Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a well-known alcohol recovery program in the United States and around the world.AA meetings are designed to help adolescents and adults struggling with alcoholism. The purpose of these meetings, which are essentially informal gatherings, is to share experiences and offer support. The ultimate goal of the meetings is to help individuals with a drinking problem achieve lifelong sobriety.
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What is an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting?
An AA meeting is a gathering of a small group of individuals who have a common goal to stop abusing alcohol and achieve lifelong recovery from addiction. The meetings are designed to provide support to recovering alcoholics through a number of different ways, including the 12-step program which addresses compulsive behavior, making amends, and learning to live an alcohol-free life. Alcoholics Anonymous is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization. Local AA meetings are a type of mutual-help fellowship of community members. They are run by former alcoholics with the aim of helping those in recovery.
Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings Format
The AA meeting format is an informal getting together of individuals and going through certain steps with the ultimate objective of quitting alcohol. The meetings offer a supportive environment to individuals in various stages of recovery. Alcoholics who are still drinking but have a strong desire to quit are encouraged to attend. Friends and family of recovering alcoholics are welcome to participate. The meetings are open to people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. The organization does not affiliate itself to any specific political or religious group.
Charges And Expenses
There is no charge to attend a meeting, and the program is completely free of cost. The expenses associated with running the program are covered through voluntary donations. There is no formal leadership, and AA meetings are led by former alcoholics who are eager to help others succeed in overcoming alcohol addiction. Former alcoholics known as sponsors play an important role in the program’s recovery process. Various committees are formed for the smooth functioning of the program.
How and When Did AA Meetings Start?
The underlying principles of Alcoholics Anonymous are based on a Christian self-help organization known as the Oxford Group. Ohio resident Bill Wilson began using these principles to try and help others with drinking problems after his long struggle with alcoholism resulted in personal and professional disruption. His first success came when he used this faith-based alcoholism treatment on Dr. Robert Smith on June 10, 1935, which is the official date of the first AA meeting.
The two men founded the organization Alcoholics Anonymous in 1937 by breaking away from the Oxford Group. Several decades later, the organization has become a global phenomenon, helping millions of people overcome their dependence on alcohol. It is now possible to find AA meetings in every corner of the world. An estimated 115,000 groups in 150 different nations use the Alcoholics Anonymous method to turn lives around.
Types of AA Meetings
The program includes meetings in varying formats to address all the issues alcoholics deal with and to provide comprehensive alcoholism help. Here’s a brief description of the types of meetings held by Alcoholics Anonymous chapters:
AA Open Meetings: Both alcoholics and their friends and family members can attend an open meeting although only the person struggling with alcoholism is permitted to speak. For people who are unsure whether the program is right for them, attending an open meeting is the best way to learn more. Social interaction with coffee, soft drinks, cookies, and cake usually follows the meeting.
What is a closed AA meeting? Closed meetings are limited to current and prospective members of the program only. Guests are not permitted to attend. These meetings are an opportunity for members to discuss specific aspects of their alcoholism with others who have gone through similar experiences.
Discussion Meeting: The person leading the group chooses a topic for an AA meeting and leads the discussion based on his or her personal experiences. Members are encouraged to discuss their drinking-related problems and any issues related to recovery.
Speaker Meeting: This is a type of AA meeting where a member is chosen to tell their story and describe the effect of alcohol on their life. The member also talks about their experience with the program itself and the changes it has brought about.
Panel Presentation: This is a type of meeting in which a panel of members makes a presentation to a group of professionals, for example, doctors, to educate them about what the program can and cannot do. This is an opportunity for professionals to learn more about Alcoholics Anonymous through the experiences of the panel members. A question and answer session is usually included at the end of the presentation.
Literature Discussion: AA meeting topics are chosen from the Big Book. This book, written by founder Bill W, outlines the philosophy of the program. Copies of the book are supplied to attendees for the duration of the meeting. Some groups make individual copies of the Big Book available to all new members, which allows members to make personal notations alongside the text.
Question and Answer: The AA meeting schedule may include a question and answer meeting where the floor is open for questions or where members are asked to write down their questions on a piece of paper and place them in a basket that is passed around. The group leader reads out the questions and participants attempt to answer them based on their experiences.
12 Steps Study: The focus of this type of meeting is on some aspect of the 12-step method. These are usually closed meetings where there is a discussion on one of the 12 steps that are the foundation of the program.
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
According to the official website of the AA organization, the main 12 steps and traditions to be observed at the meetings are as follows:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
- Made a list of persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Joining an AA Meeting
The process to join Alcoholics Anonymous is relatively simple. No formal membership is required to participate in meetings. At the first meeting, a person with drinking problems can sign the AA meeting sheet, attend the proceedings, and after that consider themselves a member. The program is open to individuals from all walks of life, regardless of age, gender, race, profession, or social status. The only requirement is a strong desire to overcome alcoholism by joining the informal fellowship and using the experience and support of former alcoholics to become sober.
Anyone can attend an AA open meeting, but only members with an alcohol problem may attend closed meetings and 12-step meetings. Friends and family who attend open meetings are not considered AA members unless they are alcoholics with a desire to stop drinking. Local AA chapters may have some policies or restrictions in place; for example, some programs may admit only women.
What to Expect at an AA Meeting
The basic structure of all AA chapters is similar, but because each chapter is run by local volunteers, the level of experience varies. The demographic of the people who attend the meeting affects the discussion and direction of the conversation. For example, a program for teenagers will address the specific problems faced by this age group. Depending on the type of meeting, the group may study one of the 12 steps in depth or read text from the Alcoholics Anonymous book. Experts may be called in to talk about certain aspects of recovery and treatment. The agenda is usually flexible, and the group leader decides topics for AA meeting depending on the most pressing need of the attendees.
What is an AA meeting like?
Members are encouraged to introduce themselves with the familiar phrase, “I am (name), and I am an alcoholic.” This helps newcomers feel comfortable and develop a sense of belonging with the group. Although all members are encouraged to participate in the meeting by speaking, it is not compulsory to talk. Cross-talk is discouraged, and each member is given a chance to share their individual experience uninterrupted. Members can share their experiences without fear of judgment — the group leader moderates the discussion about preventing it from going off track.
Sometimes, enthusiastic and friendly older members may offer support and encouragement and even share their phone number with newbies. However, new members are not required to develop friendships outside the AA meeting if this feels inappropriate or uncomfortable.
Rules For New Members
New members are assigned a sponsor to support their recovery from alcoholism. The sponsorship program is designed to provide a social element to Alcoholics Anonymous. It helps people remain strong when temptation strikes. A member’s sponsor stands by a policy of total abstinence and offers encouragement as needed.
What Not to Expect From AA Meeting Group
It is important to note that AA meetings do not make medical diagnoses or offer advice on detox and alcohol addiction treatment. The meetings also do not offer housing, jobs, food, or clothing to recovering alcoholics and do not help financially with any accumulated debts. Letters of reference are typically not provided for parole officers, courts, lawyers, and social agencies. Individual groups may, however, choose to cooperate and provide proof of attendance of AA meetings. Each group has autonomy in deciding whether to sign court slips, etc., but this is not a standard procedure.
Commitments and Cost of AA Meetings
The desire to quit alcohol must come from the person fighting alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous does not provide initial motivation and the organization does not solicit members. The strength of the program three in the voluntary nature of the membership. There are no fees, charges, or financial obligations of any sort to attend meetings. Even a person who is flat broke can join the nearest local chapter which can be found with a quick AA meeting search in the locator tool. However, the program does accept donations to remain independently supported. Local groups may “pass the hat” to cover the cost of coffee and sandwiches.
A unique feature of Alcoholics Anonymous is the absence of rules and regulations. The organization does not follow up on members or try to control them in any way. No one checks to see if a member is drinking. There is no commitment to attend a certain number of future meetings, although most members attend at least one meeting a week. No attendance records are maintained. There is no obligation to go to a hospital, detox center, or addiction treatment facility. Membership does not require allegiance to any sect, political party, or institution. The only commitment required is a continuing desire to become abstinent. Unruly members may be asked to leave a meeting but will be welcomed back when they are no longer disruptive.
Do People Remain Anonymous at an AA Meeting?
As the name suggests, anonymity is a key underlying principle of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Members are not permitted to break the anonymousness of others in their chapter. New members can share experiences about their drinking problem in confidence and be assured their trust will not be violated. Members need not to fear being identified in print, online, or on-air as an alcoholic. However, many members who have been in the program for a while find they have no objection to people learning about their membership and attendance of AA meetings, as this helps them to stay sober. Nonetheless, an affiliation to Alcoholics Anonymous cannot be disclosed by anyone except the member.
What Are AA Online Meetings?
Some alcoholics simply do not have the time or resources to attend meetings in person. People who live in small towns and rural areas may find that a search for “AA meeting near me” returns no practical results. For the benefit of such individuals, in addition to the AA meetings list in the local area, members around the world provide support 24 hours a day, seven days a week through e-mail, chat, online forums, and audio calls. This is a quick and confidential way to get immediate help for a drinking problem.
A suitable chapter can be found from an online AA meeting directory. New members can join a chapter located anywhere in the world. Group sizes vary from as few as 30 members to as many as several hundred. A site administrator maintains current addresses and calls meetings to order. Even in cyberspace, the singular purpose of the AA online meetings remains recovery from alcoholism based on the 12 steps.
Does Attending AA Work?
Around the world, millions of people put their faith in Alcoholics Anonymous. Several studies have tried to gauge the effectiveness of AA meetings. Here’s what the data says:
- More people recover from alcohol addiction through Alcoholics Anonymous than any other program. AA has an estimated membership of 20 million worldwide.
- Abstinence rates are twice as high among those who attend AA meetings compared to those who do not. Abstinence is also higher in those with a higher number, frequency, and duration of meeting attendance.
- Participation in AA provides long-term benefits. Individuals who participated for at least 27 weeks had better alcohol-related outcomes 16 years later.
- Up to 50 percent of long-term active Alcoholics Anonymous members achieve total abstinence, and nearly 70 percent drink less during participation.
- Attending an AA meeting three or more times per week is more likely to result in complete abstinence, but even one or two meetings can result in a sharp decrease in drinking.
- Any pattern of involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous is better than little to zero participation. Added value is obtained from higher initial attendance. Maintaining a sponsor over time has additional benefits above the attendance of meetings.
- One study compared individuals who received AA help, formal addiction treatment, or both, and found outcomes were better in the AA-only group at 1 and three years.
- Alcoholics who participate in a 12-step program in addition to formal addiction treatment have almost twice the chance of recovery compared to those who receive formal treatment alone.
- A study compared different alcoholism treatment methods and found that abstinent days were significantly more after 12-step facilitation compared to cognitive behavioral therapy at 1 and 3 years.
- Intensive referrals to AA meetings with more involvement is associated with significantly higher rates of abstinence than standard referrals.
- Involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous for 1 to 3 years following addiction treatment increases the rate of abstinence by 35 percent with an enduring effect on abstinent lifestyle from AA-based supportive networks.
- Men and women have similar AA attendance rates and abstinence goals, but women are more likely to be abstinent over time and more likely to continue AA participation over time.
- A significantly higher percentage of alcohol-dependent adolescents were found to be abstinent after completing an AA-based treatment program compared to non-completers.