Setting up a family support group

If you are a family member affected by alcohol or drug use, there are sources of local support that you can access.

These include community groups, support offered by treatment services and groups in your local carers’ centre.

If there isn’t any support in your area, or support that suits you, then you could consider setting up a group yourself. Adfam has produced a full guide for anyone wanting to set up a group, as well as this short fact sheet to help you decide if this is something you want to try.

What are the particular problems in your area?

Before starting a group, it’s important to have a clear idea of what is needed in your local area. To find this out, ask people you know who are experiencing similar issues and find out what they need. If you don’t know anyone, you could try approaching your local community centre or GP to get their ideas.

What are your overall goals?

Think about what exactly you want the group to achieve and write that down. For example, your goal could be: “To provide confidential support for family members who are concerned about someone’s alcohol use, so that they can deal with the situation confidently and constructively in their family life.” Once you know your overall goals, you can start planning the details. How should the group be organised?

There are two main types of group:

  • A self-help group is led by members of the group themselves
  • A support group led by a facilitator who is not a member of the group

Both types of group can be effective. Which will work best will depend on how you think your goals will best be achieved.

Remember that your support group will be dealing with some very difficult issues and emotions, so things may go wrong at times. A strong and confident group facilitator or leader will be able to take the initiative and ensure everyone feels valued and able to contribute. If you do choose to use an external facilitator, find someone with extensive experience of group work, who you feel comfortable with and who has an understanding of the issues surrounding alcohol use.

Planning the details

How often and for how long should you meet?

This will depend on the needs of the majority of group members.

Who is the group for?

Who should be counted as a family member in this group? You will probably expect to include immediate family – for example parents and siblings – but a support group could also include extended family members.

Support groups should be inclusive, but may also be aimed at particular groups or communities for whom support is currently lacking, or where there are barriers to accessing support – for example men, grandparents, siblings, parents, BME (black and minority ethnic) communities, LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people or rural communities.

Where should you meet?

The choice of meeting place can affect the success of the group. Ideally, it should be accessible, inconspicuous (to help with confidentiality), welcoming and secure.

Do you need publicity?

You have probably already identified several people to join your group. However, there will almost certainly be more people in your area who could benefit, so think about the other ways you could publicise your work – for example through social media, or on notice boards at your local GP clinic, community centre or place of worship.

How can you raise funds?

Running a support group may have costs such as publicity, phone, postage, venue hire, refreshments and expenses for visiting speakers. If you need to raise funds you could consider requesting a small membership fee from group members – though make sure this doesn’t lead to some being unable to attend. You could look for non-monetary donations, such as free use of a room for your meetings. You could also make contact with local organisations that support charities and community groups.

Getting going

  • Setting a group agreement. Your group will need to prepare a list of agreed guidelines at the first meeting, and revisit these regularly to ensure that everyone is getting the most out of the group that they can. Part of these agreements should be a confidentiality agreement
  • Working with professionals. You may find it valuable to develop contacts with existing agencies whose work is related to yours, for example a local drug or alcohol treatment agency or GP clinic
  • Checking your progress. It’s important to keep a constant check to see if your group is achieving its objectives and change whatever isn’t working

What next?

  • If you think a local group is needed in your area you can access the full guide to setting up a group on the Adfam website. You can also access a directory of existing local groups. Visit
  • If you think you or someone you know may be drinking too much, contact Drinkline (England) on 0300 123 1110 or Dan24/7 (Wales) on 0808 808 2234
  • Al-Anon family groups provide support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drinking. Visit