Millions of Americans have had their lives hijacked by alcohol addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA for short, has helped many reclaim power over their addiction and turn their lives around. Anyone looking to change their life and get help for their alcoholism will find helpful resources in their local AA chapter.
If you’re unsure if AA is right for you, or you’re thinking about recommending AA to a loved one who is addicted to alcohol, the following material lays out all of the details about how AA works so you can decide if this type of program would be a good fit.
What Is AA?
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith with the intention of providing a safe and supportive environment where those with a drinking problem could talk candidly about their addiction and support one another in taking steps to achieve sobriety.
AA is a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization. It does not provide any sort of detox or treatment services, nor does it try to get people to enter any type of program.
To really benefit from AA, people must come to the meetings with a willingness to acknowledge their drinking problem and have a self-motivated desire to change their situation. Practically speaking, however, many people attend their first AA meeting due to pressure from family or a court order. Some of the people who are coerced into attending end up enjoying the meetings and deciding to continue, but the success rate is much higher for those who attend voluntarily.
The structure of AA meetings is fairly simple: People who struggle with alcohol gather to share their experiences, provide encouragement to one another, and learn about the practical steps to alcoholism recovery using the famous 12 steps.
What Is the AA Big Book?
The “Big Book” is a term commonly used to refer to the Alcoholics Anonymous book that describes the AA philosophy of how to recover from alcoholism, as written by one of AA’s founders: Bill Wilson.
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Who Can Attend AA Meetings?
While no AA chapter charges membership fees or dues, certain policies do vary by location. Some chapters open their meetings up to anyone (including family members), while others hold closed meetings for alcoholics only.
Some AA chapters serve particular demographics of people – a group specifically for men, or for teens only, for example.
Before you go, contact your local AA chapter to find out the details about its policies or restrictions, as well as times and meeting places.
What to Expect in an AA Meeting
Each AA chapter is run by local volunteers, so although each is similar, the experience varies across the board. And each meeting within a chapter can be different since people can share and discuss things can take the conversations in many different directions.
Here are some frequently asked questions people have about what to expect in AA meetings:
‘Do I have to speak in an AA meeting?’
We are all familiar with the “Hello, I am (so and so), and I am an alcoholic” that takes place in AA meetings, thanks to Hollywood’s on-screen AA scenes in films. AA chapter leaders do indeed encourage members to start their meetings in this way because it helps newcomers feel welcome and comfortable. The goal in the meetings is to show support for everyone who is taking steps to get sober.
While all members are encouraged to speak at the meetings, no one is pressured into talking.
‘What should I not say in AA meetings?’
To keep discussions from going off track and to respect each individual’s experiences without judgment, members are encouraged to speak about their own experiences and discouraged from using “crosstalk.”
Crosstalk is responding to what someone else said by sharing your own opinions or giving advice. As much as you may be tempted to weigh in enthusiastically with your two cents, avoid interrupting to give advice. If you experienced a similar situation, you can certainly share your own experience when it’s your turn.
Respect each person’s story as their own, without judgment, and know that you will be given this same courtesy. This is part of the magic of AA meetings.
‘What is discussed in AA meetings?’
During meetings, some chapters choose to read a portion of the Alcoholics Anonymous book, or the group may study the 12 steps in depth.
In some cases, chapters may bring in experts to help the group learn more about certain aspects of recovery or treatment. The agenda is very flexible, depending on what the group leader decides is most needed.
‘How do Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors work?’
The feature of AA that is most well-known is the sponsor program. Sponsors are assigned to each new member to help support newcomers to take on sobriety. Because the founders and leaders of AA firmly stand by a total abstinence policy, the sponsor program is used to bring people together to help each other stay strong when they are tempted to drink.
‘How will I be received in my first AA meeting?’
In your first meeting, don’t be surprised if you are approached by other members with offers of support and encouragement, and even hugs and phone numbers. Some members are a bit alarmed at the enthusiasm of other AA members who want to get to know them. Most of these people are well-meaning and want to support newbies because they remember what it was like to start this process.
However, do listen to your instincts if any interaction feels uncomfortable or inappropriate. Remember that you don’t have to be friends with anyone outside of AA meetings if you don’t want to.
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Understanding AA Meeting Types and Codes
There are two main types of AA meetings:
- O – Open Meeting – Open to both alcoholics and guests (such as family members), though usually only those who are fighting alcohol addiction will speak.
- C – Closed Meeting – Attendance is limited to alcoholics only.
There are many other codes that designate the topics that are to be discussed. Here are some of the most common codes, which can be combined with “O” or “C” to designate if it is a closed or open meeting. For example, OBB would indicate an open meeting where the Big Book will be discussed.
- D – Discussion – A chairperson shares his or her own experience and then leads the group in further discussion.
- BB – Big Book – Reading and discussion from the Alcoholics Anonymous book.
- S – Step – The book “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” is used to focus on one of the 12 steps.
- BS – Big Book Step Study – The focus is on some aspect of the 12 steps from the Big Book.
When AA Isn’t Enough
Because the success of AA depends on the participant’s willingness to initiate change is his or her own life, the program can’t really help those who aren’t yet ready to own up to their problem and take corrective action.
Also, many alcoholics need to detox from alcohol dependency first, which requires medically supervised detox in an alcohol and drug rehab facility. Attempting to self-detox can be fatal and is strongly discouraged by medical professionals, but there are plenty of drug and alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation centers to guide a recovering alcoholic through the detox process.
Intervention Help for Families of Alcoholics
For families who want to help a loved one recover from alcohol addiction, the first step may be learning how to stage an intervention for alcohol addiction.
Addiction Treatment Services can assist in pairing you with services for all aspects of addiction intervention and treatment. We can:
- Connect you with a professional interventionist
- Help you find the right detox and treatment program for your loved one
- Assist you in managing the insurance process
- Help you identify the right aftercare program and connect with local AA chapters
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