Why Go?

Regular Twelve-Step group meeting attendance is the best way you can reinforce your recovery. You benefit by hearing other people share their experiences, you are reminded of who and what you are, you share and celebrate your recovery with others as they do with you, and you can get lots of physical or emotional hugs and good fellowship.

How many? Some people recommend that newcomers or those having trouble attend ninety meetings in ninety days. This is a carryover from a traditional recommendation in AA. You may need two meetings a day or two a week, depending on how solid your recovery is and what is going on in your life. Almost all addicts need more than one Twelve-Step meeting a week, and only those brand new or struggling with recovery should go daily, with most finding two to four meetings a week to be comfortable and effective.

Wilderness The recommendations about frequency of meetings assumes that there are such meetings available within a reasonable communting distance. You may live in a “Twelve-Step wilderness” area where there are few meetings, or perhaps none that focus on your primary addiction. You may have to seek out open AA meetings (they are likely to be the most common) and/or online meetings to make do. Here is a good resource for online meetings:

Attending meetings regularly is putting Step One into practice, every time you go. Regularity is important. Those who go only when they are in trouble insure that they will continue to be in trouble. We suggest that you use meetings as insurance rather than as crisis management.

No guarantee It would be wonderful if as a newcomer to Twelve-Step groups you could walk into any meeting and find understanding and encouragement coupled with hope that you can live the rest of your life without all the crazy behavior associated with addictive using or behavior. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that you will find good fellowship and recovery in all Twelve-Step groups in your area.

Some meetings (other than AA) even wind up enabling the addiction by taking relapse for granted and by slighting the spiritual or physical aspects of recovery.

Deviation from AA

All Twelve-Step groups are modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. However, from the very start, some deviated from AA in some very significant ways, and we believe this is one reason their rate of recovery may not compare favorably with AA.

Laughter In most AA meetings you will find lots of laughter, people sharing about weeks to decades of solid recovery, and you hear people comfortably using the Twelve Steps to avoid drinking so they can live happy, joyous, and free.

Recovery While almost every AA group will have some people who are struggling with their recovery, you will find the vast majority to be sober (for months or years), saying that their lives are tremendously improved since coming into the Program. For most, these claims would be backed up by their family, friends, and co-workers.

We do not mean to imply that over 90 percent of AA members are “cured” of all addictive behaviors — a visit to a typical meeting will quickly show excessive use of coffee, sweets, and/or tobacco. But they came to stop their addictive use of alcohol, and for most, they have. Incidentally, in the last few years, there are more nonsmoking meetings and sensitivity and openmindedness about other addictive tendencies.

Spirituality vs. rules AA began with spirituality as the cornerstone. This was natural for a group growing out of the Oxford Group, a nondenominational, theologically conservative, evangelical movement designed to recapture the spirit of first century Christianity. Some other Twelve-Step groups were founded in the heyday of pop psychology. Thus they began with a predominantly psychological bent, which may continue to this day. Many of these meetings are far more organized and “controlled” than AA, with even more tendency to be run by old-timers. In some places these leaders may not even be abstinent from the substance or addictive behavior themselves! There are more rules about who can speak, how long you can speak, and what you can or can’t speak about. Some meetings of OA, for example, prohibit mentioning the names of foods.


Crosstalk in a Twelve-Step group meeting means answering or responding directly to another’s question or statement. A clear example would be if someone said, “I just can’t stay sober,” and somebody else replied, “Well, if you’d just go to ninety meetings in ninety days like I told you last week, you might keep off the sauce!”

This is a natural way of speaking, and the second person’s reply may actually come out of a deep caring for the alcoholic in trouble. There are several problems with this kind of crosstalk. First, it violates the spirit of AA’s Twelfth Tradition, which says, “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” The person responding claims to know how the slipping alcoholic can get sober, subtly elevating the responder to a position of authority.

Second, we know that most addicts react with defiance to advice. Spoken or unspoken, the reaction is likely to be, “Who are you to tell me how to recover!”

Third, the struggling alcoholic may defiantly accept the advice, only to blame the advice-giver when it doesn’t work. “See, I went to ninety meetings in ninety days and still got drunk.” We call this “checklist mentality.”

In typical discussion meetings where crosstalk is avoided, it is still common for a newcomer to ask a specific question. The chairperson or leader might say, “You probably have lots of questions about our program. If you’ll stick around after the meetihg, I’m sure some of our members will be glad to answer them, and give you their phone numbers and information about other meetings.” Then they may return to the meeting topic or even switch to another subject. A good Twelve-Step meeting teaches the idea of avoiding crosstalk by example.

Recovery Attracts

A good yardstick for the quality of a meeting is to ask yourself, “If I had been a newcomer, would I have been attracted by the recovery here? Would I have sensed that this was not just another fellowship, support group, diet club, or social gathering? Would I have been turned off by the intolerant attitudes I heard?”

Types of Meetings

Speaker meetings are where one or more individuals tell their story, sharing their experience, strength, and hope in some detail with the whole group. In a larger group there is usually a podium and a lecture seating arrangement. There are combinations, where a group may have a speaker meeting once a month and discussion the other weeks, or where part of the meeting has a speaker, or where the chairperson for that week “qualifies” with a brief telling of their story before the discussion begins.

Pitch meetings are meetings where each speaker talks for three to five minutes, either with or without a stated topic. Usually the moderator encourages them to be upbeat and positive, and allows no crosstalk between members.

Discussion meetings devote most of the time available to discussion on one or more topics relating to the addiction. Members try to keep their sharing brief enough that many or most of those wishing to speak have an opportunity to do so. The topic is usually selected by the chairperson or suggested by members on the spot.

Step meetings are where a Step or Tradition is read or discussed each week, often including some reading from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

Big Book study meetings include reading and discussion from parts of the Big Book of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).

Newcomers’ meetings are those designed especially for newcomers, usually led by more experienced volunteers. Although these meetings can help answer newcomers’ questions, the leaders are often the same ones each week, and this often casts them in a guru role. Sometimes people volunteer to lead newcomers’ meetings largely for their own ego trips. In other newcomers’ meetings there is a healthy balance of members with more recovery to share their experience, strength, and hope.

Combination meetings may include parts of the above or other styles at different times in the same meeting, or rotating over time. For example, a group may have a speaker meeting once a month, and for the rest of the month have discussion meetings.

Special, occasional meetings, like marathons, retreats, and conventions, are announced in regular meetings or can be found in the group’s journal, like the Grapevine (AA) or Lifeline (OA).

Meetings, see also: Al-Anon & Alateen, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Assertiveness, Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), Community, Contacts, Debtors Anonymous (DA), Emotions Anonymous (EA), Families Anonymous (FA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), History of Twelve-Step groups, Humor & fun, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Other support groups, Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Priorities, Service & giving, Sex addiction groups, Sponsorship, Tools of recovery, Traditions of AA, Unity.

Updated 12 Sep 2015

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