Alateen is a division of the Al-Anon Family Group. Its members typically are teenagers whose lives have been impacted by someone else's problem drinking. Roughly, 59 percent are age 14 or younger, while 26 percent are ages 15 to 16 and 15 percent are age 17 or more. The problem drinkers in their lives are predominantly one or both parents, but brothers and sisters are not uncommon.
The prevailing story about the origin of Alateen is quite straightforward. Legend has it that in 1957 a 17 year old in California was attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon meetings with his parents. His father had just gotten sober in AA and his mother was an active member of Al-Anon. Although the teenager decided that the Twelve Steps of AA were helping him, his mother suggested that instead of attending AA meetings he start a teenaged group and pattern it after Al-Anon. The young man found five other teenaged children of alcoholic parents and, while the adult groups met upstairs, he got them together downstairs.
As other teenagers came forward from Al-Anon groups, the idea spread and it is estimated that today about 3,500 Alateen groups meet worldwide. In formal terms, however, these groups are an important and an integral part of Al-Anon Family Groups. They are coordinated from the Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters in New York City and tied closely to their public-information programs. Thus, Alateen uses AA's Twelve Steps, but alters step twelve to simply read "carry the message to others," rather than "to other alcoholics." Alateen groups meet in churches and schoolrooms, often in the same building as Al-Anon, but in a different room.
Although there are a few exceptions, an active, adult member of Al-Anon usually serves as a sponsor. Also, members of Alateen can choose a personal sponsor from other Alateen members or from Al-Anon members.
Alateen enables its members to openly share their experiences and to devise ways of coping with the problem of living closely with a relative who has a drinking problem. The strategy is to change their own thinking about the problem-drinking relative. Alateen teaches that alcoholism is like diabetes—it cannot be cured, but it can be arrested. Members learn that they did not cause it, and they cannot control it or cure it. Scolding, tears, or persuasion, for example, are useless. Rather, "they learn to take care of themselves whether the alcoholic stops or not" (Al-Anon Family Groups, 1991:5). They apply the Twelve Steps to themselves—to combat their often obsessive thinking about controlling alcoholic relatives and to help them stop denying those relatives' alcoholism. In addition, they adapt and apply AA's Twelve Traditions to the conduct of their groups. For example, they practice anonymity, defining it not as secrecy, but as privacy and the lowering of competitiveness among members. A 1990 survey of Alateen members indicated an increase in the number of black, Hispanic, and other minority members.
In essence, Alateen uses the strategy of AA itself to learn how to deal with obsession, anger, feelings of guilt, and denials. Newcomers, like newcomers in AA, gain hope when they bond with other teenagers to help one another cope with alcoholic parents and other relatives with drinking problems (Al-Anon Group Headquarters, Inc., 1973).
(See also: Adult Children of Alcoholics ; Codependence ; Families and Drug Use ; Treatment Types: Twelve Steps )
Al-Anon Family Groups. (1991). Youth and the alcoholic parent. New York: Author.
Al-Anon Family Groups. (1973). Alateen—hope for children of alcoholics. New York: Author.
Harrison M. Trice
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