Al-Anon is a Granfalloon


A granfalloon is a false karass, that is a group of people who imagine or are manipulated to believe that they share a connection based on some circumstance of little or no real significance. [1] The common ground shared by Al-Anon members appears meaningful at first. They are all friends or family members of someone with a drinking problem, which is surely something specific and measurable. However, that connection is not as significant as it seems, firstly because of the tendency in Al-Anon, just like in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to make generalizations about alcoholics and their families, some reasonable, but others over-simplified and unfounded.

The book How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics opens with a diverse set of stories. [2] It is then argued that many of those with alcoholics in their lives are affected by “violence, financial and legal problems, insults and excuses, unreliable and irresponsible behaviour”. I would agree that some, probably most of these, do often accompany problem drinking – but they can also be present without it. It is then mentioned that the drinking may not be apparent, or even that it dates back to a former generation so that the family have learned ways of thinking and behaving through some sort of hereditary exposure to alcoholism.

During my involvement with the program, I heard and read so much along these lines. This is a typical passage from How Al-Anon Works p.6:

“Even if we have no idea whether or not anyone around us has had a drinking problem, we can see the effects of alcoholism in our own lives if we know what to look for. We who have been affected by someone else’s drinking find ourselves inexplicably haunted by insecurity, fear, guilt, obsession with others, or an overwhelming need to control every person and situation we encounter. And although our loved ones appear to be the ones with the problems, we secretly blame ourselves, feeling that somehow we are the cause of the trouble, or that we should have been able to overcome it with love, prayer, hard work, intelligence or perseverance.”

It is easy to hear a passage like that and think: “Wow, that’s me! How did they know?” However, I suspect that the Forer effect may be at work here. According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary : “The Forer effect refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements could apply to many people.”[3] Forer was a psychologist who took a personality description from an astrology column in a newspaper (with phrases like “You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet tend to be critical of yourself”, it reads a lot like Twelve Step literature). He gave a group of subjects a personality test to complete, and then gave them all the same description, with no reference to their sun signs or to the personality test. On average, they rated the description as very accurate – a result which has been replicated many times. It seems that some generalities apply to most people while some specific personality traits described will apply to some people by chance.

Consequently the generalizations made in the literature and during shares at meetings about the personalities and life experiences of the friends and families of alcoholics have a pseudoscientifc basis.


[2] How Al-Anon Works for Friends and Families of Alcoholics, AL-ANON FAMILY GROUP HEADQUARTERS INC., 1995.





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