Can I Attend AA as an Inpatient?

Peer support can be an important part of alcohol rehab, and many inpatient programs supplement treatment by offering access to meetings.1 You can attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other 12-step programs during inpatient rehab.

Many inpatient programs provide AA rehab meetings that involve only residents of your center and are separate from AA meetings held in the wider community. Joining AA meetings during inpatient rehab can be an opportunity to connect on a peer-to-peer level with other people in your treatment program, which can be an important element of recovery. Learning different social patterns in settings like 12-step programs is shown to support positive long-term recovery outcomes. 2

In this article:

When Do AA Meetings Happen in Alcohol Rehab?

If your rehab facility hosts AA meetings, the staff can help schedule meeting attendance into your weekly treatment plan when you and they feel it will be a beneficial support to your recovery. Many people who enter inpatient alcohol rehab must first complete a medical detox before this type of treatment schedule begins.1

During inpatient detoxification, you will go through a medically managed withdrawal. You may experience physical withdrawal symptoms during this time, which your treatment specialists can help you manage. While you may not feel up to meeting attendance in the initial stages of detoxification, you can begin addiction treatment—including therapy and peer support—after you are finished with detox or in the final stages of detox.3

You will most likely attend 12-step programs one to three times a week, though in some cases you may attend meetings daily or even multiple times a day. However, this level of meeting attendance usually happens outside of inpatient rehab if you find yourself in a challenging period when you are not receiving other forms of treatment and support.

Who Is at AA Rehab Meetings?

AA meeting formats vary depending on your treatment facility. AA members from outside the treatment facility run meetings in some facilities and attendance is open to any AA member. In other rehab facilities, meeting attendance is limited to inpatient residents, but older AA members run meetings. And, in some alcohol rehab programs, trained counselors facilitate the meetings. Facilitation of this kind is not conventional in AA and may be considered not to align with Alcoholics Anonymous philosophies. These facilitated group meetings may use the same principles as other 12-step programs without running as official AA rehab.2

Depending on the options available in your treatment facility, you may be able to attend AA meetings and professionally facilitated 12-step therapy. Regardless, you are likely to attend group therapy—which is always facilitated by a qualified mental health professional—alongside 12-step meetings.

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How Do AA Rehab Meetings Differ From Other AA Meetings?

There are many types of AA meetings, including many that do not focus on the 12 Steps of AA. However, the majority of AA rehab meetings are step meetings.

For several reasons, most AA meetings you’ll attend during inpatient rehab will focus on the first five steps of the 12-step program. Choosing to focus on the foundational steps at the start of your recovery journey can make the process feel more manageable. Also since most in-patient treatment programs have target end dates, focusing on working the first five of the 12 Steps can prepare you for transitioning out of the program. It will also keep you from rushing through the steps to complete them before leaving treatment.4

The purpose of 12-step programs is not to reach final completion of your steps. 2 In fact, in some ways, you will always be working your steps, especially Step 12: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”5

Just as your recovery is a process, so too is your progress through each of the steps of AA. The early steps of AA align well with the goals of inpatient alcohol rehab, namely admitting you have a problem and seeking help from a source outside of yourself.3 Later, when you are ready to leave inpatient treatment, you can focus on the remaining steps of AA, which can be better suited to an outpatient setting. Specifically, making amends and taking the message to other people experiencing alcohol addiction may be challenging when your social contacts are limited by living full-time in a treatment setting. 1

Saving some steps for later in your treatment journey may also help you avoid relapse. It can serve as motivation to continue attending peer support meetings after you leave alcohol rehab. Studies show that attending peer support meetings such as AA contributes to higher abstinence rates for people with alcohol addiction. After three and nine months, regular attendance at AA meetings proves equally effective in supporting abstinence from alcohol as other clinical interventions that were included in the scope of the research.6

How Does AA Work With Other Forms of Inpatient Treatment?

Research shows that incorporating peer support with other treatment modalities, including individual therapy and clinical intervention, proves effective for addiction treatment.7 For this reason, attending AA meetings during inpatient rehab can enhance the benefits of your treatment plan. 7

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In combination with other treatments, or on its own, AA helps you develop healthier coping methods. In turn, this leads to better recovery outcomes, especially if you decide to work with a sponsor or engage in other AA activities, such as volunteering.2

You may not have the option of participating in these aspects of the AA community as an inpatient, but you can incorporate them into your aftercare plan. When you transition out of inpatient treatment, research shows that maintaining your connection to 12-step groups after intensive substance misuse treatment reduces your risk of relapse.7

How Does AA Help with Transitioning From Inpatient to Outpatient Settings?

After you leave an inpatient setting, attending AA meetings can provide continued support you on your recovery journey. Depending on the facility where you receive treatment, you may be able to continue attending the same group meetings you joined while you were an inpatient resident. Even if those meetings are reserved for inpatient AA members, the staff at your rehab center can guide you toward a new meeting location before you leave treatment as part of your aftercare plan.8

Having a plan to continue treatment after leaving inpatient care is an important part of your continuum of care, which is a system of different levels of treatment. 8 You enter treatment at a level that fits your immediate needs and can then step up or down to more or less intense treatment options as your needs change. If you begin treatment at an inpatient facility and are ready to step down in intensity, your care team recommends outpatient options, like intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), specialized therapists taking new patients with your needs, and new AA meetings local to you.8

After you’ve stabilized in a hospital or another inpatient treatment program, your addiction specialists may help you transition to an IOP. At this stage of your recovery, you can expect to actively engage in treatment for between 6 and 30 hours a week, depending on your treatment plan.8

It’s often beneficial to enter an IOP with a similar model as your inpatient program. For example, if you were involved in a 12-step program during alcohol rehab, you should maintain that philosophy as an outpatient to maintain familiar goals and treatment. If you benefit from attending AA meetings during inpatient rehab, you will likely benefit from attending the same meeting or the same style of meeting once you are ready to leave.8

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Resources

  1. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. A.A. in Treatment Settings.
  2. Sacks, S., Banks, S., McKendrick, K., & Sacks, J. Y. Modified therapeutic community for co-occurring disorders: A summary of four studies. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 34(1), 112-122.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).
  4. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (1993). Chapter 4 – Twelve-Step-Based Programs. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 32. Treatment of Adolescents with Substance Use Disorders. Rockville (MD). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).
  5. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
  6. Kelly, J.F., Humphreys, K., & Ferri, M. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12‐step programs for alcohol use disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2020, Issue 3. Art.
  7. Tracy, K., & Wallace, S. P. (2016). Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 7, 143-154.
  8. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Chapter 3 – Intensive Outpatient Treatment and the Continuum of Care. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 47. Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment. Rockville (MD). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).

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