their personal experiences in detail. There are also step meetings, which go over a more detailed study of the twelve steps. A beginner meeting is a gathering geared more towards newcomers.

A business meeting involves the discussion of business matters. Group conscience meetings provide an introspective look at the general health of Nar-Anon meetings and are often planned after group members fill out a survey noting what is going well and what can be improved. 

Any adjustments or introductions of new treatment programs would be part of a group conscious meeting.

What is Al-Anon?

Al-Anon is a world service that delivers a treatment program of addiction recovery for the families and friends of people suffering from alcoholism. 

The organization offers several resources to help al-anon members, including:

  • Tools to find local meetings
  • Quizzes to understand if your needs align with the mission of the group
  • Frequently asked questions to assist with common concerns

Who can go to Al-Anon Meetings?

Anyone who has a loved one in their life who is struggling with alcohol use problems can attend Al-Anon meetings.

Types of Al-Anon Meetings

Al-Anon provides a variety of meetings for family members and friends of alcoholics to attend. 

Meetings include those for newcomers, men, women, literature, parents, and more. Each Al-Anon meeting will have a unique flavor and feel, so it is recommended to try at least six or more types of group meetings to see which are right for you.

What is the Main Difference Between Nar-Anon and Al-Anon?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was established in 1935 to allow members to stay sober and help others achieve sobriety. By the 1950s, the step-step support program was popular globally.

As AA focused on alcohol rather than drug addiction, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) was founded in 1953 to fill the gap. NA is also modeled on the 12-step approach. However, it supports its members in their goals to stop using either drugs or alcohol.

Al-Anon and Nar-Anon were established to help the loved ones of people suffering from substance use disorders. Aligning with AA, Al-Anon is designed to help the family members and friends of alcoholics. Nar-Anon was established to support the loved ones of those suffering from an alcohol or drug problem.

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What to Expect in Nar-Anon & Al-Anon Meetings

Attending Al-Anon or Nar-Anon group meetings may be just what you need to help you find closure on your situation with a loved one. Being welcomed into these mutual support networks to speak about your loved one’s addiction may feel awkward at first. However, most people find connecting with other families who have experienced similar situations can help.

Addiction can isolate the people involved. But hearing stories and experiences of pain and healing from other people can empower you. Once you feel comfortable enough, you can share your story at Nar-Anon and Al-Anon family group meetings and inspire others.

Your story may help a family similar to yours deal with feelings that you experienced. Addiction affects many people, and there is no shame in seeking help or speaking out. Getting some peace of mind can help everyone recover from an individual’s alcohol or drug use problem.

Benefits of Nar-Anon & Al-Anon for Families

Al-Anon and Nar-Anon members benefit from meeting other people and families who have suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction. Although every individual is different, Al-Anon and Nar-Anon family group members have similar and relatable experiences in their struggles.

Members of both groups can find people who have had similar experiences to talk to. Plus, there are Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings all across the nation, so accessing the groups is easy.

Tips: How to Handle a Loved One’s Drug or Alcohol Addiction

There is no obvious answer on how to handle a loved one’s drug or alcohol addiction. You may experience a feeling of blame like it was your fault for letting them get involved with drugs or alcohol. You may feel full of regret that you did not get involved sooner.

You may feel confused about why your friend or family member refuses to sober up no matter how hard you try. Every friend and family member struggles with drug and alcohol addiction in their way.

However, your loved one’s addiction is not your fault. You do not have to blame yourself for the addictions that have developed. Many people who use alcohol and drugs do so to cope with an underlying issue, such as depression or trauma.

What matters the most is seeking help and starting the healing process. Attending Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings can provide you with the chance to learn about addiction as a disease and what your family can do to recover.

It is normal not to know how to deal with a loved one’s substance use issues, but joining a support group like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon can help immensely.

How to Find an Al-Anon or Nar-Anon Meeting

Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings take place globally, so chances are you can find a gathering near you. 
The easiest way to find an Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting is to visit the An-Anon or Nar-On meetings websites at and There you can read about the different types of sessions available and can find something suitable for you.

Click to learn more about the most effective types of addiction treatment:


  1. Nar-Anon Family Groups, Nar-Anon,
  2. FAQ, Nar-Anon,
  3. Timko, Christine et al. “Al-Anon family groups: newcomers and members.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs vol. 74,6 : 965-76,
  4. What Is Al-Anon and Alateen?, Al-Anon,
  5. Lander, Laura et al. “The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice.” Social work in public health vol. 28,3-4 : 194-205,
  6. Timko, Christine et al. “Social processes explaining the benefits of Al-Anon participation.” Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors vol. 29,4 : 856-63,

Related Pages

Addiction Support Groups

What is the Purpose of Al-Anon?

Addiction Treatment

Alateen Support Groups

Addiction Resources

Families Anonymous

Addiction Resources

Addiction Support Groups

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