Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the most widely known support group for people with an addiction to alcohol.
If you believe you may have a drinking problem, there are a few things to keep in mind when as you’re preparing to attend your first AA meeting.
You do not need to be ashamed of your substance use disorder, but it’s important to remember that AA was founded based on the principle of anonymity. Members expect to attend meetings, share their thoughts openly, and not worry about being subject to gossip in their community.
Violating the right to privacy and confidentiality is considered a grave offense by members of the group.
If you happen to run into someone you know at an AA meeting, this can be understandably awkward. You can say hello and visit privately if you wish to do so, but you should not provide any details to other members about how you know this individual.
The Role of Religion
It is a common misconception that AA is a religious organization. Although the 12-Steps do refer to a higher power, you are not required to attend church or believe in God in order to participate. There are many online resources detailing how the 12-Steps can be paired with Bible study, but you can define your higher power however you wish.
AA meetings are commonly held in church halls, but this is only because these spaces are typically offered free of charge or for a more modest fee than other venues. You do not need to be a member of the church to attend an AA meeting held on the premises.
Both believers and nonbelievers are officially welcomed into AA with open arms. However, the heart of any organization is its members. If you feel uncomfortable with a meeting’s religious tone, you may want to consider attending another group in your area before investigating secular AA alternatives such as SMART Recovery.
AA encourages members to share freely, but you will not be forced to do so if it makes you feel uncomfortable. It is perfectly fine to attend your first few meetings to listen and learn from the experiences of others. Experienced members recognize that taking these “baby steps” towards recovery is a valid path to change.
After AA meetings, it is common for members to stay and socialize with each other. People often find that their fellow AA members become lifelong sober friends. If you don’t want to socialize, however, you can simply choose to leave after the meeting has ended.
Open Meetings vs. Closed Meetings
If you’re nervous about attending your first AA meeting, you might be wondering if it’s OK to bring someone you trust. Family members or friends are welcome to attend AA meetings listed as open—even if they themselves do not have a drinking problem. However, closed meetings should only be attended by current members or prospective members worried about controlling their drinking.
Generally, open meetings tend to focus on one or two key speakers who share how AA helped them maintain sobriety. These meetings give a general overview of the program, while closed meetings talk more about sensitive individual problems.
If a meeting isn’t listed as an open meeting, it should be considered closed.
Cost of Attendance
AA does not charge members to attend meetings. A collection is often taken at meetings to cover expenses such as facility rental space, coffee, and refreshments, but there are no mandatory dues or fees. You are welcome to participate, even if you are not able to financially contribute to the group.
Getting a Sponsor
AA relies heavily on sponsors to help keep members accountable for their sobriety, but you’re not assigned a sponsor automatically. You are encouraged to attend several meetings to get a feel for the group and its members before asking someone to be your sponsor. The sponsor-sponsee relationship is decided directly between the two individuals involved.
Your sponsor should be someone who has been sober and working the program for several years. It is important to choose someone who is honest, trustworthy, and open minded. Someone from a background similar to yours may initially make you feel more comfortable, but a sponsor of a different age, race, or socioeconomic background can offer a fresh perspective on the challenges you’re facing building a sober life for yourself.
Having Realistic Expectations
Although AA has helped millions of men and women achieve sobriety, the program is not a cure for alcoholism. If you’re actively abusing alcohol, a peer-support group is unlikely to provide the level of care you need to make a lasting lifestyle change.
For someone with a severe alcohol addiction, residential treatment at a facility such as Mountain Laurel Recovery Center is the best way to build the foundation for recovery. Our full continuum of care includes detox, counseling, and holistic services, as well as the use of 12-Step support groups.