Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a worldwide support group program for people who think they have a drinking problem. If you’re thinking about getting help for alcohol misuse by attending AA meetings, it’s normal to be curious about what these meetings are like so you have a better idea of what to expect.
Here’s a breakdown of what usually happens at an AA meeting and the steps you can take to find a local meeting in your area.
What Is AA?
AA is a fellowship of people who desire to stop drinking and who frequently meet in a support group setting to solve their drinking problem. AA was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, by two men named Bill W. and Bob S. who struggled with alcohol addiction. Together, they developed a set of spiritual principles known today as the Twelve Steps. These Twelve Steps help AA members stop drinking and achieve recovery from alcoholism.
Today, AA is a widely known and effective 12-step program available in community settings and addiction treatment facilities. AA meetings are free to attend, have no membership requirements, and are entirely anonymous. These meetings are ideal for anyone newly sober or who has recovered from alcoholism and needs ongoing support from peers who understand their situations.
What Happens During a Typical AA Meeting?
AA meetings typically follow a structured format but may touch on different subjects at every meeting that are related to drinking, addiction, and recovery.
First, an AA member or chairperson opens the meeting with the AA Preamble and Serenity Prayer. This AA literature—along with the Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, and the Big Book—is usually provided to you at the meeting so you can follow along. Much of AA literature features stories related to the experience, strength, and hope of those in recovery.
Next, the chairperson or another AA member may read various passages of AA literature or lead a discussion about the designated topic for that particular meeting. At most meetings, there will be time set aside for an open discussion, during which people can talk about the topic or share their experiences and personal stories about alcohol misuse and addiction.
The AA chairperson may invite newcomers to introduce themselves by their first names at some meetings. This is not mandatory and is not intended to make you feel uncomfortable. Instead, this is to help you feel more welcome and allow you to introduce yourself to fellow peers who were once in your shoes as newcomers to AA.
It’s imperative to keep in mind that although all AA meetings may follow a similar format, there may be some AA groups that you enjoy attending more than others due to their meeting styles, topics, and members. For example, some AA groups are limited only to certain genders and age groups or to people who work in a specific field, such as first responders.
Before and after each AA meeting, you may be given a few minutes to linger and mingle with other AA members as you enjoy coffee and refreshments. This is usually an ideal time to introduce yourself to other members one on one or find a sponsor who can help you throughout your recovery. This is also the perfect time to inquire about the most frequently asked questions related to AA, such as what to do if you feel like relapsing or when you will be allowed to share your own stories about drinking.
What’s the Difference Between Open and Closed AA Meetings?
AA meetings can be open or closed.
Open meetings are for anyone interested in AA, including people who do not have a drinking problem. Open meetings may be attended by friends, relatives, doctors, counselors, or anyone else who wants to learn more about alcohol addiction or about what goes on at AA meetings.
Closed meetings are limited only to AA members or to people who have a drinking problem and want to stop drinking.
Open and closed meetings each have their benefits. Open meetings allow you to bring a supportive friend or loved one and listen to stories from people who may have been deeply affected by another person’s drinking. Closed meetings can often make you feel more “safe” if you want to speak honestly and openly about your experiences with alcohol without fear of judgment or stigma.
Most AA meeting schedules will specify whether a meeting is open or closed so you can make plans to attend only the meetings that make you feel comfortable, safe, and at ease.
Where Do Meetings Usually Take Place?
AA meetings can take place in person, over the telephone, online in a chat room, or over a video conference session.
Meetings that take place in person can often be far more personable than online and telephone meetings, as they can help you establish a stronger bond or connection with fellow AA members. In-person meetings often take place at community centers, churches, and office buildings and are included in many drug and alcohol treatment programs.
Some people prefer to attend AA meetings online or over the telephone for matters of safety and convenience, especially those who live in rural areas and cannot always make it to in-person meetings.
Common Myths About AA Meetings
AA has been around for decades and is commonly mentioned and featured in books, movies, and television. Some of these mediums have mocked AA settings or made them appear satirical, while others have made AA meetings seem extremely overbearing and intimidating.
Additionally, you may have heard stories from people in real life about their personal experiences in AA, some of which may not necessarily have been positive. However, it’s worth noting that those people may have been pressured to join AA before they were ready or met peers in meetings with whom they didn’t click right away.
In any case, it’s important to separate myth from fact from the get-go and attend one or more meetings yourself to develop your own opinions and experiences.
Common myths about AA meetings include:
• You have to stand up and announce to everyone in the room that you are an alcoholic.
• You have to hug everyone at the meeting or shake everyone’s hand.
• You have to share your worst, most traumatic experiences related to drinking.
• You have to share all your secrets and the worst things you ever did as they relate to drinking or alcohol misuse.
• You have to witness other AA members bawling in tears or suffering mental breakdowns at every meeting.
• Everyone else at the AA meeting has been sober for an extended period.
• AA is a cult.
• AA is religious, and you have to pray.
• You may run into other people you know or recognize.
• You’re required to pay an AA membership fee.
• AA is a cure-all for alcohol addiction.
There may indeed be some instances where other AA members want to hug you and where someone becomes emotional and cries while sharing their personal story about drinking. It’s normal for these things to happen from time to time, but they don’t happen at every single meeting.
It’s also normal to meet some AA members who have been sober for a long time, and you may run into someone you know at an AA meeting. However, these factors shouldn’t necessarily lead to an overall negative experience if they do occur. Keep an open mind, stay focused on the recovery aspect, and take reassurance in the fact that your anonymity is respected and protected at AA.
Who Should Go to AA Meetings?
Anyone who thinks they have a drinking problem and has a desire to stay sober should attend at least one AA meeting. AA meetings are an ideal, low-cost way to receive ongoing support from others as you continue your journey in recovery from alcohol misuse and addiction. AA is not to be viewed as the sole treatment for addiction but instead as an encouraging support program that can complement your existing treatment program.
AA meetings are highly convenient because they take place nearly every day of the week at all times of the day, in various locations in nearly every city. Additionally, there are AA meetings that cater to specific groups of people based on factors such as age, gender, profession, mental illness, and trauma. For example, a woman in recovery from both alcohol addiction and sexual assault may prefer to attend an AA group limited only to other females where she can feel safer talking about her traumatic experience.
Friends and relatives of people who have a drinking problem can attend open AA meetings or Al-Anon meetings. Al-Anon is a support group program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. Al-Anon is not the same as AA, as it is mainly limited to those who do not currently have a drinking problem.
Also, AA meetings are best suited to those who have a drinking problem and not to those who have other substance use disorders. There are other 12-step programs for those addicted to other substances, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous for those who use opioids, heroin, and cocaine.
When Is the Best Time To Start Attending AA Meetings?
You can start going to AA meetings the moment you decide you have a drinking problem and want to get help. You do not have to wait or be sober for a specific period before attending a meeting, which means you can attend an AA meeting even if you drank the night before. You do not need approval from anyone to join AA, and you do not need to be in an alcohol rehab program.
AA meetings are usually included in residential and outpatient alcohol rehab programs. They are also usually required of people who move into sober living homes, as it demonstrates a desire and commitment to achieving long-term sobriety. AA meetings are also sometimes mandatory for those who have been charged with an alcohol-related offense, like a DUI.
Understandably, you may be nervous or hesitant about going to AA meetings, especially if it’s your first time. However, there’s always a first time for everything, and it’s worth going to at least one AA meeting to check it out. Research shows that people who attend AA meetings for a long period are usually able to achieve long-term abstinence and sobriety compared with those who only attend meetings for a short period as part of a rehab program.
If it’s your first time attending a meeting and you don’t want to go alone, consider bringing a close, trusted friend or relative with you to an open meeting. Or, go with one of your peers in recovery who can make you feel more comfortable and welcome during your first AA meeting.
How Can I Find the Best AA Group for Me?
The best way to find an AA group that resonates with you is to attend various meetings in your area. It also helps if you have a specific type of group in mind with which you want to connect. For example, if you identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, you can consider going to AA groups limited only to members who are also LGBTQ+.
Don’t assume you have to settle for the AA group located nearest your home, business, or recovery center just because it’s more convenient. It’s vital to find an AA group you enjoy and like so you feel motivated and excited about attending meetings regularly for a long period.
Keep in mind that you are never obligated to attend a particular AA meeting again and again, especially if you are not a big fan of the group—experiment with going to different AA groups and meetings until you find the ones you like best.
What’s the Best Way To Find Local AA Groups?
The official AA website and Alcoholics Anonymous World Services currently do not feature a nationwide directory of all AA groups. The best way to find local AA groups in your area is to use third-party directory websites like Find Support Groups. Select “AA Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step” from the dropdown menu, then select your location to explore AA meetings in your area.
Find Support Groups also features other substance abuse support groups, including Marijuana Anonymous and Alanon Family. Call (561) 559-9210 today to find a support group in your city.