The Common Thread – An Alcohol‑Addicted Family System

About 1 in 10 children (7.5 million) lived in households with at least one parent who had a past year alcohol use disorder according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, August 2017).

Living in an alcohol‑addicted family system affects children in many ways. Adolescents can find help in local meetings and virtual meetings. Alateen groups meet weekly and allow teens to share with each other what is going on in their lives and how they apply the Alateen program to those situations.

Only Alateen members and the Alateen Group Sponsors attend Alateen meetings. Alateen Group Sponsors are Al‑Anon members who meet their Area’s requirements, have completed the area certification process, and are willing to commit time to an Alateen group.

Although both members and Sponsors are present, they have specific roles and responsibilities. Members are there to share about problems they are dealing with and also share how they have used the tools of the Alateen program to resolve their difficulties.

Alateen Group Sponsors are there to provide a safe environment for the teens and to be a resource when the teens have questions about the Al‑Anon/Alateen program. They are not there to tell the teens what to do.


Al‑Anon cooperates with therapists, counselors, and other professionals, but does not endorse, oppose, or affiliate with any professional, organization, or entity. The opinions expressed in the video were strictly those of the individual who expressed them. Their comments reflect their professional expertise and use of Al‑Anon as a resource for their clients and patients who are or have been affected by an individual’s addiction to alcohol.

Video Transcript

The Common Thread – An Alcohol‑Addicted Family System

Interviewer: You’ve been a staunch advocate for children affected by someone with a substance use disorder for more than 30 years. What inspired you to dedicate your life to this?

Sis Wenger, President/CEO of NACoA: Well, it’s an interesting situation, I was actually working on a program on child abuse and neglect, and another one on juvenile delinquency prevention. And there were some really outstanding people who were running those programs. They had created what they thought were interventions and solutions that would work for the young people in both those systems. And I would listen to the volunteers give their reports and one time – and all of a sudden it dawned on me – out of about 40 or 50 different, individual projects that we were going on in those two systems with young people in trouble, one‑on‑one, almost every one of them casually said, “Well the father was drinking that night,” or “The mother was drunk when he got home and…” And I suddenly stopped them all and I said “Do you hear yourselves? I don’t know anything about alcoholism, but what I know is, it’s got to have something to do with what we’re dealing with. Were you trained to do anything about that? Were you given any -” No, not one of them had been trained by the psychologist or social workers who had designed these prevention programs and were getting funding for. So, we went back and huddled and said, “We need to change our approach.” And we decided that what we needed to do, this was the junior league at that time, was to educate as many of the decision makers in this country, or in our counties actually, who could impact children’s lives. Because it was clear that the systems were designing programs that did not help the kids for their primary problem, which was the chaos, and confusion, and fear of living in an addicted family system. So we didn’t know anything about it, but we did go out and we went to a number of conferences; a number of medical conferences, to the NCA conference which was the biggest education conference in the country in those days every year, and we learned that we were right. And so, we decided to start an education program to reach judges, and teachers, and clergy – people who make decisions that impacted programs and that also profoundly impacted young people. And, just been doing it ever since.