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What To Expect in an AA Meeting (Virtual And In-person)

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Addiction impacts people across the nation and the world. Individuals from all different walks of life become addicted to alcohol or drugs—and sometimes both. Addiction simply does not discriminate. According to the 2019 National Survey and Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are about 23.5 million Americans who are addicted to either alcohol or drugs. 

Of these millions, only 11% get treatment for their addiction. And while 11% is a significantly low number, that equates to about 2.5 million Americans who seek treatment for an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD). That’s millions of people who want to get sober and stay sober. The good news is, many of these millions will go on to live in recovery. 

The first step in getting sober is to seek treatment at an addiction treatment center or rehab with a proven track record of using evidence-based treatment. In addition, it’s important to have individualized, comprehensive care. For many, being in treatment provides a sense of safety and security. Once treatment ends, life on the ‘outside’ or in the ‘real world’ must begin. 

This is where it’s essential to have a support system and plan once you return home. At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we know just how vital this piece of recovery is. Our extensive alumni program is a coveted piece of the entire treatment program. With events held for alumni in various places throughout the country, our Days of Ascent in which alumni return to ‘recharge’  themselves and their recovery, and our Coining In program where those who have successfully completed treatment are welcomed into the vibrant alumni community, Futures provides the ongoing support for each and every one of our alumni. 

But that’s not all. At Futures, we understand how important building a support system when you return home is. Many of our staff are in recovery themselves and understand first hand what the initial days out of rehab are like. Futures exposes clients to various support programs while in treatment. This provides an idea of how each one works and which you resonate with the most. From Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to Refuge Recovery, there is a support program for everyone to help sustain long term recovery

One of the most popular and tenured support programs is Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings: What You Should Know

Alcoholics Anonymous began in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. This 12-Step program quickly grew from a few members to a now worldwide group with 120,300 AA groups and 2,087,840 members across the globe. Many claim that AA saved their lives. 

If you are looking for a support system to help sustain your recovery, AA could be the place for you. When it comes to going to an AA meeting many people feel uncomfortable and are fearful. That’s very normal, however with a little information on the format and what to expect at an AA meeting you can ease your mind. 

When it comes to AA meetings today, COVID-19 has changed the face of meetings in many areas. From in-person meetings to meetings being held on FaceBook Live, Zoom, or various other platforms it is a bit different today. However, many places continue to have in-person meetings.

Some people now prefer virtual meetings on Zoom citing the flexibility in being able to attend various meetings across the world at any time of the day or night. For those with families and children, these virtual meetings have made AA more accessible. 

But for others, the in-person meetings and fellowship of AA is something not found in Zoom meetings. No matter which type of meeting, virtual or in-person, you prefer, AA can provide immeasurable tools and support to help to achieve long-term sobriety. 

Let’s discuss what to expect at an AA meeting both in-person and virtual. 

What to Expect in an AA Meeting (In-Person)

AA started in the 1930s when there was limited technology. One of the basic tenements of the program was the personal connection between one alcoholic and another. The pioneering members of AA found that only another alcoholic could really understand, relate to, and guide them in recovery from alcoholism

As time has moved on, there are numerous types of 12 Step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA). (Learn more about different 12 Step programs.) Most follow the same or similar format as AA. It’s also important to know that there are many individuals who attend AA meetings but have a drug problem. This is widely practiced and accepted throughout AA. (It’s important to note that one caveat is AA meetings generally ask that you don’t mention drugs at meetings. Many creatively use terms such as ‘dried goods’ when speaking of their drug issue in AA meetings.) 

So what can you expect at your first AA meeting? In general, you can expect to be welcomed with open arms. But, here’s what an AA meeting may look like (there is variation from one AA group to the next). 

Many AA groups have greeters who stand at the door to the meeting room and welcome you to the meeting. These greeters will welcome you to the group and will try to make you feel comfortable. For many who just are coming into AA, this can be uncomfortable. It’s important to know that not all meetings have greeters and most often greeters will only say hello and welcome. They are not there to pressure anyone or make them feel awkward. 

Once you get into the room where the meeting is happening, often clubhouses or churches, take a seat. Newcomers, as the people new to AA are called, are encouraged to sit in the front, however, you should sit where you feel most comfortable. 

Generally, meetings start at the designated time and are led by a chairperson. Each AA group has its own specific beginning to the meeting but in general follow this start: 

  • Chairperson introduces self
  • Announcements from the chairperson are made (this would include things like where to smoke, etc.)
  • Preamble of AA is read
  • An excerpt from the Big Book of AA is ready (How It Works)
  • Format of group meetings is read (for example, week one is a speaker meeting, week two is a step meeting, etc.)
  • Speaker or reading starts
  • Meeting attendees are given an opportunity to share* 
  • Meeting is closed with a prayer.

*Some meetings are speaker only meetings and the attendees do not share. 

As mentioned, there are variations from group to group but in general, this is what you can expect. Some of the most common variations have to do with anniversaries and introductions. 

When it comes to anniversaries in AA it’s a big deal. Many meetings commemorate this achievement with AA coins or chips. There are coins for the first 24 hours you have been sober, then for each month up until the first year. After that, there are coins to celebrate years of sobriety, however, you can sometimes find a group with the 18-month coin. 

Usually, there is a ‘coin person’ who stands in the front of the meeting and asks if anyone is celebrating an anniversary and goes month by month then year by year to find those celebrating. A big cheer is given and usually, the person celebrating comes up to the coin person, gets a hug or handshake, and their well-earned coin. 

This is a great part of an AA meeting. Attendees get to see that the program does work if you put the work into it. Many times at meetings there will be attendees celebrating 30 days and others celebrating 30 years. Each of these individuals has a lot to offer the meeting. 

One of the other most common variations from the above-listed format is introductions. At some AA meetings, everyone goes around the room and introduces themselves. For many new to AA, this can be a part of the meeting they’d rather skip, for others they can’t wait to dive into the AA program and meet new, sober friends. Whichever way you feel, it’s perfectly normal and you’ll be accepted at AA. 

The most common way to introduce yourself is to state your first name only followed by ‘alcoholic’ or ‘I’m an alcoholic’. For example, ‘Hi, I’m Mary and I’m an alcoholic’. It’s that simple. However, many people—particularly those new to AA and sobriety—aren’t comfortable saying either their name or that they are an alcoholic. 

That’s fine too. In those cases, you can simply say, ‘hi’ or ‘hi, I’m (insert first name)’ or really whatever you feel comfortable with doing. AA groups aim to make meetings as comfortable as possible, especially for newcomers. 

Another piece of this is that at some meetings in the beginning the chairperson will ask if anyone is new to AA or new to that particular AA meeting. This is a great time to introduce yourself and let people know you are new. If you do this, you’ll meet people and make friends faster than if you keep to yourself. However, the most important piece is that you are at a meeting. Do what you feel most comfortable with at first but be ready to step outside of your comfort zone at some point too. 

In AA they say that there are three parts to every meeting; 20 minutes before, the meeting, and 20 minutes after. Everyone is encouraged to come early to meetings to meet people, enjoy coffee and snacks as well as stay after for more of the same. Everyone is welcome in AA.

Much of this has changed in many places due to COVID-19 but you can still find some in person meetings being held in indoor spaces with sufficient room for social distancing or being held outdoors as weather permits. 

To find an AA meeting near you first go to the main AA website, once on the home page enter your zip code and country in the designated left sidebar area. You will then be taken to a page that displays intergroups in your area. Intergroups are groups of AA members who organize meetings, etc at a more local level. Once you find the intergroup closest to you, visit their website for a list of all current meetings. These intergroup websites and links can be found in that same section. 

Virtual AA Meetings

Virtual meetings are new to AA and 12 Step programs. With the start of restrictions associated with COVID-19, AA and other 12 Step programs made a swift transition to utilizing Zoom for online meetings. 

Zoom has now become an integral part of AA and the ability to connect with other alcoholics despite social distancing and quarantining restrictions. An intergroup dedicated to online AA meetings can be found and is a tremendous resource for anyone in sobriety—whether with five days or five years. Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous (OIAA) provides a:

  • Directory of online meetings with links, 
  • 24-hour, fast response for anyone in a crisis or who wants to stop drinking, 
  • One-click access to the next meeting online 
  • Resources to understand more about online meetings 

The online meetings generally follow the same format as each group’s in-person meetings. There are, of course, some adaptations for the online execution of the meetings. 

Now you know more about what to expect at an AA meeting. The most important thing to remember is that AA welcomes all new members and those either new to sobriety or those who want to get sober are very welcomed. You’ll find understanding and support at AA meetings—both great places to begin in your recovery journey. 

If you or someone you love is ready to get help for an alcohol or substance use disorder, Futures is here for you. Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 866-804-2098.

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