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What To Expect At Your First AA Meeting

If you’re new to recovery, you might have some hesitation or fear about going to your first AA meeting.

Chances are, you’ve probably seen AA meetings featured in movies or TV shows. However, we all know that Hollywood often exaggerates things. So, what can you really expect to experience at your first AA meeting?

If you’re new to recovery, you might have some hesitation or fear about going to your first AA meeting. It’s very normal to feel that way. Anything new can be scary and it might still be difficult for you to open up and talk about your experience with addiction.

Whether you’re researching for a loved one, you’re thinking about going to a meeting, or you’ve been court-ordered to attend, here’s what you can expect at your first AA meeting.

What Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international fellowship of men and women that exists to enable its members to stay sober and help other people achieve sobriety. There are no education or age requirements and it’s available almost everywhere.

The purpose of AA groups is to share personal experiences, strength, and hope. In doing so, AA members help one another overcome their shared addiction problems and achieve lasting sobriety.

What to Expect At Your First AA Meeting

Alcohol Anonymous meetings are based on the 12-Step Program. They provide a series of organized steps and suggestions for you to follow as you reorient your life as a sober person. The “Big Book” study is a self-help book and the main text of AA. It was written by Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA, and provides a basic understanding of what alcoholism is and a step-by-step guide on how to overcome it.

AA meetings are usually held in community centers, churches, or other public spaces. When you arrive, you’ll probably see several other people there waiting for the meeting to start. Some may be chatting, making coffee, or sitting in the room on their own.

You can choose your seat based on where you feel most comfortable. Some people like to sit near the front of the room or the back, but it’s up to you. Sometimes, an AA meeting may also have the chairs set up in a big semi-circle.

Discussions during AA meetings often refer to the Big Book and include reading excerpts from AA literature aloud. Meetings usually last an hour and depending on the type of AA meeting you attend, the format may vary. Here’s generally what you can expect to experience when you get there:

Preamble and prayer:

AA meetings are led by a chairperson. Each meeting begins with the chairperson reading the AA preamble and leading the group in reciting the short version of the Serenity Prayer, also known as the AA acceptance prayer. You don’t have to recite the prayer but many people do.

AA literature readings:

After the Serenity Prayer, various members of the group may read brief sections of AA literature.


In some meetings, the chairperson may ask if there are any first-timers in attendance and ask if anyone would like to introduce themselves (first name only). Some people may choose to do this but you don’t have to if you prefer not to.


This portion of the meeting can vary.

  • If you are attending a study step meeting or discussion meeting, the chairperson will announce which step you will discuss and someone may read that step’s chapter from the “12-Steps and 12 Traditions” book. Then the chairperson may invite others to share any experience or encouragement related to that step. In other instances, a person may choose a topic of discussion for the meeting, and members may share randomly based on the topic. Although the chairperson may ask you to share, you can respectfully pass or just let them know that you would rather listen instead.

  • If you’re attending a speaker meeting, one or more speakers may be invited to share their stories during the meeting.


After the discussion and sharing portion of the meeting has ended, the chairperson may use the closing time to make any AA-related announcements. Or, they may simply invite everyone to stand in a circle and recite the Lord’s Prayer. You don’t have to participate in this if you don’t want to.

Some AA groups may also pass around a basket so that people can contribute financially, but you don’t have to do this either. Alcoholics Anonymous is a self-sustaining organization and the funds are often used to buy the coffee people drink during meetings as well as other supplies.

After the meeting is over, you are free to leave or you can stay for a bit and socialize with other members. It’s up to you.

Overall, there are just a few rules of AA attendance: Don’t be late, don’t cross-talk while others are sharing, and have any court vouchers signed at the end of the meeting (not the beginning).

All AA meetings are different. So, if you go to an AA meeting and you feel unwelcome or you hear or see things that you disagree with, you should try another meeting. There are many different kinds of AA meetings and lots of different types of people who attend. Sometimes switching meetings is the best way to find one that feels right for you.

Common Myths About AA

  • AA is a cult.

AA is not a cult. Although some people may hold that belief, as an organization, its characteristics simply do not align with those of a cult. For example, AA members regularly and openly challenge the Big Book text to gain greater clarity. That is something that is not permitted in a cult. Also, there is no primary AA leader and no obligations to attend or follow the 12-Steps (aside from wanting to stay sober).

  • You can’t belong to AA if you’re not a religious person.

Although you’ll likely hear the chairperson and meeting attendees refer to “God” and you’ll find mentions of “God” in AA literature, it’s typically followed with “as we understand Him.” Meaning, you don’t have to believe in the Christian God to find AA useful or to attend meetings. Your God or Higher Power can be anything or anyone you want it to be. If you go to a meeting that feels too religious, you can always try out a different one. Remember, every meeting is different.

  • AA is boring.

While the discussion portion of AA meetings may not always be the most riveting conversation, it’s often very helpful and useful feedback from individuals with shared life experiences and struggles. After all, the goal of AA meetings is to help individuals stay sober, not to be entertainment.

  • You have to tell strangers all your darkest secrets.

Depending on the type of AA meeting you go to, you may be asked to share. That said, you’re allowed to decline and no one will force you to stand up and talk to the group. You don’t have to share anything if you don’t want to. Many people are hesitant to share and participate in the discussion at first. If this is you, that’s totally fine. You may find that the more you attend, the more comfortable you feel sharing.

Frequently Asked Questions About AA Meetings

  • What do they read at the beginning of AA meetings?

The chairperson reads the AA preamble and leads the group in reciting an abbreviated version of the Serenity Prayer.

  • Is AA a religious organization?

AA is not a religious organization. While AA literature does mention “God,” attendees are encouraged to interact with “God” as they understand Him (as the literature states). This means you don’t have to believe in the Christian God or even any God to attend AA.

  • Do I have to speak in front of people?

Although you may be asked to share at an AA meeting, you are allowed to decline. No one is going to force you to speak in front of people at an AA meeting.

  • Can I just show up at an AA meeting? Do I have to sign up?

Yes, you can just show up at an AA meeting. You do not have to sign up anywhere. However, it’s often recommended that newcomers let someone at the meeting know that it’s their first time attending an AA meeting. Other more experienced AA attendees can help you get important details and information that may be helpful for you.

  • Can you join AA if you’re not an alcoholic?

Even if you’re not an alcoholic, you can still attend an open meeting. Anyone is welcome to attend.

  • How does AA define an alcoholic?

AA doesn’t provide any definition for the term “alcoholic.” However, it’s understood that alcoholism is defined as not having the ability to control one’s drinking habits, even when one wants to stop. When someone is an alcoholic, the act of drinking alcohol is a compulsive physical need and an obsession.

  • What does a closed meeting mean in AA?

“Closed meetings” are for newcomers (people who are new to AA) that want to stop drinking.

  • What is an open meeting?

An “open meeting” means anyone is allowed to attend. Most AA meetings are open.

  • Is there an app for AA meetings?

Yes. The app Meeting Guide was created by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. It’s available for iOS and Android and provides meeting information from more than AA service entities. Currently, more than 100,000 weekly meetings are listed and it’s refreshed twice daily.2

  • Does AA cost money?

No, AA does not cost any money. AA is a self-supporting group so you can contribute funds if you choose to, but it’s not mandatory.

  • Who goes to AA meetings?

Many different people go to AA meetings. Young students, educated professionals, people who just got out of rehab, well-off people, and low-income people. All are welcome at AA meetings.

  • Is AA right for me?

The only way to know for certain if AA is right for you is to give it a try. If, after you try a few meetings, you find that AA isn’t the best fit for you, there are many other types of community recovery groups that are helpful for people in recovery.

How to Find AA Meetings

The easiest way to find AA meetings is to visit or . With these links, you can easily locate AA meetings near you and get all the important details, such as the time and location of the meeting or the type of gathering (open or closed).

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