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How Long Are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Meetings?

AA Meeting In Progress

Typically, AA meetings last about one hour. One of the responsibilities of the meeting facilitator is to ensure the meeting adheres closely to that one-hour mark, as people attending often have to get back to work or other commitments. Sometimes, especially when there is a speaker, the meeting may run over by a few minutes.

Although the meeting format may differ slightly depending on whether it’s an open or closed meeting, all meetings are based on the 12-step principles.

AA and the 12-steps

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded in 1935, with only one requirement for membership – the desire to stop drinking alcohol. Members support and encourage one another as they each work through their alcohol addiction and the problems it has caused in their lives.

In the Big Book, AA defines alcoholics as, “men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control.” AA literature explains that alcoholism is an incurable disease that is both, “a physical sensitivity to alcohol and a mental obsession with drinking, which…cannot be broken by willpower alone.”

The 12-steps, as defined by AA, are the spiritual foundation and guiding principles upon which the program of recovery is based. The first three steps provide the framework for the remaining steps:

  • Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

Each member works through the 12-steps at his or her own pace, but may turn to fellow members for help. It’s not uncommon to struggle with a certain step, and members often find the support and encouragement offered during closed meetings to be an invaluable resource at those times.

The Types of AA Meetings

Closed AA Meetings

  • Attendance at closed AA meetings is limited to those who have expressed a desire to stop drinking. Meetings are informal and led by a facilitator, providing the opportunity for members to share their story, struggle, experience, and words of encouragement. Some meetings are “step” meetings, which will focus on one of the 12 steps for discussion.

Members may feel more comfortable sharing personal information in a closed meeting, knowing their fellow members have a unique understanding and empathy for each person’s story and a respect for anonymity.

Open AA Meetings

  • As the name suggests, an open meeting is appropriate for anyone in the community, whether or not they feel they have a problem with alcohol. Attendees may suspect they or someone they care about has a problem with alcohol, or may simply want to learn more about AA. As with all AA meetings, attendees are requested to respect the privacy and anonymity of one another.

Open meetings often feature one or more speakers, who are introduced by the meeting facilitator. Speakers are usually AA members who share their personal stories about addiction and recovery, and what sobriety has meant to them. These meetings also offer the opportunity for those attending to talk with one another to learn how alcohol has impacted them or their families, and to gain support and understanding for their own situation.

Alcoholics Anonymous FAQs

Those considering attending an AA meeting often have many questions. AA offers an online FAQ pamphlet that addresses every aspect of the organization, and what to expect. Some of the most frequently asked questions about Alcoholics Anonymous include:

Does it cost anything to attend a meeting or become a member?

No, there are no dues or fees. Alcoholics Anonymous is self-supporting through voluntary donations, which cover meeting space, coffee, and other refreshments. Some of the money may be contributed to national and international AA services.

How do I find a meeting?

You can call or search online for your local AA office, or access the AA meeting finder site. You are always welcome to drop into any scheduled AA meeting without first talking to someone.

Will I have to talk at the meeting?

No, only if and when you choose to. Those new to AA often prefer to sit and listen for the first few meetings.

12-step programs have been proven to be so successful for alcohol addiction recovery that the approach is now widely used by recovery centers to treat drug addiction, and other addictive and dysfunctional disorders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2013 12-step facilitation was used in 74% of addiction recovery facilities

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