What to Know About the Types of AA Meetings
If you’ve decided to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, these meetings can provide an additional type of support in your recovery journey. Research indicates that attending AA meetings—specifically 12-step meetings—is associated with positive recovery outcomes.1
However, while 12-step meetings are perhaps the best known types of AA meetings, AA offers a variety of meeting types to help you find the peer support that is most empowering and motivating in your personal recovery.
In this article:
Open vs. Closed Meetings
When you think about AA meetings, you may assume that you know which type of people will be in the circle with you. In many cases, AA meetings are only attended by individuals with personal experience with alcohol addiction. However, some meetings are specified as “open.” In AA, public meetings are “open” and private meetings are “closed.”2
Anyone can attend an open AA meeting. The group is open to people with and without an alcohol use disorder. While this typically means AA members and their loved ones, community members, coworkers, bosses, and anyone interested in learning more about AA may attend.2
You can attend open speaker meetings to listen to experts talk about addiction and recovery topics or to hear members tell their stories of alcohol use and recovery and how AA has helped in the process. Open discussion-style meetings focus more on an AA topic that is brought up by a member and discussed by the group.2
Virtually all AA communities have closed meetings available to their members, regardless of whether open meetings are also being held. Closed speaker and closed discussion meetings are just like open meetings, except in regards to who can attend. Closed meetings are not open to the general public.2
For both open and closed meetings, attendance is free, there is no intake process, and there is an expectation of anonymity and privacy—meaning that you do not discuss what happened in the meeting, what was shared, or who you saw with others. This is a foundational principle of all types of AA meetings.
While AA does not dictate a “treatment program” or require that you attend any specific meeting type, visiting beginners’ AA meetings may help you feel acclimated in the community. Beginners’ meetings focus on the fundamental needs of early recovery that help with avoiding relapse. You can share your experience, learn about resources and literature on recovery, and get help starting the 12 Steps. For some, completing the first three steps happen in beginners’ groups.3
Research shows that attending meetings can help with maintaining sobriety by improving coping skills, finding ways to give back or provide services for helping others, building social support, and finding a feeling of purpose in life. Beginners’ groups provide a baseline model of AA.
The 12 Steps of AA are guidelines created by the founders of AA, who discovered that taking twelve specific actions helped themselves and others they worked with at a hospital in Akron, Ohio abstain from alcohol.4
The founders of AA considered these actions most important in the first year of sobriety, but the 12 Steps have become an accepted part of long-term recovery that can be repeated, completed nonlinearly, and returned to on an individual basis as needed.
While step work is an individual, personal endeavor, 12-step meetings provide the opportunity for group study and discussion. If you choose to work with a sponsor—a peer mentor with experience in AA and step work—you would likely find them at a step meeting. In step meetings, you can expect one of two formats or a mix of both:
- One step is focused on in each session, usually on a weekly basis
- Each member is encouraged to discuss their current step work, including their struggles, successes, and insights
Big Book Study Meetings
The Big Book is a nickname for Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism, written in 1939 by one of the founders of AA. From the history of AA to the 12 Steps to moving success stories, the Big Book is an excellent resource used to inspire people in recovery.5
In Big Book meetings, you will study the principles behind AA and participate in discussions about recovery based on excerpts from the book.
Some communities hold AA meetings focused on the individual needs of specific demographics. Part of why many individuals find AA useful is the community of individuals who have shared or similar experiences to theirs. You may find it more difficult to process certain aspects of your addiction in general meetings.
Demographic-specific AA meetings include men’s and women’s AA meetings. LGBTQ AA meetings are also available for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and other members of the queer community.
These meetings are intended to hold the differences in the availability and accessibility of addiction treatment, social stigma, and socioeconomic influencing factors that impact individuals based on intersections of sex assigned at birth, gender identity and presentation, and sexual orientation. Studies show that dramatically different addiction treatment and recovery resources are made available depending on an individual’s position at the intersections of these demographics, which can have a deep impact on recovery outcomes. 6 For example, historically, formal addiction treatment has focused solely on the needs of straight men, which made it harder for women and adolescents to get the targeted treatment they needed.
Individual demographics are also at higher risk for complicating factors of addiction. For example, LGBTQ individuals are more likely to experience family estrangement, social stigma, abuse, and harassment. This risk is profound for transgender people, especially transgender women of color. 7
Demographic-specific meetings accommodate these needs by creating safe spaces for AA members of shared demographics.
You may choose to attend other 12-step-based meetings specific to other substances in addition to AA. If you have a history with multiple substances, the community encourages you to attend any meetings that help you feel supported. Getting professional treatment for polysubstance disorder is also recommended.8
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Narcotics Anonymous (NA) was the first substance-specific organization based on the template created by AA. NA was formed in 1953 to help those with a substance use disorder involving narcotics, which can now encompass any drug according to NA rules.9 For those searching for a group that focuses on one substance only, examples like the following exist:10
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Crystal Meth Anonymous
- Pills Anonymous
- Heroin Anonymous
- Marijuana Anonymous
Many people have compulsive behavioral problems and mental health conditions, leading to co-occurring disorders. These topics are not always appropriate for discussion in a general AA meeting. However, because the 12 Steps can aid in overcoming these issues, special interest meetings allow individuals to seek support with impulsive and compulsive issues that do not involve substance use.11
Examples of “behavioral addictions” include:11
- Gambling, when a person repeatedly gambles despite the behavior causing significant problems in their life
- Sex, or the compulsive need to perform a sexual act to get a “fix” or high
- Spending, or compulsive buying disorder
Special interest 12-step-style groups are also organized around mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), binge eating, and post-traumatic disorder (PTSD). Some of these groups address these needs broadly, while other symptoms have dedicated organizations, such as Depressed Anonymous (DA) and Overeaters Anonymous (OA).
AA has worked diligently to create online support groups to help be as supportive and accessible as possible.12 Online meetings are offered many times throughout the day and night and can provide you with proof of attendance. The number of online meetings has increased during the pandemic. You can choose AA only or special interest online meetings.12
Meetings for Families
Family members, friends, partners, coworkers, and others in your life can be affected by your alcohol use. There are various family structures in which one or more family members may be misusing alcohol, such as a two-person household, parent and child, blended family, parent of adult children, or adolescent with addiction living at home.13
Each person can be affected differently, but a loved one’s addiction can often evoke feelings of worry, frustration, isolation, helplessness, and self-criticism.14
AA’s sister meetings can help those close to you understand the disease of addiction, identify how they may have contributed to your problem, and learn how to support you in recovery.
Meetings available include the following. 13
Alcoholics Anonymous Family Groups
Alcoholics Anonymous Family Groups (Al-Anon) is a 12-step program for the loved ones of people in recovery based on its own 12 Steps. Al-Anon provides support, encouragement, and education for family members.
Families Anonymous is similar to Al-Anon except that by using the 12 Steps, it addresses issues related to alcohol, drugs, and behavioral problems.
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Anyone who grew up in a home that was unstable, unsafe, or chaotic due to an individuals addiction can benefit from Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings.
Teenagers who are living with someone experiencing alcohol use disorder or have otherwise been affected by someone else’s drinking can attend Alateen, a sub-group of Al-Anon.15
While you have many options for peer support, many individuals also need formal addiction services. Many addiction treatment programs actually use 12-step peer meetings as part of their services, including as part of transitioning individuals to an outpatient program. Call 877-640-2220 Who Answers? today to learn more about your recovery options.
- Laudet, A. B. (2008). The road to recovery: where are we going, and how do we get there? Empirically driven conclusions and future directions for service development and research. Substance Use & Misuse, 43(12-13), 2001–2020.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2021). Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Brigham, G. S. (2003). 12-step participation as a pathway to recovery: the Maryhaven experience and implications for treatment and research. Science & Practice Perspectives, 2(1), 43–51.
- S. Department of Justice. (2021). Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Twelve-Step Recovery Programs for Recipients of Justice Department Financial Assistance. Office of Justice Programs.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2013). Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism.
- Holzhauer, C. G., Cucciare, M., & Epstein, E. E. (2020). Sex and gender effects in recovery from alcohol use disorder. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 40(3),
- Stevens, S. (2012). Meeting the substance abuse treatment needs of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women: implications from research to practice. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 3(Suppl 1), 27–36.
- McCabe, S. E., West, B. T., Jutkiewicz, E. M., & Boyd, C. J. (2017). Multiple DSM-5 Substance Use Disorders A National Study of U.S. Adults. Human Psychopharmacology, 32(5),1002/hup.2625.
- Krentzman, A. R., Robinson, E. A., Moore, B. C., Kelly, J. F., Laudet, A. B., White, W. L., Zemore, S. E., Kurtz, E., & Strobbe, S. (2010). How Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Work: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 29(1), 75–84.
- Donovan, D. M., Ingalsbe, M. H., Benbow, J., & Daley, D. C. (2013). 12-Step Interventions and Mutual Support Programs for Substance Use Disorders: An Overview. Social Work in Public Health, 28(3-4), 313–332.
- Grant, J. E., Potenza, M. N., Weinstein, A., & Gorelick, D. A. (2010). Introduction to Behavioral Addictions. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36(5), 233–241.
- Bergman, B. G., Kelly, J. F., Fava, M., & Eden Evins, A. (2021). Online recovery support meetings can help mitigate the public health consequences of COVID-19 for individuals with substance use disorder. Addictive Behaviors, 113, 106661.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2004). Executive Summary. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39. Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy.
- Al-Anon Family Groups. (2021). Has Your Life Been Affected by Someone Else’s Drinking?