Whether you’re in complete denial about your drinking or you’re already in a recovery program and under a doctor’s care for your alcoholism, you’ve very likely heard of Alcoholics Anonymous and A.A.meetings.

Why would anyone go to A.A. meetings?

When it’s appropriate, your mental health professional may suggest that you participate in regular A.A. meetings as an adjunct to other therapies or medical protocols …or perhaps a family member has simply insisted that you stop drinking and start attending meetings like so many other people they know…or maybe the judge overseeing your recent DUI conviction has made attendance at A.A. meetings a mandatory provision of your sentencing.

If you do find yourself headed toward your first A.A. meeting, it’s likely that you’ll be a little anxious walking into a room filled with strangers focused on their sobriety unless you know what to expect.  With that in mind…

How do you find A.A. meetings?

AA meeting group

A typical AA meeting: informal and friendly

A.A. meetings can be found in almost every state and community in the country through a simple online search.  If you and your doctor or therapist think you’d benefit from exploring what A.A. offers, a good place to start is here which will give you  a wide choice of A.A. directory resources in your area.  In medium-sized and larger cities, you’ll find hundreds of listings and a wide selection of days, times, and locations.  From a geographic perspective, it’s a rare place on the planet that doesn’t have an A.A. meeting available at least weekly.

Any directory of A.A. meetings shows a rather long list of abbreviations beside each location.  Understanding this code will help determine the best meeting for you:

  • BB: Book (Study of the Big Book of A.A.)
  • C: Closed meeting (for acknowledged alcoholics only)
  • O: Open meeting (for those who do not self-identify as alcoholic; best choice for neophytes)
  • CL: Candlelight meeting
  • G: Gay/LGBT meeting
  • D: Discussion meeting
  • M: Men only meeting
  • W: Women only meeting
  • NS: non-smoking meeting
  • SP: Speaker meeting (often very popular and entertaining)
  • ST: Step Study meeting
  • P: Participation meeting
  • T: Topic meeting
AA meeting big crowd

Some meetings are bigger than others…

Because attending one’s first meeting can be a source of anxiety and confusion, Open Meetings and Speaker Meetings—where a recovering alcoholic publicly shares his/her personal struggle with alcohol—are often the best introduction to the A.A. methodology and its protocols.  Closed meetings are generally limited to attendees who admit to being alcoholic.  For reasons of confidentiality within the group, these meetings often exclude first-timers, so you might want to make other choices at the beginning.

What should you expect at A.A. meetings?

Meetings usually start right on time with tardiness considered a breach of etiquette, so you should plan to arrival fairly early.  There is generally a casual coffee & tea setup with condiments and a few snacks or cookies available for those attending. Costs are often covered by payment/contributions at the table. When there is no jar or provision for payment at the table, you’re expected to chip in something extra when the “hat” is passed for supporting contributions during the meeting itself.

You’ll then take you seat among a group ranging from 5-500 people, the size determined by the type of meeting, the day of the week, the meeting venue, and the community you’re in.

A.A. meetings often begin with a group leader reading from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the basic text of the organization. Listen carefully and you’ll quickly get an idea of A.A.’s founding principles, ongoing traditions, and spirit of healing.  Topics of discussion may then be suggested by the group leader, followed by members sharing personal stories or their individual experiences related to the topic.  You may have questions about the topic, the groups organization, or membership in general.  But save them for after the general meeting when you can bring them up privately, “opinions” or “outside issues” are not appropriately discussed in the larger group.

alcoholics anonymousMeetings are generally limited to an hour in length, although some speaker meetings can run to 90 minutes.  One of the core principles of A.A. is that of anonymity and a respect for the privacy and confidentiality of all members.  Given that, you’re expected to avoid sharing the goings-on of meetings with anyone outside the meeting. Telling anyone—even family and friends—who you see at meetings or about the stories you hear during a meeting is strongly discouraged.  The reality is that every member is in his or her own personal stage of recovery and is always “in progress” on a fragile, challenging journey toward wellness.  Gossiping about who you see or what you hear is simply bad manners, so avoid doing so.

Does A.A. really work?

While A.A. keeps no records of attendance at meetings or membership records, with an estimated current worldwide membership of over 2,000,000, the organization’s legacy of Recovery, Unity, and Service has earned a Alcoholics Anonymous a reputation for helping untold millions to confront the three-pronged physical, mental, and spiritual disease of alcoholism.