Alateen is a recovery group for adolescents ages 9–19 that helps children and teenagers who are relatives or friends of alcoholics cope with the issues of alcoholism that are affecting their lives in some way. Alateen was founded in 1957 as a part of its parent organization, Al-Anon Family Groups—the recovery group that connects adults coping with the effects of alcoholism from a family member or friend. Every Alateen group is sponsored by an active Al-Anon member who provides guidance and support for its meetings. The structure of Alateen’s meetings is based on the Al-Anon Steps, Traditions, and Concepts of Service (based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model), and each sponsor acts as a sensible and fair guide to help the group stay focused on its goals.
To become a member, the adolescent need only be a family member or friend of an alcoholic and not be affiliated with any other organization. Alateen members are encouraged to share, support, and protect the privacy of others in their groups by not discussing what happens in their meetings outside the group. Anonymity and confidence is an important factor to these meetings so that each member may feel free to express themselves and trustingly relate their problems. Based on a 2006 member survey, there are approximately 6,600 Alateen members nationally, with 65% female, 35% male, 72% Caucasian, and 20% Spanish speaking. The average age of Alateen members is 14 years old. Approximately half of the members reported feeling that another person’s drinking affected their mental health and wellbeing the most, and one-third reported that another’s alcoholism extremely affected their daily functioning at home, school, or work. Members were also likely to report that Alateen greatly improved their general health, wellbeing, and functioning, especially if they were involved in the program for at least 3 years. An average of 69% of Alateen members sought therapy or counseling after enrolling in Alateen, and 100% of new members continued their therapy. A parent suffering from alcoholism is the most likely reason why adolescents seek support from Alateen.
How Alateen Helps Teens
In Alateen’s groups, members are taught that alcoholism is a disease that affects the whole family. While the alcoholic directly deals with the symptoms of alcoholism, children of alcoholic parents struggle with multiple developmental, emotional, and behavioral problems. Children may feel denial, shame, guilt, humiliation, anger, anxiety, disappointment, distrust, rejection, or lack of self-confidence, making it difficult for them to function in social settings with their peers and sufficiently build relationships. Young children especially may struggle to differentiate between right and wrong since their parents’ model of erratic behavior can fluctuate in consistency. Older children may feel stigmatized by having a parent with this disease, and may feel at a loss when it comes to ‘normal’ activities other children engage in. A 1985 study in the Journal of Community Psychology found that adolescents enrolled in Alateen consider their families to be less structured, unified, expressive, and independent than ‘normal’ families, to have more conflict, and to be less involved in intellectual, cultural, and recreational activities. A 1977 study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that adolescents with alcoholic parents who do not participate in Alateen programs are more likely to have negative mood and personality ratings, have low self-esteem, and have problems at school or with the law.
Members are taught that alcoholism can affect anyone and is a compulsive disorder. Although they may experience the effects of alcoholism by someone else’s drinking, members are taught that they are capable of detaching themselves from the badge of alcoholism. They are not the cause of someone’s drinking problem, and they cannot control someone else’s actions or choices—only their own. They do not have to feel responsible for their loved one’s drinking, but they can work on their own issues while still showing support for the person. By focusing on their own mental health and wellbeing, they can improve circumstances for themselves, experience a satisfying childhood, and live up to their potentials. Alateen equips these members with multiple tools and resources that they can apply at home or school. Once members reach an adult age, they are encouraged to continue their membership by joining an Al-Anon group.
Alateen meetings are often held at the same location as Al-Anon meetings but in separate rooms. Many schools have added Alateen meetings to their student resources, or at least provide information or literature on Alateen for students. Al-Anon’s office has a referral program for Alateen and designs literature specifically for adolescents that explains alcoholism at a teenage level to help them understand the causes of the disease and how it affects the entire family. Members work to overcome the effects of alcoholism in their lives and learn that they are not alone in their struggles. Together, adolescents can find strength and serenity through Alateen’s meetings and methodology. For more information, visit Alateen’s website at www.al-anon.alateen.org or call 1-888-4AL-ANON to locate a meeting.
Principles of Addiction Medicine
By Richard K Ries, Shannon Miller, David A Fiellin, Richard Saitz