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What happens in an AA meeting?

what happens in a AA meeting?

What happens in an AA meeting?: An insider tells all 

Admitting that you need to get professional support for your addiction is an important first step.

We understand how daunting it can be to think about group therapy and 12-step meetings – facing others and sharing your experiences with strangers.

Here at the Executive Rehab Guide, we are dedicated to providing all the information and support you need – whatever your situation.

As a result, we bring you the truths about what really happens in an AA meeting.

The following blog has been written by someone who has experienced AA meetings for himself and is in his 22nd year of sobriety.

Chat to us on LiveChat today or call us on 0808 1150 446, for helpful and completely confidential support.

 The real truth about AA and 12-step meetings.

 Everyone has been through rehab in the UK or US for drug problems may have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

These are voluntary programs that are run within the community to help people with addiction.

They are essentially free and open to absolutely anyone who has a desire to give up drinking or drug use and begin a life of sobriety.

I am going to talk about AA in particular because of my first-hand experience with them.

Find a meeting

The simplest way to find out where your nearest meeting is, is to go to Google and search for Alcoholics Anonymous. Click here.

From here, you have two choices. You can either find the location and time of your nearest meeting, and simply go to the location and join the meeting.  See find a meeting.

Alternatively, you can call the AA helpline 0800 9177 650.

They will put you in touch with another alcoholic within your area who is available to chat to the phone to discuss Alcoholics Anonymous and what to expect in the meeting.

 They may even accompany you to your first meeting and discuss with you afterwards what you thought of it. (Email:

Getting to your AA meeting

The choice is yours. More commonly – especially now with the Internet – more and more people are finding their own way to the meeting location, often referred to as ‘the rooms’.

It takes out the awkward factor of being escorted, speaking and possibly admitting to a problem with alcohol to another human being you do not know.

Still, regardless of how you get to ‘the rooms’, everyone is glad you are there.

So, what’s it like?

OK, the first thing to remember is that an alcoholic is not necessarily a person sleeping rough in a park, old or unhygienic.

You will find that the average alcoholic looks a little bit like you and me. They might have jobs, families and hobbies. Alcoholics are not a specific stereotype. They can be anyone.

Traditionally Alcoholics Anonymous was made up mainly of men, but today, in 2021, we have almost an even number of men and women.

The male-female membership of our fellowship is more like 60/40. The average age depends on where you are attending a meeting.

If you’re in a city the average age maybe younger. If for example, you’re in more rural areas like Surrey, the average age may be 40+.

Although we  are different ages, come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, we all share very common personality traits, and one main goal: we want to get better.

Most AA meetings are held in church halls.

Do not let this fool you into thinking the programme of Alcoholics Anonymous is religious.

While we accept people of all faiths, backgrounds, ethnicities and sexualities, It is a spiritual program based on honesty, shared experiences and fellowship.

AA can help you recover

How to spot the AA meeting

You can often tell the entrance to the meeting, because outside at least five other alcoholics will be smoking or standing with mugs of tea or coffee.

Everyone is nervous when they attend their first meeting. So if you are conscious, or nervous, we have all been there and it is perfectly natural.

Just remember to breathe and remember that you are all there for a common purpose and to share in a safe environment.

Welcoming the newcomer

If it is your first meeting, you are meant to announce that it is the first time you are attending AA, and you would like help.

The meeting will often have someone whose job it is to identify the newcomer and make sure that they’re welcome and have a cup of tea.

They will also remind you to put yourself forward if you have any questions or things you’d like to say.

In reality, you may not want to announce that you are new, or make your presence known.

Most newcomes shuffle nervously towards the tea and coffee that is available at most meetings.

They do not speak;  some make it quite clear that they do not want to be approached.

Once they have a cup of tea in hand they then sit right at the back of the room ensuring that they do not talk to anyone nor catch anyone else’s eye.

They invariably leave 5 minutes before the end.

This is okay. You will soon get used to AA meetings. If you want to listen and not speak, that is fine too.

What happens in the meeting?

At literally one minute before the meeting begins, all of those who have been chatting outside smokers pile into the room.  Most meetings are between 10-30 people.

Several people may identify that you’re new, but they also won’t say anything.

The more experienced, or healthier members of the meeting will know that you want to be left alone to find your feet and the less healthy members won’t even care or notice that you are there.

Remember AA is a voluntary program. There are no doctors, psychologists, police officers or social services. 

All the people in the room know, is how to work the 12-step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous, and stay sober one day at a time. In this sense they are exactly what you need.

The meeting room

So with everyone seated, you’ll notice several scrolls on the walls. These are like big posters.

On the posters will be ‘the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous’, or ’12 traditions of the AA’ which will make absolutely no sense to you at this point. But you will soon learn them.

What these actually talk about is the programme of AA, and how it helps people become and remain sober.

The traditions are merely the practices that AA follows to keep the fellowship working. 

If you have any doubts about whether or not it will work for you, just remember that Alcoholics Anonymous is over 75 years old and has saved literally millions of alcoholics’ lives all over the world.

There may also be a table full of literature. All these are AA approved books which can help you attain sobriety.

It is advisable to purchase a big book, and perhaps a list of local meetings.

6 things to try and do when Attending a Meeting

It is also useful to remember that every single person was a newcomer once. If you are nervous, or new to AA meetings, then here is my advice:

  1. Sit next to someone. Anyone. It is recommended that men sit with men and men and women sit with women.
  2. Shake their hand and introduce yourself and ask them how they are. Making conversation can help you feel less lonely and can ease your nerves.
  3. Remember many people in AA are very ill. This is Alcoholics Anonymous. Be mindful of what you say.
  4. It’s really hard to relax in your first meeting. Try and remember to breathe
  5. Try and look for the similarities and not the differences.
  6. How we got here is not really important. What is more important is where do we go to from here.

All meetings have different formats. Our chairs were in a big circle, but much more popular is the format where a number of chairs face a desk. 

At the desk sit two people. One is the secretary of the meeting. Their job is simply to lead the meeting – to introduce the person next to them, who is referred to as the speaker.

Meetings commonly last between 45 minutes and an hour and ½.

The secretary will pipe up and ask if there are any newcomers in the room.

It is recommended that you begin by saying “Hi my name is X and this is my first meeting.” The reality is you don’t say anything at all and no one will question it.

There is often some readings at the beginning. You may see a blue-covered book, which is referred to as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

This contains how the programme of Alcoholics Anonymous works i.e. the 12 steps. You could buy a copy at the end of the meeting for approximately £8 pounds however that is up to you.

Rules and Etiquette

  • The meeting will begin, and you may notice some people close their eyes.
  • The only joining criteria in the AA is to have a desire to stop drinking.
  • Other suggestions include trying not to share more than once, do not comment on someone’s share (cross sharing).

What will I hear in a AA meeting?

So, next, the secretary will introduce the speaker. You will notice that everyone says ‘Hi my name is X, and I’m an alcoholic.’

The guest speaker will have a number of years of sobriety. The idea is that they share their experience, strength and hope with the meeting.

What AA hopes will happen is that you hear your own story within the speaker’s talk and find hope in seeing that they all got better.

The speaker is meant to tell you exactly how they not only became sober in the first place, but remain sober on a daily basis.

The speaker is not a professional. They’ve never trained as a therapist and what normally happens is they go on about what we call ‘war stories’.

War stories’ are simply a monologue of what happened when they drank. Some of the stories are exceedingly funny.

What would be much much more helpful however, is how the speaker overcame the difficulties and problems and how possibly they could offer you advice and help based on their experience of remaining in being sober.

Still, remember AA is voluntary, the speaker is giving up their time for free. The speaker will talk for anything between 20 and 40 mins.

Read the most inspiring AA speeches.

What is the higher power?

You will also hear people talking about a higher power.

If you read the scrolls, you will see the word God. Many would-be AA members have looked at the scrolls and decided this is not for them.

However, AA is not religious – you choose your own higher power. The only rule is it’s not you.

The idea of this concept is that if you are not in charge of your life then perhaps you could be open to a person, a life-force, or any being able to offer you guidance strength and support that you currently do not have within yourself.

The purpose of this article is not really to explain the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is really to give you an accurate idea of what happens in a meeting.

What is the meeting like?

After the speaker has shared their story, the meeting is then opened to the room.

What this means is anyone is welcome to come in and talk about what is going on in their life.

A number of meetings have themes, for example ‘Living with sobriety’, or ‘Living with steps 10 and 12.’ The idea is you stick to issues relating to alcohol.

The reality is people are people. There will talk about whatever is on their mind: their boss, wife, husband lack of money, economic insecurity, their job, coronavirus, the traffic.

Some will talk about how grateful they are about the programme and how selfless they are finding their new lives.

You may be surprised to hear laughter. No one in this fellowship got sober to be miserable.

Alcoholism is a cunning and baffling disease that causes untold misery. However, we in Alcoholics Anonymous are recovering from alcoholism.

We are getting better. We can laugh and cry together, knowing full well if we stay sober, we have a chance.

If you would like to share, you do not need to raise your hand. You simply say ‘My name is X and I’m an alcoholic.’ You are then free to speak.

Those used to sharing, will share every week. The average newcomer does not share in their first meeting. We know they’re nervous and we know we were new ones so we don’t mind. Just come along.

Will AA meetings help?

Having like-minded people with the same problem to chat with on a deep emotional level is useful for anyone.

One thing you may hear about the programme is getting a sponsor.

stay social

The sponsor is someone who takes you through the program is available to help you.

I have had my sponsor of 21 years. His name is Des and I love him dearly. There is nothing I cannot talk to him about.

Alcoholics Anonymous has helped millions and millions of struggling alcoholics all over the world become sober.

Have a look at the number of meetings in your area. We know how lonely you have been. All we can say is you do not have to be lonely in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I have attended over 300 meetings. I have seen miracles occur. I’ve seen men and women completely broken by alcohol make a full recovery and live a long happy life.

How does this happen? I really don’t know, but if you attend collects anonymous you have a chance of finding out for yourself.

Perhaps the best advice is to come and try meeting.

The meetings are free, there is a collection little bit like a church which goes round you have any money put some in if you don’t they take it out.

Whatever you decide, I do hope that your recovery journey takes you to where you want to be.

Read member’s recovery stories.

Start your journey to recovery today

Whatever your situation, recovery is possible, call us today on 0808 1150 446 expert and confidential advice.

Further information:


Newcomers | Alcoholics Anonymous – Great Britain

AA Alcoholics Anonymous
NA Narcotics AnonymousCA Cocaine Anonymous
OA Overeaters Anonymous
GA Gamblers Anonymous
SLAA Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
Al Anon
CODA Co-dependents Anonymous
DA Debtors Anonymous

Will 12-step meetings help?

Having a weekly routine whereby you can attend a meeting full of like-minded people will help anyone.

You may hear about a sponsor when considering an AA programme. A sponsor is someone who takes you through the AA programme by accompanying you to meetings and helps you throughout recovery.

AA has helped millions of people all over the world to become sober and achieve long-term recovery from alcohol addiction. By attending the AA, you do not have to be lonely or suffer in silence.

It is a fellowship that can help you through your struggles and change your life. People who are broken by alcohol can make a full recovery and choose a happy life.

Read member’s recovery stories.

Start your journey to recovery today

Whatever your situation, recovery is possible, call us today on 0808 1150 446 expert and confidential advice.

Further information:

This is an insider’s perspective, but is only a single experience. It is not a universal experience, and each path of recovery is different.

Last Updated on March 3, 2022 by