Al-Anon joins campus Alcoholics Anonymous program

Linoleum flooring, folding metal chairs, harsh florescent lighting— even devoid of people, the setting seems familiar from pop culture depictions. The concrete stairs leading to the Kilworth Memorial Chapel basement are tucked away near a loading dock, and the ceiling panels inside are various stained shades of off-white. Every Friday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon meeting at the University of Puget Sound convenes here.

The meetings are open to students as well as community members.

Counseling, Health and Wellness Services (CHWS) physician’s assistant Amy Smith (name has been changed to protect the privacy of a memeber of an anonymous organization) explained, “All AA meetings are open to the public. AA is all-inclusive, non-exclusive. If the meeting is not open to everyone, it is not an AA meeting.”

A member of the group who is affiliated with the Community Involvement and Action Center (CIAC) on campus who wished to remain anonymous added, “The general public enriches conversations greatly because there is added support, experience, strength and hope. One of the beautiful things about AA is that meetings are a great equalizer. Everyone is always a beginner and no member has any more status or power than any other member.”

This non-hierarchical structure pervades the organization, which is run almost entirely by alcoholics. Worldwide, AA counted over 1.8 million members at 106,202 groups in 2006.  The organization is known for its 12-step program, its popularization of alcoholism as a disease and its quasi-religious nature. Participants are expected to reach not only sobriety but also spiritual awakening.  Despite its Christian overtones, the AA website (www.AA.org) states: “AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.”

Alcoholics Anonymous/Al-Anon are also extremely careful to maintain anonymity in the public sphere and do not allow group members to publish their names in the media. However, the group’s official website stresses the inclusive nature of AA.

Although the campus AA/Al-Anon group has recently decided to change the meeting time, they have been convening in Kilworth Memorial Chapel since last fall when a newly sober student returned to campus. She proposed that Puget Sound host an AA meeting and found support through CHWS as well as the CIAC.

New this semester is the expansion of meetings to include Al-Anon members. Whereas AA is focused on those who wish to stop drinking themselves, Al-Anon offers support for people affected by alcoholism such as friends and family members.

The CIAC source also said, “There was an Al-Anon group on campus for about 20 years. In recent years, it needed to relocate because of the meeting’s growing size and the campus’ inability to give them a new space that was big enough for them. This semester, a new Al-Anon group has been founded in response to the AA group being started last semester.”