How Does AA Work? (Virtual And In-person)

Alcohol and drug addiction don’t discriminate. It impacts the lives of individuals around the world and from all walks of life. In fact, according to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 40.3 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs.

Of these millions, only 11% get treatment for their addiction. And while 11% is a significantly low number, that equates to about 4.4 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 on the path to sobriety is seeking treatment at a rehab or addiction treatment center with comprehensive, individualized care and a track record of success. However, once treatment ends, the real journey begins – maintaining sobriety on the ‘outside’ or ‘out in the real world.’

To do so, you need a plan and support system in place when returning home. At Miracles Recovery Center, we understand just how crucial having a support system around you is to your recovery. There are several support channels available for those struggling with alcohol and substance abuse, but to this day, Alcoholics Anonymous remains one of the most popular. The question is, how does AA work? 

History Of AA Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was started in Akron, Ohio in 1935.  Since then, the 12-Step program has grown from a few members to over 120,000 AA groups and an estimated 2.1 million members in 175 countries around the world. Many of these members credit AA for saving their lives.

If you are searching for the right support system to help continue your ongoing recovery efforts, AA may be a perfect fit for you. While many people are fearful and feel uncomfortable attending AA meetings, especially at first, a little information about the program and what to expect can ease your mind.

Alcoholics Anonymous: What You Should Know

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was started in Akron, Ohio in 1935. Since then, the 12-Step program has grown from a few members to over 120,000 AA groups and an estimated 2.1 million members in 175 countries around the world. Many of these members credit AA for saving their lives.

If you are searching for the right support system to help continue your ongoing recovery efforts, AA may be a perfect fit for you. While many people are fearful and feel uncomfortable attending AA meetings, especially at first, a little information about the program and what to expect can ease your mind.

Types Of AA Meetings 

There are a variety of support group meetings similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), that are available virtually and in person. These meetings include the following: 

12-Step Programs

The 12 Steps created by the Alcoholics Anonymous founders establish clearly defined guidelines for overcoming alcohol addiction. Due to the program’s effectiveness, the 12 Steps were adopted and adapted by other addiction support groups according to their particular addictive or substance abuse behavior.

In fact, there are many different 12-Step programs for a variety of addictions and compulsive behaviors. From Debtors Anonymous to Cocaine Anonymous, they all use similar 12-Step methods.

Despite being based on spiritual principles, the 12 Steps have proven immensely helpful for many nonreligious people from all backgrounds and walks of life. The program’s language places emphasis on the presence of God, but it allows for different interpretations to suit any and all religious or spiritual beliefs.

Open Meetings

Open AA meetings are open to anyone wishing to attend. They are open to those with and without alcohol addiction, including AA members, loved ones, co-workers, community members, and anyone interested in learning more about AA and the 12 Steps.

Closed Meetings

Closed meetings are available for AA members in nearly every AA community. They are similar to open meetings but closed to the general public, allowing for more intimate discussions.

Beginner’s Meetings

Beginner’s meetings are ideal for those new to AA and designed to acclimate new attendees to the AA community. The meetings concentrate on the fundamental needs of those in early recovery and are especially helpful in avoiding relapse.

12-Step Meetings

While working through the steps of AA is a personal endeavor, 12-Step meetings offer attendees the opportunity for group discussion and study.

Big Book Study Meetings

The ‘Big Book’ is a term commonly used throughout the AA community in reference to Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism, a book written by one f the original AA founders in 1939. In Big Book meetings, attendees study the principles of AA and discuss recovery in relation to excerpts from the book.

Demographic-Specific Meetings

Demographic-specific AA meetings include men’s and women’s AA meetings. LGBTQ AA meetings are also available for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and other members of the queer community. These meetings are intended to hold the differences in the availability and accessibility of addiction treatment, social stigma, and socioeconomic influencing factors that impact individuals based on intersections of sex assigned at birth, gender identity and presentation, and sexual orientation.

Substance-Specific Meetings

You may choose to attend other 12-step-based meetings specific to other substances in addition to AA. If you have a history with multiple substances, the community encourages you to attend any meetings that help you feel supported. Getting professional treatment for the polysubstance disorder is also recommended.

Behavior-Based Meetings

Many people have compulsive behavioral problems and mental health conditions, leading to co-occurring disorders. These topics are not always appropriate for discussion in a general AA meeting. However, because the 12 Steps can aid in overcoming these issues, special interest meetings allow individuals to seek support with impulsive and compulsive issues that do not involve substance use.

Virtual/Online Meetings

AA has worked diligently to create online support groups to help be as supportive and accessible as possible.12 Online meetings are offered many times throughout the day and night and can provide you with proof of attendance. You can choose AA only or special interest online meetings.

In-Person AA Meetings

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). 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.

So, how long are AA meetings? How does AA work? Most importantly, what can you expect at your first AA meeting? In general, you can expect to be welcomed with open arms. But, here’s the AA meeting format and what an AA meeting may look like (there is a 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.

AA Meeting Agenda 

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.)
  • The 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*
  • The 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.

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 support groups 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.

Join Us For Our AA 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.