Can My Friends and Family Come With Me to AA Meetings?

Attending an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting on your own can be intimidating, especially if you have never been before, you are going to a new meeting type, or you are going to meetings in a different area. The idea of attending AA meetings with a friend or family member may help you feel more grounded.

Your friends and family are welcome at some AA meetings. You even are encouraged to bring your partner and friends to these meetings, especially if you are new to AA.1 Inviting your loved ones to AA meetings can involve your friends and family in your recovery.

In this article: 

What Are Open AA Meetings?

Alcoholics Anonymous believes that involving your friends and family in your recovery from alcohol addiction may allow them to understand your experiences better. This may play an important role in your achieving long-term sobriety. Many partners and spouses of AA members attend meetings as regularly as their loved ones who struggle with addiction and also participate in various social activities organized by their AA groups.1

Open AA meetings are group meetings that welcome anyone interested in AA. This may include spouses, friends, relatives, doctors, researchers, therapists, and alcohol users who are not sure they have a drinking problem. Open meetings can be conducted in the form of speaker meetings or discussion meetings and usually conclude with a social period during which attendees enjoy refreshments.1,2

The only obligation asked of those who attend open AA meetings is that they do not disclose the names of AA members or anything discussed outside of meetings. Anonymity protects AA members from being identified, especially for people who are new to the program and need reassurance that their identities and personal information are kept private.2,3

Open Speaker Meetings

An open speaker meeting usually has a leader who runs and oversees the meeting and who is responsible for introducing other speakers. These meetings are ideal for people who simply want to observe what goes on in meetings and learn more about what AA is, how it works, what it does, and what it does not do.2

During speaker meetings, AA members can tell stories related to their alcohol addiction, such as why they started drinking, how it affected their life, and why they decided to get help. They may also share how AA meetings changed their lives. Speaker meetings may sometimes feature addiction treatment professionals such as doctors and psychologists who can provide attendees with more insight into how alcohol addiction works and AA’s effectiveness.While these meetings are not a substitute for group therapy facilitated by a licensed mental health professional, they can provide accurate information about alcohol addiction and treatment.

Open Discussion Meetings

Open discussion meetings are structured differently from speaker meetings in that they encourage group discussion and participation from all attendees. During open discussion meetings, one member may speak briefly about their experience with alcohol, then talk about recovery and alcohol addiction treatments. They may also discuss any other drinking-related problems that come up during the meeting.2

What Are Closed AA Meetings?

Closed AA meetings are limited to AA members only and those who want to stop misusing alcohol. Closed meetings tend to be less formal than open meetings and encourage participation from all members and attendees, though no one is required to share.1

Closed discussion meetings are structured similarly to open discussion meetings but discuss topics that are often better understood by other people seeking recovery and those with from alcohol addiction. For example, a closed discussion meeting may encourage attendees to discuss the negative emotions associated with their addiction, such as guilt and social isolation. These discussion meetings may be especially beneficial to newcomers, as they provide an open forum in which to ask questions about pursuing sobriety and about the AA program.1,2

Some closed AA meetings focus on the Twelve Steps and encourage members to discuss how they have applied each step to their lives. Step meetings may focus on one step each week. These meetings may also encourage members to discuss any problems or barriers they may be facing related to certain steps.2

How Else Can My Loved Ones Stay Involved in AA?

Many AA groups host social events that welcome friends and relatives of AA members. These events may be large or small and may be organized by your local or regional AA group. For example, some AA groups may host breakfast or dinner meetings once a month that are open to the public and allow current AA members and AA alumni to share and receive inspiring recovery messages.4

Other social events your AA group may organize include:4

  • Sober cruises
  • Retreats
  • “Alkathons” or running marathons
  • Family-focused events that emphasize strengthening family bonds

Your AA group may also invite your relatives to group anniversary events that celebrate recovery and sobriety milestones. Contact your local or regional AA group to obtain event calendars and attend open events and family events.4

AI-Anon Meetings

Another way for your family to involve themselves with AA is to attend Alcoholics Anonymous Family Groups (Al-Anon) meetings. Al-Anon groups are typically regarded as “friends” of AA and they are like AA for family members of people who suffer from addiction. Al-Anon meetings are limited only to those who have been affected by the alcohol misuse of someone in their life. People who attend these meetings may be parents, children, partners, and siblings of people with alcohol addiction, but Al-Anon is not intended for people recovering from alcohol addiction.5

Al-Anon meetings are ideal for your loved ones to talk to others about their experiences related to having a relationship with someone who misuses alcohol or who has alcohol addiction. These support group meetings can complement open AA meetings, as they give your relatives the opportunity to speak freely about how your addiction has affected them.5

What Are the Benefits of Inviting My Loved Ones to AA?

Alcohol addiction can complicate your life and change your interpersonal dynamics to cause a range of serious problems. When you join AA meetings, your alcohol use and behavior when using alcohol may have damaged your interpersonal relationships.1

As a new AA member, you may feel motivated and enthusiastic about mending your relationships and restoring a sense of normalcy at home and within your social circle. Involving your loved ones in AA allows you to actively include your loved ones in your recovery in a healing way. AA believes that being honest with your loved ones about your addiction can often result in you establishing a bond with them that is stronger than before.1

Bringing your loved ones to AA meetings has other benefits, including the opportunity to educate them more about alcohol addiction and its effects on the brain and body. Some people may not understand that addiction is a mental illness and brain disease characterized by compulsive behaviors that you do not fully control. Understanding this aspect of addiction may give your loved ones insight into your challenges and the support you will need in order to achieve and maintain sobriety.6

AA for family and friends can educate your loved ones about the relationship patterns and interpersonal dynamics that contribute to continued alcohol misuse. For example, some open AA meetings may discuss the harms of enabling behaviors, which can shed light on certain behaviors your family may have been practicing that enabled your alcohol use.7

AA meetings can be an excellent resource for you and your loved ones. They also can be supplemental to professional therapeutic treatment, such as family therapy facilitated by a licensed mental health professional.

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Should I Keep Going to Closed Meetings?

Though you may enjoy having your friends and family by your side at open AA meetings, many people also benefit from attending closed meetings.

Closed meetings allow you to discuss anything and everything related to your addiction without fear of stigma or judgment by non-AA members. Closed meetings also allow you to talk freely about struggles that may not be fully appreciated or understood by those without a history of alcohol misuse. You also have the opportunity to speak about current or past family and social situations that may be too sensitive for your loved ones to hear. For example, if you frequently engaged in risky behavior when intoxicated, you can discuss this experience frankly during a closed AA meeting without having to worry about alarming your loved ones.1

Other benefits to attending closed meetings include a better opportunity to network and bond with your peers in recovery and meeting new sober friends who can hold you accountable for your actions outside of AA. Closed meetings can also help you deal with any challenges related to the Twelve Steps, as these concerns may not be discussed during meetings that are open to the public.1,2

Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak to a treatment specialist about your options for nearby alcohol rehab centers. Our specialists can answer any questions you may have about addiction and discuss all of your available treatment options.

Resources

  1. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2019). Frequently Asked Questions About A.A.
  2. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2018). Information on Alcoholics Anonymous.
  3. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2011). Understanding Anonymity.
  4. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Box 4-5-9 Bulletin Board Calendar of Events.
  5. Al-Anon Family Groups. Frequently Asked Questions.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2004). Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy – Chapter 1.

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