What is the Difference Between Open and Closed AA Meetings?

The differences between open Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and closed AA meetings are quite simple: closed meetings are for AA members only, while open meetings are open to others outside of AA, including (but not limited to):

  • Non-alcoholics
  • General observers
  • Those who are considering joining AA but haven’t committed yet
  • Family members and friends of AA members

As an AA member, you can choose which type of meeting you’d like to attend, whether you always choose closed AA meetings or whether it’s a mixture of the two.

Open AA Meetings

Open AA meetings are open to anyone in the community, not just AA members. These meetings are both for the person seeking help with a drinking problem and those without an alcohol use disorder, including family members of AA members.

Open AA meetings exist to share information about the recovery program with anyone. They are helpful for the awareness and overall understanding of how to address an alcohol disorder. The open AA meeting format leaves space for anyone to be informed about the AA program, members, and operation.

There are usually two different types of open AA meetings:

  • Speaker meetings
  • Discussion meetings

Speaker Meetings

In a speaker meeting, AA members share their stories about their relationship with alcohol, their experience with it, how they found AA, and how AA has changed their lives. Speaker meetings are useful to understand the other members’ stories and how they started their journey to recovery. Speaker meetings are important for both non-alcoholics and alcoholics to hear to relate to other people’s experiences and know they are not alone on this journey of recovery.

Open AA Discussion Meetings

Discussion meetings begin with a lead AA member sharing their experience and relationship with alcohol. The discussion will then move on to topics brought up by anyone in the open AA meeting, which can include:

  • How they started with AA
  • How AA has helped them
  • As a non-member, how AA can help
  • Sharing common experiences for members and non-members

These are great meetings for everyone to break the barrier of members and non-members and help everyone realize that they are not alone on their journey.

Remember that these are open AA meetings with family members, friends, and other non-AA members in attendance.

Closed AA Meetings

Closed AA meetings only allow current or prospective AA members to attend. Everyone has a story with alcohol, and can they tend to be a very relatable approach for members and prospective members in the group.

These meetings help you understand that you are not in this by yourself, and other members are right there with you, working on the same steps in the journey of recovery.

If you’re new to AA, there are many benefits of closed AA meetings, including being surrounded by others who have experienced similar situations and struggles and also observing the benefits of staying in the program.

If you’ve been an AA member for some time, you can observe new members, see how far they have come in their journey, and provide support to them.

Within closed AA meetings, there are two different types:

  • Discussion meetings
  • Step meetings

Closed AA Discussion Meetings

Discussion meetings in closed AA meetings are very similar to open discussion meetings. They are led by an AA member who shares their experience with alcohol abuse and addiction, then they open up the discussion to the group.

These closed AA meetings are very helpful because you will have an outlet to share your experience with others on a similar journey. Having a support system with like-minded people is very powerful for your recovery process.

Remember also that you’re not required to share at these meetings, although you are encouraged to participate. If you want to attend a meeting just to listen and observe, that is completely fine. Just being in attendance is taking the right step towards a life of sobriety.

Step Meetings

Step meetings discuss one of the twelve steps of AA. In these step meetings, you will be able to digest each of AA twelve steps more thoroughly than just reading it yourself.

There will be lessons within your journey for every step. The twelve steps are an ongoing practice for all people with substance use disorders. Revisiting these steps regularly can be very beneficial for your journey. Once you have progressed through the program’s steps, you will be able to help other members understand and take each step into action.

Open AA Meetings vs Closed AA Meetings

Both types of AA meetings are beneficial to AA members, but deciding which ones to attend and how frequently you should attend each one can be difficult, especially as a new AA member. Of course, non-AA members (unless you’re considering becoming one) can only participate in open AA meetings.

Choosing Open AA Meetings

These are some things to address before deciding to attend an open AA meeting. Open AA meetings are a great way to understand the program for its entirety. It’s a great first meeting environment for the newcomer to the program. Remember that open AA meetings are for everyone, and anyone can attend. They’re also a great option when you would like support from family and friends.

Open AA Meetings are best if you want:

  • To see the perspective of someone who is currently in the AA program.
  • To hear the stories of others who are impacted by a person with alcohol use disorders.
  • Family and friends there to support you
  • To know what it’s like to recover from alcohol abuse
  • To know more about AA and how it can help you or a loved one recover

Choosing Closed AA Meetings

Closed AA meetings are a great way to hear the experiences of other AA members who are already involved, are new to AA, and are still deciding whether or not to join.

Closed AA Meetings are best if you:

  • Are interested in only hearing other members who have the same experience with alcohol as you do
  • Don’t want family or friends to be there
  • Want to share your experience with alcohol with others who have similar experiences
  • Want to hear others’ experiences with alcohol and how they are growing from the AA program
  • Want to focus on one of the AA twelve steps at a time 

Online AA Meetings

Online meetings are very readily available both in open and closed formats. These online AA meetings are mainly held over Zoom or Google Hangouts and are great because you can connect with people from almost anywhere in the world, which isn’t possible at in-person meetings.

Of course, you will be able to find people in your nearby community if that’s what you are looking for and most comfortable with.

If you’re unable to join via Zoom or Google Hangouts, there are many options for conference phone calls.

Finding an AA Meeting

Finding an AA meeting to attend, whether open or closed, can be done easily online. It can take some time (and trial and error) to find a group that you truly resonate with, but remember you don’t have to attend the same meeting every time.

Location, time, and day of the week are all the factors that will draw in a slightly different crowd for every meeting. Simply showing up to either an open meeting or a closed meeting and experiencing the meeting for yourself is the best way to find a meeting that suits you and can help you on your recovery journey.

Of course, sometimes AA isn’t enough, especially if you’re just starting on your path to sobriety. If you want to discuss your rehab options, including detox and help with withdrawal, call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak to a treatment specialist.

Where do calls go?

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All calls are private and confidential.

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