How Long Can I Stay in AA?

You may wonder, “How long can I keep going to AA meetings?” The answer is simple: you can continue attending AA meetings for as long as you choose. Mandatory exit dates don’t exist. In fact, continued AA attendance can actually benefit you on your recovery journey.

In this article: 

Why Are AA Meetings Important?

Research shows that almost 80% of people who regularly attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are still sober after five years.1 Conversely, 43% of those who showed low meeting attendance rates remained clean and sober after five years.1

Why do these meetings make such a difference? While many effective treatments for alcohol misuse exist, AA has two characteristics that can make it appealing when other treatment is not available or practical. First, you can attend as many AA meetings as you need to—including multiple meetings in a day in times of crisis—over as long of a period of time as you choose to do so. Second, AA does not require that you disclose any personal information or pay a fee to attend meetings. These characteristics allow you to manage your alcohol misuse without the constraints of insurance coverage or financial capacity and the invasive nature of making your treatment public knowledge. 2

AA offers comfort, flexibility, affordability, and social support without some of the barriers you may face as you receive other forms of treatment on your recovery journey.

If you struggle with alcohol misuse, especially over a long period of time, you may have developed a physical dependence or alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is the same as alcoholism. AUD is a medical condition that is not curable, but is treatable. This medical condition impacts your brain, impairing your ability to control or stop your alcohol use, regardless of harmful consequences using alcohol may cause.3

Some people can complete an alcohol treatment program and never drink again. Others will face relapse and may need to make abstinence a goal, but harm reduction their main focus. In either case, managing AUD with ongoing treatment is important to minimize personal, interpersonal, and health consequences.4

Your care team may recommend more than one treatment modality, such as medication-assisted therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), other forms of therapy, or a combination of all those options.4 Many addiction treatment specialists will also recommend AA attendance regardless of the other treatment you have participated in or are currently participating in.

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How Many AA Meetings Should I Attend?

AA meeting attendance is a personal choice. Thanks to the group’s broad reach, you have the option to attend weekly, daily, or even several daily AA meetings. But is there a specific number of meetings you should try to attend? Does that number change depending on how long you have been sober?

The answer always is: attend as many AA meetings as many as you need to feel adequately supported in your current challenges and victories. Attending at least one meeting a week during the first six months after formal AUD treatment is associated with more sober days.7

While you will likely see a strong correlation between attending AA and maintaining sobriety as you begin recovery, the benefits of attending AA meetings do not go away after the first six months. Attending AA meetings for your first year of sobriety is associated with higher rates of abstinence from alcohol.7

You may also find yourself going to more AA meetings during difficult life events. The peer support format of AA allows you to sit in community with others who understand the challenge of maintaining sobriety despite external and internal stressors, even if they do not have the same life experiences as you. This communal atmosphere can empower you to stay sober even if you choose not to share about the situations that are making it more difficult to stay sober during the meetings.

As of December 31, 2020, there were 69,812 AA groups in the United States alone.6 When you factor in additional groups in Canada and around the world, there were almost 130,000 AA groups.6 This means that, even if you move or travel for work or pleasure, you will likely find a nearby AA meeting.

Thanks to the many AA chapter locations, you can usually find a meeting every day of the week. In larger cities, you may even be able to choose between several different daily AA meetings.

How Do I Know If I Should Stay in AA?

Research suggests that support groups are beneficial during formal AUD treatment, even if you are also participating in group therapy that is facilitated by a licensed mental health professional. But it is equally important to receive peer support outside of treatment programs, including after you complete one.8

Does My Sobriety Feel More Sustainable When I Am in AA?

Research identifies four models of AA attendance:1

  1. People who mostly stop attending AA meetings after the first year of recovery
  2. People who attend about 60 meetings a year—or five meetings a month—after completing formal treatment
  3. People who consistently attend about 200 meetings a year (about 3 meetings a week), regardless of their stage of recovery
  4. People who spend their first five years of recovery attending 200 annual meetings but drop down to six meetings a year (bi-monthly attendance) after that five-year mark

After five years, researchers checked in with individuals from each of the four group types to check on their rates of abstaining from alcohol. Those who stopped attending AA meetings reported a 43% abstinence rate at their five-year check-in. This suggests the importance of AA meetings—even one year of attendance can help support sobriety for years to come.

But the case for sticking with AA after your initial recovery becomes clear when you look at statistics for the other groups of AA members. The 60-meeting group reported a 73% abstinence rate after five years, while the high-attendance group reported rates of 79%. Even those who dropped down to bi-monthly attendance reported a 61% abstinence rate.1

Do I Feel Supported in AA?

If you feel supported when you attend AA meetings, you can remain a part of this organization for as long as you continue to feel that support. In fact, even if you no longer need the support of weekly meetings to avoid using alcohol yourself, you can transition your role in AA to that of a sponsor.

Helping newer AA members could strengthen your ability to manage AUD in the future. Building this sense of purpose and community can help you reduce your risk of relapse in times of crisis.

Do I Feel Purposeful in AA?

If you participate in 12-step AA meetings, you know that Step 12 is “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.” AA does not proselytize its message. Instead, many AA members “carry this message to alcoholics and […] practice these principles” through volunteer work.

Studies show that volunteering can be a powerful tool for recovery from AUD and other substance use disorders. In one study, participants who did volunteer work showed better mental health outcomes and lower depression rates.9 Volunteering of any kind produced these mental health boosts for study participants.

In the context of AA, you can make the choice to become an AA sponsor, which places additional emphasis on sobriety in your life. Acting as a sponsor may help you combat feelings of depression—a known trigger for AUD relapse10—while staying committed to your recovery and giving back to others. This means that remaining a lifelong member of AA could be valuable for your overall well-being.

Does AA Feel Like a Meaningful Part of My Life and Recovery?

If you reach a point in your recovery where you no longer need to attend weekly meetings, you can stay connected to the organization on a bi-weekly, monthly, or even annual basis. Even if your AA attendance declines over time, studies show that any attendance leads to higher rates of sobriety than if you completely stop going to AA.1

Finding a meeting schedule that works for you—and sticking with it—will support your ongoing sobriety journey, which means that you don’t have to drop your AA membership once you stop going to daily or weekly meetings.

Ready to seek help for alcohol addiction? Many experts suggest entering a formal treatment program before transitioning to AA or in addition to joining AA.11 Call [PHONE] today to speak to a treatment specialist and explore your options.

Resources

  1. Kaskutas, L. A., Ammon, L., Delucchi, K., Room, R., Bond, J., & Weisner, C. (2005). Alcoholics anonymous careers: patterns of AA involvement five years after treatment entry. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 29 (11), 1983-1990.
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Exploring treatment options for alcohol use disorders.
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.
  4. Huebner, R.B., & Kantor, L.W. (2011). Advances in alcoholism treatment. Alcohol Research & Health, 33(4), 295-299. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860532/#b2-arh-33-4-295
  5. Anton, R.F., O’Malley SS, Ciraulo DA, et al. (2006). Combined pharmacotherapies and behavioral interventions for alcohol dependence: the COMBINE study: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 295(17), 2003-17.
  6. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2020) Estimates of A.A. Groups and Members.
  7. Connors, G. J., Tonigan, J. S., Miller, W. R., & MATCH Research Group. (2001). A longitudinal model of intake symptomatology, AA participation and outcome: retrospective study of the project MATCH outpatient and aftercare samples. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 62(6), 817–825.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Where do 12-step or self-help programs fit into drug addiction treatment?
  9. Yeung, J., Zhang, Z., & Kim, T. Y. (2017). Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms. BMC Public Health, 18(1), 8.
  10. Kuria, M. W., Ndetei, D. M., Obot, I. S., Khasakhala, L. I., Bagaka, B. M., Mbugua, M. N., & Kamau, J. (2012). The association between alcohol dependence and depression before and after treatment for alcohol dependence. ISRN Psychiatry, 2012, 482802.
  11. McKay, J. R., & Hiller-Sturmhofel, S. (2011). Treating alcoholism as a chronic disease: approaches to long-term continuing care. Alcohol Research & Health, 33(4), 356–370.

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