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Many people who struggle with drinking, drugs, or other addictions may know that programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can help them on their journey to sobriety, but may feel too intimidated or otherwise put off by the idea of meetings to start the program.
We understand: The unknown can be scary. And while you can’t truly know what an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is like until you do actually attend one, you can at least read a bit about what to expect, and hopefully, make the experience a little bit easier on yourself.
Who Are AA Meetings For?
First of all, many people may wonder who can attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There may be confusion over whether you can just drop in or if you need to sign up first, have an appointment, or be ordered through the court to attend.
The answer is actually the simplest solution: Anyone can attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Just look up Alcoholics Anonymous meetings near you, and head over to the meeting space. (The only, rare, exception to this is a “closed” AA meeting, which is reserved only for AA members or newcomers. Your local listings should inform you if a meeting is open or closed.)
There are no fees associated with attending, though a donations basket is typically passed around at the end of each meeting to help cover the costs of renting out space. And though you don’t have to be a member to attend, you can become a member any time, simply by asking the group leader. No paperwork is necessary!
The group only asks that attendees be genuine in their desire to stop drinking—or at least open to the idea—and respect the anonymity of anyone else they see at the meeting.
What Are AA Meetings Like?
Every AA meeting is different, of course, but there’s a general rhythm you can expect from the experience.
You’ll arrive, typically at a church hall or other community meeting space. Usually, there’s coffee and a few refreshments available. Chairs are arranged in the center of the room, in a semi-circle. You’ll pick one out and sit down. You can also attend online AA meetings if that is more convenient and safer for you.
How many people show up really depends on where you are, what time it is, and a number of other factors. Some meetings might have just two or three attendees, while others, especially in urban centers, can have as many as 50. Usually, meeting attendance ranges somewhere between 10-20 people, though you’re not obligated to talk to anyone.
The meeting officially starts when the group leader reads the AA Preamble which reiterates the group’s mission and basic meeting rules. Then, the Serenity Prayer is recited, along with a few sections from the AA Big Book, including “The 12 Traditions of AA” and “The 12 AA Promises.”
Altogether, the readings serve to set the tone of the event, reminding attendees why they’re there and what can be achieved through Alcoholics Anonymous.
Then, the meeting typically proceeds in one of three ways:
- An “ID” meeting
- A “Steps” meeting
- Another type of “discussion” meeting
At no point during any of these types of meetings is anyone ever required to participate. It’s perfectly acceptable, and actually quite normal, for many people, especially newcomers, to not say anything at all during a meeting, or even for their first few meetings. The most important thing is showing up. You can speak out once you’re comfortable.
After usually about an hour (though some meetings run shorter or longer), the meeting will be over, and the group leader will close things out by reading the Lord’s Prayer, which everyone typically recites together while holding hands—this, too, is completely optional.
Once the prayer is read, the meeting is over.
Most Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are “ID” meetings. These are a much looser format, inviting anyone to talk about their general experiences drinking, how it’s impacted their life and where they are on their recovery journey.
Before speaking, the person does say the classic line, “Hello, my name is—, and I’m an alcoholic.” And everyone greets them with “Hello.” Then, members are asked to listen quietly to each person, thanking them for sharing when they’re done.
Other types of meetings are a bit more structured. In “Steps” meetings, the group leader will focus on one of the 12 Steps, reading from the AA Big Book about what the step is and what the step means, and asking members of the group to share their personal experiences with that step.
In other “discussion” meetings, the topic can be anything from “When did you start drinking?” to “What are your biggest triggers?” The group will then share stories related to the topic at hand.
Are There Other Options?
In-person meetings are the most popular types of AA meetings, but they’re not the only way to participate in the program.
In our technological age, there are nearly countless ways to hold an AA meeting, including:
- Through email listservs
- Video conferencing
- Phone conferencing
- Message boards
A group called the Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous (OIAA)—which works hand in hand with AA itself—runs an online database detailing where, and how, to find and sign up for these alternative meetings.
Indeed, remote AA meetings might make a better option for many people, especially with concerns related to the pandemic, but also due to busy schedules, childcare obligations, or physical maladies that make it difficult to leave the house.
Still, both the OIAA and AA advise that members, and especially newcomers, try to attend in-person meetings as much as possible—or is safe, with COVID-related concerns—using these alternative formats primarily as a supplementary resource.
How Often Should I Attend AA Meetings?
How often you should go to these meetings is another completely personal preference.
Of course, in some cases, attendance may be court-ordered, but if you’re going simply to seek help with a problem, there’s no set number of times, or times per week or month, that works best.
Some people find it helpful to go every day. Some people prefer going once a week. Some people come only when they feel they need a little extra help or support.
The only real requirement, again, is to come with a genuine desire to quit drinking.
Do I Need AA Or Rehab?
Another misconception about attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is that you need to hit rock bottom before joining.
The fact is, many people seek out the help of AA before they hit a crisis point. Just feeling that their drinking is beginning to slip out of their control is enough for many people to attend a meeting.
But in general, if you’re asking yourself whether you need help getting sober, the answer is probably “yes.”
Still, whether that help comes in the form of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or other types of rehab is another highly personal choice. It all depends on how you feel, how badly alcohol is impacting your life, and what you might or might not have access to.
If you feel you want to explore options beyond Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to help with your drinking, you can call (800) 662-HELP (4357).
How Do I Find An AA Meeting Near Me?
If you’ve decided that AA meetings might be for you, it’s easy to track them down. You simply need to search “Alcoholics Anonymous meetings near me,” or look up your closest option online.
From there, you’ll find phone numbers, links, addresses, and all the other information you’ll need to start your journey to sobriety.