What are AA Meetings? What happens at AA Meetings? How long do these meetings last? What is the difference between Open and Closed AA meetings?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international organization of men and women who have a problem with alcohol. It is the oldest and largest alcohol support group in the world. AA helps people struggling with alcohol support one another. This support aids their recovery journey and as such, their sobriety.
AA is self-supporting, nonprofessional, apolitical, and multiracial. Membership is open to anyone who wants help with their drinking. There are no educational requirements or age restrictions. This organization is an effective support group for millions of people worldwide.
One of the underlying principles of AA is remaining anonymous. The idea is that people can share their experiences and struggles with alcohol freely.
This organization was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. The first meeting was between the two founders who both had struggles with alcohol. In keeping with the anonymous nature of the group’s philosophy, Wilson became known as “Bill W.” He was the face of the organization.
AA was originally founded under the principles of the Oxford Group. This association was a Christian-based self-help group. By 1937, however, they broke away from this group and started AA. Even though the founders made several changes to the new group, some of the old principles were kept. These include regular informal meetings, volunteering, and working through “steps.”
Bill W. spelled out the principles that helped him become sober. These guides were published in 1939 as The Big Book. It describes the famous 12 Steps of recovery from alcohol addiction. To this day, this remains the handbook for AA meetings.
During AA meetings, members get an introduction to these 12 steps. The process of living these steps is known as “working the steps.” This requires building your life around these steps with the help of other members of the group.
In addition to The Big Book, AA now has many other publications, thus helping even more with its worldwide network. Also, the growth of AA continues to increase through the internet. According to a recent article, there are over 114,000 AA meetings worldwide.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a Christian-based foundation. According to Bill W, his addiction was overcome because of his relationship with God. Over the years, AA has slowly decreased its emphasis on religion. Despite this, its Christian origin remains visible at its core.
New member packets in AA meetings have this statement:
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
Of course, spirituality remains an integral part of AA. Unfortunately, this is a turn off for some people. Because of this, some other non-religious 12-Step programs were born. Such associations are helpful for people unhappy with the religious nature of AA.
From its website, AA describes itself as:
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.
AA meetings are designed to provide support to individuals struggling with alcohol. This is done mostly by using the 12-Step program. Compulsive behavior changes, making amends, and learning to live without drinking alcohol are some of the components addressed by the 12 Steps.
The cost of attending meetings is free. Donations from volunteers cover expenses incurred from running an AA program. Different committees are formed to help the program run smoothly. Individuals who are in recovery from alcohol addiction, called Sponsors, help with leading this fellowship.
This organization does not monitor its members for drinking. Participation and following the 12 Steps are entirely voluntary. There is no commitment to attend a specific number of meetings. However, the recommendation is to attend at least one meeting a week. The only obligation to AA meetings is the desire to remain abstinent.
During meetings, disruptive members can be asked out of the session but are always welcome back.
During these informal gatherings, people with alcohol dependence go through the 12 Steps to quit alcohol. These meetings welcome people in different stages of recovery. Family members and friends are also welcome to attend.
The process to join AA meetings is quite simple. There is no formal membership. To become a member of a group, individuals struggling with alcohol only need to show up and stay for the meeting. Even though family and friends can attend meetings, they are not considered members.
There are slight variations from one local chapter to another. For example, some groups may only accept members of a particular sex. Also, due to the different volunteer experiences in running such meetings, things may differ from one group to the next.
The introduction in AA meetings is usually with the phrase, “I am (individual’s name), and I am an alcoholic.” Speaking in these sessions helps people open up about their struggles with drinking. It is, however, not mandatory to discuss your personal life. Also, the expectation is to be polite and avoid talking over others. These sessions are non-judgemental, and the group leader does the moderation.
Assigning a sponsor to members is common. The aim is to offer even more support, as well as provide increased social interaction. When people have intense cravings or feel they need support, they can reach out to their sponsors to get them going. In addition to offering support and encouragement, sponsors also advocate for complete abstinence from alcohol. Even though having a sponsor is common, it is not mandatory.
Typically, meetings last about 60 to 90 minutes. These sessions usually occur in free public places. Community centers, schools, churches, and clinics are examples of such venues. In addition to reading from the Big Book, individuals share their personal stories in the group.
In a bid to help with anonymity, individuals introduce themselves using only their first names. Ways to avoid triggers, struggles from being abstinent, as well as positive experiences are some of the topics of discussion in sessions. Specific personal advice is, however, discouraged.
Many other groups have found the model for AA meetings helpful for other addictions. Some examples are Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, and Gamblers Anonymous. These programs all have models similar to the original Alcoholics Anonymous.
In a bid to address various issues that come up in AA meetings, there are different types of meetings. These are types of meetings that occur in Alcoholics Anonymous fellowships:
In open meetings, attendance is available to anyone interested in participating. In addition to individuals with alcohol addiction, family and friends are also welcome. These meetings give a good account of what AA is all about.
A closed AA meeting is more restrictive than an open meeting. In closed sessions, only people struggling with alcohol use disorder are allowed to participate. Friends and family members do not attend. As a result of this, such meetings can be more specific and personal.
In these meetings, the experience is personalized to one member of the group. The idea is to talk about the negative effect of alcohol as relates to their life. Also, what kind of impact attending AA meetings plays in helping with sobriety.
These meetings tend to be more educational. The idea is for a member to choose a topic and discuss this from a personal angle. As a result, the learning experience is made even better as members can relate more. Other members of the group also contribute, and this helps others get a better understanding, not just about the topic, but also their recovery.
These meetings open the floor to questions and answers from the group. In some cases, members write down their questions on paper and pass them around. This way, no one knows exactly who asked what. Such a model helps people ask questions they may otherwise not have asked. A member picks up a piece of paper, the leader reads it out and anyone is free to answer.
Such meetings involve a group of AA members. This panel of members presents to a group of professionals to educate them about Alcoholics Anonymous. For example, a panel may present to a group of probation officers. Painting a clear picture with their personal experiences, professionals get a better understanding of AA. As such, this increased awareness helps with getting more people in need of this service on board.
As the name of this meeting implies, this meeting discusses the 12 Steps. In most cases, the entire duration of a meeting involves talking about one of the steps. Due to the nature of the steps and how personal such conversations go, 12 Step meetings are usually closed meetings.
These are discussion meetings that involve topics from the Big Book. The Alcoholics Anonymous book is available in bookshops or online. Some meetings also provide copies to members.
What are AA online meetings? These are fellowships of AA members that take place via the internet. Support is usually 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It takes place via audio calls, video chats, online forums, and even emails. These meetings are beneficial for people who do not have local AA meetings due to their location. Many rural areas and small towns do not have local chapters, and online AA meetings are a way to get help for alcohol addiction.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous contains the 12 Steps and traditions which make the core of this organization.
What are the 12 Steps of AA? These are guiding principles in addiction treatment designed as “steps” toward recovery from alcohol addiction. They outline a course of action for tackling addictive behaviors. The goal is to practice these principles as a way of life to help expel the urge to drink, hence enabling the individual to function happily without alcohol. The 12 Steps are:
These traditions apply to the life of the fellowship itself. They outline how AA maintains its unity and relates itself to the world. The 12 Traditions serve as the foundation of the organization. The 12 Traditions are:
A sponsor is an experienced AA member who has made progress in recovery. Sponsors help other members understand and follow the AA program.
Sponsors usually have experience of the 12 Steps. They are also often the same sex as the sponsored person. In addition, sponsors do not impose their personal views on others.
Having a sponsor helps provide ongoing support not just for the sponsored person, but also for the sponsor. Face to face meetings and phone calls help to maintain abstinence from alcohol. Even though sponsors are not mandatory, they can be very supportive.
There is conflicting evidence on the effectiveness and success of AA. Despite this, there is no doubt, however, that Alcoholics Anonymous has helped many people with their recovery. AA remains the largest fellowship of its kind and continues to grow. Several new members join AA every day, and meetings take place in several countries around the world.
An article reports that AA meetings take place in over 170 countries in the world. Also, there are about 2 million members enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous worldwide.
Some people believe that it is a risk to choose AA over other treatments. This is because they feel other modalities of treatment involving residential treatment and Medication-Assisted Treatment are more helpful. A study quotes only a 5-8% success rate for AA. According to a 2014 AA membership survey, 27% of members have been sober less than a year. After more than 20 years, 22% have remained abstinent.
Regardless of what these numbers show, there is no doubt that AA is helpful. Building bonds, socializing, and the overall camaraderie of these fellowships have a role to play in recovery. Despite the positives of AA, it is, however, essential to consider a higher level of care for more severe drinking problems.
Inpatient residential treatments, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, individual and group counseling, and Medication-Assisted Treatment are other treatment options to consider. In addition to these, it is important to follow up with mental health professionals to evaluate and treat depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses.
A list of local meetings is available on the AA website. You may also contact your local office.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a recovery program that helps people struggling with alcohol. These informal gatherings have the sole purpose of sharing experiences and offering support. By so doing, the goal is to help individuals with alcohol use disorder achieve sobriety. AA is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization. People who are in recovery lead the groups.
AA Meetings are open to people of all ages, races, and gender. It is self-supporting, nonprofessional, apolitical, and multiracial. Bill W and Dr. Bob Smith founded this organization.
Membership in AA meetings is free. The only commitment is the desire to remain abstinent. The principles of this fellowship come from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. This book contains the 12 Steps and Traditions which make the core of this organization. Sponsors help other members through the recovery process.
There are thousands of meetings all over the world, some of which are online. Even though AA meetings are helpful to many, a higher level of care should be an option in severe cases of alcohol use disorder.
What has your experience being with AA? Please leave your comments below.
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