Over 10% of Americans 12 years or older had an alcohol use disorder in 2020 (the last recorded data). Alcohol addiction is serious, but it’s helpful to know that you’re not alone if you’re experiencing it.
Many people who struggle with alcoholism benefit from AA meetings. Going to your first meeting might seem scary, but if you know how you’re supposed to behave, you’ll be able to get the most out of your new AA group.
We’re here to talk about basic etiquette for AA meetings, so you’re prepared. Read on to learn more.
Keep it Anonymous
The number one rule of AA meetings is right in the name: you must keep everything anonymous. You should not ask anyone for or share any personal information.
This is true even if you know the person in “real life.” Whether they’re your friend, coworker, a parent in your PTA group, or anyone else, you must act as though you do not know them personally when you’re in the group.
Of course, you can be friendly to people you know. You should ask them how they would prefer that you interact and don’t be offended if they choose not to interact at all.
You may make friends with someone from your AA or NA meetings, or even Al anon support meetings, but resist the urge to share personal information until you are outside of the meeting.
Keep it Confidential
What happens during AA meetings stays in AA meetings. You should not talk about what people have said or done outside of the confines of the meeting.
People are going to be sharing personal stories that they may not want other people to hear. Even if your philosophy is that “if I don’t share their name, why does it matter?”, keep the stories to yourself. If you wouldn’t want something to be shared about you, don’t share it about someone else.
What to Do While Listening
While you’re listening, do your best to be respectful and quiet. Don’t speak when the current speaker is talking. If you absolutely must have an urgent conversation, leave the room quietly.
You should not have your phone during the meeting. If you know that you may have to respond to an emergency or if you have small children who may need you, keep your phone on vibrate and check it when you leave the room. We recommend turning on a “do not disturb” feature and only allowing notifications from important parties.
Do not interrupt speakers. If you have a comment or question, wait until it’s your turn to talk.
You want everyone to feel welcome and able to speak their mind. Do not go out of your way to exclude anyone or make them uncomfortable.
What to Do When Speaking
When you’re speaking, try to keep it to anywhere between 3 and 5 minutes. There may be occasions for longer speeches, but most of the time this is the appropriate amount of time that will allow everyone a chance to talk.
Try to stay on topic. If you don’t feel like speaking, that’s okay too. You can politely decline.
General Topics to Avoid
AA meetings are safe spaces to discuss things, but there are a few topics that you should avoid unless they happen to be the predetermined topics of discussion. When in doubt, it’s helpful to ask the leader of the group if you think you might be about to say something inappropriate.
Here are a few examples of topics that are best to avoid.
To be clear, anything can be controversial. You don’t have to completely censor yourself in AA meetings, but you do need to be respectful and non-inflammatory. You do not want to upset anyone or make them feel unwelcome.
Avoid bringing up specific religions. The general belief in spirituality or a higher power is appropriate (as it’s part of AA for most people), but no one should be excluded for following whatever religion (or lack thereof) they prefer.
There may be times in which it’s appropriate to loosely touch on a political issue as it impacts you, but AA is not the place for political discourse. That can upset people regardless of their beliefs.
The very nature of AA meetings does require, on some level, the discussion of triggering topics. You should avoid delving so deep into those topics that you risk triggering someone else.
Anything can be triggering, but if you know for sure that something could be seen as a trigger, avoid it.
Addressing drug abuse and alcohol abuse is necessary, but you shouldn’t go into detail about your experiences. Don’t go into graphic detail that could trigger cravings or urges in another member of the group.
Traumatic incidents can also trigger other AA members. You can talk about them if they’re important to your story, but again, do not go into graphic detail.
You should be allowed to get those stories off of your chest so you can heal, but it’s best to do so in a therapeutic environment.
There will be days when the conversations will be looser. These are open meetings where most people are sharing their stories without a firm topic in place.
Other days have pre-set agendas. The leader may have dedicated the day to discussing the 12 steps in depth or talking about how to make amends.
If you want to discuss something else, ask about whether or not it’s appropriate. If it’s not, hold onto that thought and find a better outlet for it. Your counselor, sponsor, or other support systems may be best.
Follow Proper Etiquette During AA Meetings
AA meetings help many people move beyond their addictions, but that requires everyone’s cooperation. Make sure that you’re displaying proper AA meeting etiquette so you can get the most out of your meetings without disturbing anyone else.
Are you looking for a meeting? Check out our directories of AA meetings, NA meetings, and Al anon meetings today.