Can I Attend AA With People I Know?

You may choose to attend your their first open Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting with friends or family.1 You may depend on your loved ones’ encouragement and support as you pursue recovery. You may also encounter people you know by happenstance as you attend AA meetings. However, it isn’t always a good idea to attend meetings with people you know.

Your choice of which AA meetings to attend should always be based on where you feel most empowered and supported, which can sometimes become complicated with someone you know in the same room.

In this article:

Why Attend AA Meetings With a Loved One?

Addiction is sometimes called “a family disease.”2 Some families may have multiple members who misuse alcohol or have a diagnosed alcohol use disorder—the clinical term for alcohol addiction. If several people have alcohol addiction, these family members may decide to attend seek treatment or attend recovery meetings together.

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This can also occur in friend groups due to the strong social component associated with developing patterns of chronic substance misuse. You and a close friend may recognize and decide to seek help at the same time.

In other cases, friends or family may wish to offer support. They may worry about a loved one’s drinking, and they may be anxious for their loved one to get help. If their loved one is reluctant to explore recovery, friends and family can offer support and encouragement.3 For some individuals, the external motivators of ultimatums, reinforcement, or encouragement from loved ones is the initial reason they seek help with alcohol addiction.

Attending meetings with a loved one can help start the recovery process. However, not all AA meetings are open to nonmembers.1 Open meetings welcome friends, family, and community members affected by addiction. But closed meetings are different. Friends and family members cannot attend closed meetings unless they also have the shared personal goal to stop using alcohol and achieve long-term sobriety. Check your local meeting directory to find out whether the meeting is open or closed.4

What Are the Risks of Attending AA Meetings With People I Know?

Attending AA meetings with friends and family might not be the right choice for everyone. Some members may struggle with include the following.

Combined Recovery

If you and your loved one both live with addiction, you may need to seek separate treatment. It might be wise to attend different meetings and choose different sponsors. In fact, many sponsors won’t work with individuals from the same family. Clinical practitioners often have the same restrictions.5 Therapists and counselors know that working with families and friend groups can be risky and compromise confidentiality. The same risks apply in AA.

By attending the same meetings as anyone you know, you may link your recovery. Many people unconsciously mimic others’ behaviors. This tendency is part of why addiction is thought to run in families—individuals who see substance misuse modeled in their home of origin may repeat these patterns in their own lives. 2 They may also pattern their recovery what they see working for their loved ones.

Social behaviors can play a strong role in assessing an individual’s chances of relapse. If your loved one returns to using drugs or alcohol, you may be at a higher risk for relapse too.6 But if you attend separate meetings, and pursue other personal steps in recovery, you can pursue an independent recovery that is less likely to be affected by the struggles and successes of other people you know.

Protecting Another Member’s Privacy

Anonymity is the cornerstone of AA.7 At each meeting, the leader reminds members to respect each other’s privacy. Members should not discuss another person’s recovery regardless of whether they know each other, including from attending the same group regularly for a long period of time. People who attend meetings with loved ones may also have trouble with this rule. They may discuss their friend or loved one’s personal history, jobs, or hobbies. They might also provide an inappropriate level of detail about their family’s situation.

These breaches of anonymity can be accidental. Many people simply find it hard to keep from giving context about their friends or family members. It can be particularly difficult to maintain anonymity if their loved one is in the same room. Attending meetings separately might make it easier to maintain privacy and objectivity. Members should always take steps to protect the anonymity of other members, including friends, family, and anyone else you may know—such as people you know from outside in AA you see in meetings and people you come to know through AA.1

Safe Discussion Space

Bringing a loved one to your meetings might help you feel more relaxed. But over time, their presence may interfere with your recovery. You may hesitate to speak honestly about your alcohol around friends or family. Remember that honesty and candor are essential for recovery.8

AA members need a safe place to discuss challenges that involve their friends and family. They might also want to explore embarrassing, frustrating, or upsetting parts of their personal, social, and family history.8 Some members choose to talk about the difficult aspect of their addiction, including things their loved ones may not yet know. It can be hard to discuss these topics you feel ashamed, guilty, afraid, hopeless, or helpless about if a loved one is present. This can also apply to people you know from other areas of your life as well, such as having difficulty sharing how your addiction has impacted your work performance or being honest about alcohol use at work if a coworker attends the same AA home group as you.

If you attend AA with someone you know, you might be reluctant to share your story, but AA teaches that people in recovery are only “as sick as their secrets.”9 The program encourages members to confront and discuss their struggles as appropriate in a nonclinical peer-support setting. Hiding the truth may increase your risk of relapse.

If you choose to work the 12 Steps, you will have the opportunity to reflect on your behavior and personal history.1, 7 You may examine influences from your childhood and explore the impact of your parents’ choices. Members might also examine their relationship with their spouses and children. Sometimes, members may meditate on occasions where they wronged someone else. Members might also consider how an outsider’s influence led to their addiction.

This type of relationship inventory can be a difficult process. Members must strive for total honesty with themselves and their sponsors.8 Many members also choose to discuss their findings with their AA group. If members attend meetings with their loved ones, they might feel that they have to censor themselves because they’re afraid to hurt their loved one’s feelings. They may worry about upsetting their loved ones by bringing up painful memories of the past. They may be influenced by their loved one’s perception of events rather than their own.

Alcoholism and Codependency

Alcoholism may be linked to codependency.10 People with alcoholism may become codependent on others. Their loved ones may take part in substance-related behaviors. In a codependent relationship, both parties enable harmful behavior. They may encourage each other’s addiction or sabotage each other’s recovery.8

Sometimes, people in codependent relationships base their self-esteem on others.10 Their emotional well-being depends on their loved one’s mental state. They view the world according to their loved one’s opinions, beliefs, and attitudes. This type of codependency can be harmful to both parties.

Signs of codependency can include:11

  • Constantly seeking external validation
  • Struggling to draw or maintain boundaries
  • Frequently putting a loved one’s needs before your own
  • Feeling responsible for your loved one’s behaviors
  • Worrying about your loved one’s emotional state

People in codependent relationships may talk to their loved one many times a day. They might check on their loved ones throughout the day. If their loved one is upset, they may become upset. Over time, they may lose the ability to participate in recovery activities. They may prioritize their loved ones over their own mental health.11 Relapse can follow these behavior patterns.8

People in codependent relationships should not attend recovery meetings together. Instead, they should seek separate treatment programs. If you’re concerned that you might be in a codependent relationship, contact a therapist. You may benefit from individual counseling. Support groups like Codependents Anonymous can also help.12

Breaking free of a codependent relationship can be difficult. However, with dedicated effort, both parties can recover. People who seek help for codependency can learn to develop healthier relationships dynamics. Treatment for codependency can also support addiction recovery.13

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Where Can I Find Family Support for Alcohol Addiction?

It isn’t always a good idea to attend AA meetings with a loved one, but family members can still become involved in addiction recovery. A single person’s addiction can affect many different people; many addiction services take this fact into account.3 Addiction can take a toll on friends, parents, children, siblings, neighbors, and coworkers.

Recovery programs may encourage the entire family to seek care. Alcohol rehab programs often include family therapy sessions. Family members may receive individual counseling or attend support group meetings. Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous Family Groups (Al-Anon) can help, too. Al-Anon is a 12-step program modeled after the 12 Steps of AA.14 Al-Anon uses the AA framework to help people affected by someone else’s drinking.

Marriage or family counseling may also prove helpful. During these sessions, a therapist offers targeted help. The therapist can help the family work through feelings of anger, grief, blame, and guilt. They can work with the family to repair relationships damaged by addiction.8

Does AA Provide Family or Individual Counseling?

AA is a fellowship that offers peer support for people with alcohol addiction. The program does not employ clinicians, like doctors or therapists, or create treatment plans for members. AA doesn’t offer counseling or medical advice.1, 7

At AA meetings, members are welcome to discuss their challenges. But families should not use the meeting to discuss their troubles with each other. AA prohibits “cross-talk.”15 Members should address their comments to the group, not to an individual. Individuals should never offer a direct rebuttal to another person’s remarks, even if you know the person and have broader context for their remarks than others in the group.

How Can I Support My Loved One as They Pursue Recovery?

There are many ways to offer support to a loved one who has alcohol addiction, such as:3, 16

  • Carpooling to AA and Al-Anon meetings that take place in the same building at similar times
  • Attending joint AA-Al-Anon events, such as coffee or lunches after meetings
  • Making time to discuss your loved one’s recovery progress
  • Attending sober events together like a book club, yoga class, or hiking program
  • Removing alcohol, mixology tools, substances, and paraphernalia from your home or the public areas of your home
  • Setting boundaries about alcohol at family events, which can help your loved one feel more comfortable attending birthday parties, holiday dinners, and other celebrations
  • Educating yourself about the medical condition of addiction
  • Avoiding criticism, demands, stigmatizing language, and blame when speaking to your loved one and instead focusing on hopeful, compassionate language

Remember that it can be difficult for people in recovery to maintain their social circle. After someone chooses to stop drinking, they may lose several friends. They may also decide not to return to their favorite bars or restaurants. Loneliness and boredom can sometimes trigger a relapse.8 Friends and family can help by keeping in touch with their loved one.

If you’re struggling to overcome feelings of anger or resentment, AA and Al-Anon can help. These programs can provide insight into your loved one’s struggles. They also provide a safe space for friends and family to explore their challenges.

Are you interested in seeking support for alcohol misuse or addiction for you or a loved one? Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak to a treatment specialist about nearby rehab centers. Our specialists can answer your questions about alcohol addiction and explore available treatments. We can help you find a rehab program in your area.

Resources

  1. Inland Empire Twelve Step Service Board. Your First Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting.
  2. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017, September 8). Biology of Addiction: Drugs and Alcohol Can Hijack Your Brain.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019, April 15). Resources for Families Coping with Mental and Substance Use Disorders.
  4. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2021). AA Near You.
  5. Natwick, J. (2017). Ethics Update – Family ties: Tackling issues of objectivity and boundaries in counseling.
  6. US Department of Veterans Affairs. Reducing Relapse Risk.
  7. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Frequently Asked Questions About A.A.
  8. Melemis, S. M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325–332.
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, September 17). Talking with Your Parents About Drugs.
  10. Panaghi, L., Ahmadabadi, Z., Khosravi, N., Sadeghi, M. S., & Madanipour, A. (2016). Living with Addicted Men and Codependency: The Moderating Effect of Personality Traits. Addiction & Health, 8(2), 98–106.
  11. Co-Dependents Anonymous. Patterns and Characteristics of Codependency.
  12. Co-Dependents Anonymous. Newcomers.
  13. Bortolon, C. B., Moreira, T. de C., Signor, L., Guahyba, B. L., Figueiró, L. R., Ferigolo, M., & Barros, H. M. T. (2016). Six-month outcomes of a randomized, motivational tele-intervention for change in the codependent behavior of family members of drug users. Substance Use & Misuse, 52(2), 164–174.
  14. Al-Anon Family Groups. (2017). What Is Al-Anon and Alateen?
  15. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2017). Carrying the AA Message Through Literature—From Twi to Konkani.
  16. Daley, D. C. (2013). Family and social aspects of substance use disorders and treatment. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, 21(4), S73–S76.

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