AA Meetings, Meeting Formats, Kinds of Meetings

People often arrive at this blog by searching for something having to do with AA meetings and meeting formats. That isn’t what this blog is about. I advise anyone who is curious for any reason to call AA near them and actually go to a meeting. Whether the interest is in alcohol or just meetings in general, going to an AA meeting is something everyone should experience. I am no authority and not much of a resource, but I’ll list what I know and what I think is important. My experience is limited to AA meetings in the US.

  • open and closed – Meetings are designated as open or closed. Open meetings are open to anyone who wants to go for any reason, including wanting to help or accompany a family member or friend, wanting help with a problem other than alcohol, as research, for school, or just to see. Closed meetings are limited to those who have a desire to stop drinking. This includes people who are sent by the court to AA (usually, but not always) and people who think they may have a problem but are unsure. Many members of AA do not have a preference for open or closed meetings, but for some, it’s an important aspect of recovery that closed meetings are limited to people who are all there for the same reason.  That way, in case they should run into someone they know, they are assured that person also is an alcoholic.  If you end up at a closed meeting by mistake, they will usually read something that indicates you’re in the wrong place, and they may ask you to leave. They will almost assuredly point you in the direction of an open meeting in the area.
  • women’s, men’s, young people’s, gay – These groups are self explanatory. In every meeting of this sort that I have attended, the group has made it clear that although they are a special population, all AAs are welcome to attend. If you find yourself at a specialty meeting that doesn’t fit your demographic, they will probably invite you to stay, and will point you in the direction of more appropriate groups.
  • beginners meetings – Excellent for the beginner! Usually everyone is welcome to attend these meetings, but preference for topics and for time to talk will be given to the newer people. A few of these meetings may exclude people who have a certain amount of sobriety and so aren’t considered to be new.
  • step meetings, Big Book meeting, other literature meetings – These usually consist of a reading of some part of one of the books of AA literature, followed by a discussion of what was read. At times people read an entire step or section before the discussion. At other meetings someone will read a paragraph or two and then people will discuss that if they like.

The general format of most meetings consists of a call to begin the meeting followed by a reading of the “Preamble.” There are then announcements involving happenings within the group and involving other groups. There are usually more readings, and these vary greatly as to their content and length. The person who is chairing the meeting will often ask if there is anyone new to AA or new to that meeting who would like to say hello. What is expected is that the person will say something along the lines of their name and what brings them to that meeting. It is not mandated that a new person do this. It is acceptable to stay quiet at that point.

Depending on the what type of meeting it is, there will be a person who tells his or her story, some reading, and/or a topic will be brought up for discussion. People usually then speak to the topic for one, two or three minutes, either in turn or by volunteering to speak by raising a hand or just chiming in. It is acceptable to pass when called upon. No one is forced to say anything. Most meetings end with people holding hands and saying a prayer, usually The Lord’s Prayer or The Serenity Prayer. You may join in. You may just hold hands and not pray. You may step outside of the circle and not hold hands, and pray or not, as you prefer.

Whenever you go to an AA meeting, it is vital to understand that it is an anonymous program. It works because people do not divulge to others who they have seen at a meeting. Whether you are a member or a visitor, you must not tell other people who you saw at an AA meeting, ever.

Meetings usually last for an hour but that can vary. No one is forced to stay, to speak, to tell his or her name, or to do anything at all. AA people are the friendliest in the world, and if you there due to a drinking problem, you are in the absolute best place you can be. It costs nothing to go to a meeting, and there is no obligation to return. The hour you spend there is an investment in yourself that may, if you’re lucky, change your life.

22 thoughts on “AA Meetings, Meeting Formats, Kinds of Meetings

  1. Hello,
    I am aware of fact that first step program was AA program. Thats why here I am looking for answers.I am almost 40 & I live in Europe. Here another 12 step community is growing – Anonymous Sexoholic. I contacted in this case Sa but without satysfying answer. Is the a tradition to split a meeting into 2 parts. In first only 30 days sober people can talk, in 2nd part the rest…. or idea of meeting just for people who have a sponsor , are sober, working a steps. Rest – can participate but cannot speak? is it OK with tradition? Doest helping in recovery? Our regular format was: welcoming, steps , than literature and we are exchanging knowledge. Now in this young community other ideas. I know that AA is almost 70 years “old”. have you every practise that? Thanks in advance for opinion

    • Hi Pete, and thanks for your question. I can only answer from my experience with AA, not with groups that are patterned after AA. There are very few rules in AA, and meeting formats vary a lot. Generally two or more people who are together for the purpose of sobriety can call themselves an AA meeting. After you gain experience, if you don’t like the meeting formats available to you, begin your own. AA works very well! Good luck to you.

  2. The best I can figure, the odds of a transexual coming to a specific meeting is: There are now 311 million people in the U.S. and 2,989 known medicaly, sexually changed individuals. So, sometime during the next 310.7002 million visitors to your meeting, you my need to address this question.

  3. Thanks for clearifying the difference btwn the different meeting formats. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to find in google search or even on the AA site itself. Thanks again it was very helpful.

  4. “I am no authority and not much of a resource, but I’ll list what I know and what I think is important.”
    which means its time to delete your information ! Then study it thoroughly and write a condensed thesis. If you prefer not, leave it to someone else who would prefer to do a good job. Above all, do not mis-inform by reasons including but not limited to Incompleteness, Predjudicial representation, Not researching, having to include a scape-goat statement, etc.
    If the purpose is to start a discussion, so be it but clearly state so. I try to keep in my mind that some people, especially the unknowledgable, are vulnerable by not being able to evaluate an information source.
    I, too, was overly ambitious and have to constantly remind myself to be patient & to delay the pre-mature release.

  5. Um, ouch? I put this info here with all the disclaimers because I don’t speak for AA, I haven’t studied AA meetings in all their forms, I’m just an experienced AA member. I think many people who are reluctant to show up in an AA meeting find some comfort here, and that’s my intention.

    I just got back from two meetings in Canada, and they were much the same as I’ve described. This is what a person can expect when he goes to an AA meeting. People like me like to know what to expect before they go. I’m seeking only to be a trusted friend of the cyber sort, sharing my experience.

  6. Thank you Lydia. I am a more recent member of AA and did research what to expect before walking in the door. All of the normal phrases applied to me (terminally unique, self-centered, etc.) so I wasn’t sure if the Fellowship was right for me. After reading resources like yours, I finally attended and have been a step-working member with sobriety for several months now.

    I apologize for the fact that despite your attempts to list information here for people that might not know what to expect, you have received some negative feedback. I found your summary to be a good overview that describes what is occurring in meetings and the general flow. Our primary purpose is to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. If providing this information helps them decide to walk into a meeting, then it is beneficial.

  7. Thank you for this since not s lot of info on meeting format. I still have a question about when would a meeting evolve to no longer be an AA meeting?

  8. Lydia I’ve been around the rooms of AA now for a few years and I just wanted to say that I found your posts from a few years previous, very very helpful for the newcomer. please keep up your good work.

  9. Lidia my name is Luis and I am an alcoholic and thank you for all your responses, It happened I lead away to a gay from a meeting, I asked him in a polite manner that we as a group, we do not want to know what gender are you, or what nationality and or race, all we want to hear from you is your name and your acceptance as an alcoholic, he insist and said my name is so, I am gay and I am an alcoholic, I walk him out the meeting and explain that we do not need to know your sexual affiliation, do not bring that up on to the meeting if you/re planning to stay, so he decide to go away, and he never did come back .

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