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Al Anon vs. AA: What’s the Difference?

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Eric Patterson, LPC

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Last Updated - 08/16/2022

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Updated 08/16/2022

AA and Al-Anon are recovery support groups based on the 12-step method. While AA is for people in recovery, Al-Anon is geared towards their loved ones.

Entering the world of addiction recovery can seem like an overwhelming and confusing process. Available support groups have unique cultures, rituals and goals, so deciding which support groups will work best for you can feel time-consuming. Understanding available options, like Al-Anon and AA, can make the process simpler and smoother. The main difference between these two groups: AA is designed for people in recovery, while Al-Anon is meant for their families and loved ones.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is probably the most widely-recognized name in addiction recovery. For more than 80 years, AA’s principles and guidance have helped people identify and improve their addictions to alcohol and invest more energy in happiness and sobriety.

Now available internationally, AA assists men and women of all ages in managing problematic drinking patterns by meeting with other people in all stages of addiction and recovery. AA is:

  • Nonprofessional. AA is organized, led and facilitated by people in recovery, not mental health or addiction professionals.
  • Self-supporting. The group members develop a community of care and support to help others while helping themselves.
  • Widely available. In churches, community centers, conference rooms and fire halls, AA meetings are happening all over the country and in neighborhoods nearby.
  • Multiracial and apolitical. AA focuses on inclusivity, so people from all socioeconomic, political, racial, sexual and ethnic groups are welcome.

AA has the reputation of being a “Christian” support group, and though the meetings do offer prayers and reference to “higher powers,” it is flexible enough to include differing views. Labeling AA as a “faith-based” recovery group could be more accurate.

AA meetings are great options for people hoping to address and combat their unhealthy alcohol use or people who are invested in maintaining their sobriety.


Al-Anon is another support group founded on the same principles as AA. Like AA, Al-Anon uses a “one day at a time” system, but Al-Anon support groups are specifically for friends and family members of people with alcohol use issues.

Al-Anon acknowledges that friends, siblings, parents, children and romantic partners are all greatly affected by a person’s drinking, and these people need special care and support. Al-Anon can help you:

  • Hear others’ experiences
  • Find healthier ways to respond to the addicted person
  • Understand your own role in addiction and recovery
  • Learn the importance of supporting your loved one
  • Focus on today using the “one step at a time” approach

Al-Anon is not for people trying to find their own recovery. It is only for the people who love and care for them.

The Role of Recovery Support Groups

Recovery groups and recovery support groups play an instrumental role in the overall health, well-being and recovery of people dealing with addiction and their families. Support groups can help you get sober and achieve longer periods of sustained recovery than you could alone.

Rather than seeing recovery support groups as standalone treatments, these meetings are generally a way to complement and extend the desired effects of professional treatment. You’re not required to attend psychotherapy or receive medication to get into these meetings. Still, evidence shows that people who engage in support groups and professional treatments have better long-term results.

Some people may not respond well to AA or Al-Anon’s spirituality focus and 12-step model, and that’s okay. If you’re interested in joining a support group, keep exploring and experimenting with options to find one that fits with your values and beliefs.

South Florida Alcoholics Anonymous

South Florida offers an extensive range of recovery support group options for people in need, whether the addiction is theirs or a loved one’s. Not all meetings will provide the same content, feedback, or sense of community, so it can be helpful to sample a selection of days, times, and locations to see what these groups have to offer.

Anyone interested in finding AA meetings in their area should navigate to the Alcoholics Anonymous website. From there, you can utilize the meeting locator tool to find in-person or virtual meetings for locals.

Al-Anon South Florida

Searching for South Florida Al-Anon groups will be a very similar process. The Al-Anon website can help you locate telephone, online and local meetings to fulfill the need for support and community. The Al-Anon Meeting Search will give the complete list of meetings within a 50-mile radius of your location along with the day, time and who is welcomed to attend.

Recovery Support Groups During COVID

Recovery support groups during COVID-19 are adapting to protect the safety and sobriety needs of group members. Many in-person meetings have been canceled, postponed or have shifted to online-only options to promote social distancing.

To help in-person support groups move online during the pandemic, The Recovery Village has also created a place to hold free online recovery meetings from anywhere at any time. This platform works for online AA meetings, Al-Anon meetings, NA meetings, Smart Recovery meetings and any other support groups for recovery. Chat rooms are convenient, free and entirely anonymous.


What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a system of support group meetings for people who have issues with problematic alcohol use. The meetings use a spirituality-based, 12-step format facilitated by group members rather than trained professionals. Attendees share their stories, ask relevant questions and gain experience from others.

How does Alcoholics Anonymous help people deal with alcoholism?

AA helps people by creating a safe, supportive, and empowering environment for new members to learn how to effectively navigate the early stages of recovery. It’s not only for people undergoing recovery for the first time. People who have established long periods of sobriety can continue learning about the recovery process and share their experiences to teach others.

See More: AA Meeting List for Miami

What Is Al-Anon?

Al-Anon is a support group in the same vein as AA. The group uses the same structure and foundation of AA with one main difference. Al-Anon addresses the specific needs of people impacted by the addictions of others. By addressing the unique needs of friends and family of alcoholics, Al-Anon can help many create change.

How is Al-Anon related to AA?

Al-Anon and AA are based on the same principles of recovery. AA was the original support group to use the 12-step model of recovery. Al-Anon was later devised to extend the benefit of the support group to another set of people affected by addiction. If AA is the mother of support groups, Al-Anon is her child.

Can there be a combined AA and Al-Anon group?

It seems like the answer is no. The official Al-Anon webpage states that their groups are only for people affected by another person’s addiction. AA is only for those working to understand and manage their own addiction. While AA and Al-Anon are both inclusive and accepting environments, it can sometimes be counterproductive to combine these groups. 

Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction?

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View Sources

Alcoholics Anonymous. Homepage.” Accessed October 5, 2020.

Al-Anon. “Al-Anon Family Groups.” Accessed October 5, 2020.

Tracy, Kathlene; Wallace, Samantha. “Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 2016. Accessed October 5, 2020. 

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principle of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” January 2018. Accessed October 5, 2020.