Can I Be a Casual Member of AA?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings have been around for nearly nine decades to help people achieve long-term sobriety and recovery from alcohol use disorder. However, many people who struggle with alcohol addiction choose to attend these meetings occasionally or only when they feel as if they’re on the brink of relapsing.

Though attending AA meetings once in a while may seem sufficient when it comes to staying sober, being a casual member of AA may not suit everyone—especially those who are newly sober and recently completed treatment at alcohol rehab.

Here’s a closer look at what it means to be a casual member of AA versus a regular member and the benefits of attending regular AA meetings.

What Does It Mean To Be a Casual Member Of AA?

A casual member of AA may only attend AA meetings every once in a while, such as once every three weeks, once every three months, or far less frequently. These individuals may not prioritize AA or make time in their schedules to attend AA meetings. Casual members may only be “casual” because they went to AA once or twice and did not enjoy or benefit from the experience.

Casual members of AA may attend meetings if they feel as though they “need” them at specific times or occasions, such as after having a stressful day or experiencing a trauma. They may also attend AA meetings only if they feel on the verge of relapse or if they recently relapsed and want to get back on track with recovery.

Though being a casual member of AA isn’t necessarily bad or negative, attending meetings casually can set you back in your recovery if you are newly sober or are still learning how to manage triggers and avoid relapse.

What Does Being a Regular AA Member Entail?

Being a regular member of AA means attending regularly scheduled meetings—whether they occur daily, once or twice per week, biweekly, or monthly. The frequency at which you should attend in-person or online AA meetings depends mainly on your personal, unique recovery needs. There is no universal rule about how often a person in recovery should attend AA meetings given how addiction and recovery affect each person differently from the next.

Your AA sponsor or an addiction treatment professional can often help you determine the frequency at which you should be attending AA meetings based on your recovery progress and other important obligations you may have related to work, school, and family.

For example, those who recently recovered from severe, years-long alcohol addiction may attend AA meetings daily to surround themselves with sober peers as often as possible. On the other hand, those who have been sober for several years and who have busy work schedules may only need to attend AA meetings once per month for the sake of staying connected to the recovery community.

The main goal of AA is to empower you to achieve long-term recovery and personal growth, so you need to attend meetings as often as it benefits your overall health and well-being. You can increase or reduce the frequency of when you attend AA meetings at any time regardless of the stage you’re at in your recovery based on your progress and needs.

What Are the Benefits of Attending AA Meetings Regularly?

If you are relatively new to AA and don’t want to attend regular meetings for any given reason, it helps to fully understand the benefits of being a regular member before standing firm on your decision to be a casual member.

Here are the top benefits of attending regular in-person and online AA meetings.

They Keep You Connected To a Sober Community

AA meetings give you access to a community of sober individuals and like-minded peers. Many people in recovery from addiction know very few sober people and have a difficult time finding and making new friends. Going to AA meetings regularly exposes you to new people all the time who share your same goal of staying sober and achieving long-term recovery.

They Offer Structure

Establishing new routines is an important part of recovery from alcohol addiction, given you may need new activities to keep you busy during those times you’re craving alcohol. Boredom and isolation may also compel you to drink. Attending regular AA meetings gives you structure and something meaningful to do during those times you may have once reached for alcohol.

They Reduce Depression

According to a study published in Alcohol Research, people with alcohol dependence are about 3.7 times more likely to have a major depressive disorder than the general population.1 Fortunately, a study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that people with alcohol use disorder who attend AA meetings regularly may experience significant improvements in depression symptoms after 24 months.2 If you have a dual diagnosis of alcohol use disorder and major depressive disorder, attending AA meetings regularly may help you manage or overcome depression.

AA Meetings Are Free To Attend

Many addiction treatment centers include AA meetings in their inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. However, fees are often associated with alcohol rehab programs, even if your health insurance plan covers treatment. AA meetings outside of rehab are completely free to attend, which means you can maintain access to these therapeutic support groups without having to worry about fees or insurance claims.

They’re More Effective Than Psychotherapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy, and contingency management interventions are all evidence-based psychotherapies commonly used to treat substance use disorders.3 However, a study conducted by researchers at Stanford School of Medicine found that AA may be significantly more effective than psychotherapy at helping people achieve long-term abstinence from alcohol.4

According to the professor who led the study, AA is successful because it’s based on social interaction and allows members to share tips on abstinence and offer emotional support. If you’ve tried one or more psychotherapies in your addiction treatment program without success, AA meetings may be your solution to staying abstinent long-term.

Should You Be a Casual Member or a Regular Member Of AA?

There are far more pros of being a regular member of AA than being a casual member of AA. However, it’s okay to be a casual member if you’ve managed to stay sober for a long time, have received education on how to manage stress and other triggers, and are highly motivated to continue to stay sober. Being a casual AA member may also be suitable for you if you have a healthy daily structure and routine, and have a strong support network of friends and family devoted to helping you stay abstinent.

Before you conclusively decide against going to regular AA meetings, take time to  find an AA group that best aligns with your values and lifestyle. Sometimes it can take time to find the right AA group.

Don’t Hesitate to Explore AA Meetings in Your Area

If your main reason for wanting to be a casual member of AA involves not liking the support group you attended, keep in mind that many different AA groups are usually located in a city. Having met with only one AA group does not mean you are obligated to keep meeting with that group—especially if you do not like how the group interacts or cannot connect well with certain people in the group.

Today, a wide range of different AA groups cater to certain populations. For example, some AA groups are specific to each gender—including those who identify as LGBTQ—and some AA groups are specific to age. Some closed AA groups are limited only to those in recovery from alcohol use disorder. Some open AA groups welcome friends and relatives of those in recovery and addiction treatment experts and guest speakers.

It’s completely okay and acceptable to attend a different AA meeting every week until you find the one that resonates with you the best and that makes you feel excited about returning for the next meeting. Use an AA meeting finder to locate lists of AA meetings in your area and learn more about their members.

What If You Don’t Like Your Local AA Options?

Consider searching for online AA meetings if you’re still unable to find a local AA group that makes you feel excited and motivated about recovery. Today, many video conferencing apps make it extremely easy and convenient to join an AA meeting on any day, at any time, as often as you’d like.

A top benefit to attending online AA meetings is having the ability to find and join a group that fully meets all your needs and preferences regardless of location. You can join an AA meeting in any city, state, or country—especially if you live in a rural area with very few options for in-person meetings.

Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? if you need help finding an AA meeting in your local area. Calling this number will connect you with a treatment specialist who can talk to you in more detail about the type of AA meeting you’d like to attend and help you find a nearby meeting.

References

  1. McHugh, R.K., & Weiss, R.D. (2019). Alcohol Use Disorder and Depressive Disorders. Alcohol Research, 40(1).
  2. Wilcox, C.E., Pearson, M.R., & Tonigan, J.S. (2015). Effects of Long-Term AA Attendance and Spirituality on the Course of Depressive Symptoms in Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorder. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29(2), 382-391.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition) Behavioral Therapies.
  4. Erickson, M. (2020, March 11). Alcoholics Anonymous most effective path to alcohol abstinence. Stanford Medicine.

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