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Format for Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

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Is there a general format for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings? In a word, yes there is, but one must always keep in mind that there are many different kinds of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and also that no two Alcoholics Anonymous groups are exactly the same.

Alcoholics Anonymous, Meeting Protocol, and Cross Talk

Meetings are one of the essential components of Alcoholics Anonymous.

A chairperson, who is typically a member of the group, will open the meeting (call the meeting to order) and follow the format for the type of meeting he or she is conducting: beginner meeting, speaker meeting, discussion meeting, for instance.

If the chairperson asks if there are any newcomers, visitors should feel free to raise their hands and give their first name.

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For the most part, a "single share" protocol is followed in meetings which means that members do not speak for any length of time more than once during the meeting. Sometimes, nonetheless, exceptions to this standard are made, depending upon the group or the situation..

In all meetings, "cross talk" is kept to a minimum. "Cross talk" from the perspective of Alcoholics Anonymous means giving direct advice to others who have already shared, telling another member what to think or how to act, speaking directly to another person rather than to the group, and questioning or interrupting the person who is sharing and speaking at the time.

Meeting Etiquette, Meeting Size, and Smoking

The expected etiquette during all meetings is for members to remain silent until the speaker has finished.

Every so often, the meeting "goes around the room" and all attendees have the opportunity to speak if they want to. On other occasions, moreover, the discussion leader may call on specific members and invite them to share their experiences.

Members who do not wish to speak simply say "I'll just listen tonight" or "Thanks, I'll pass." Responses such as these are perfectly fine due to the fact that no one is ever strong-armed or forced to speak.

If a person does not have a chemical dependency problem but is interested in Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-anon (which offers information and hope for friends and families of problem drinkers), or ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), he or she should attend an open meeting. Closed meetings, on the other hand, are limited to AA members and prospective members only.

Meeting size varies from small to large depending on where the meeting is held, who attends the meeting (mixed, men, women, young people, and so on), and on the specific meeting format (i.e., discussion, Big Book, step, or speaker). While "small" meetings typically have 15 or fewer attendees, "large" meetings can have as many as 30, 40, 50 or more members.

Smoking and nonsmoking. The traditional "smoke filled room" is becoming a thing of the past as an increasing number of meetings are nonsmoking only. Smokers still huddle together outside the meeting areas; however, meetings that permit smoking inside are becoming increasingly rare.

Meetings usually end on time and are closed in a way that is decided upon by the particular group. A basket is typically passed around the room for voluntary contributions to help cover expenses.

No contribution is required. Indeed, first-timers are often advised not to contribute. The usual donation is one dollar.

At the close of the meeting it is common for the chairperson to remind everyone of the Twelfth Tradition (the principle of anonymity) and to invite the group to stand, join hands in a circle, and recite the Lord's Prayer or the Serenity Prayer.

Types of Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

No two Alcoholics Anonymous groups are exactly the same. In fact, there is a great degree of diversity among groups due to the unique features of the people who make up the specific group.

The Alcoholics Anonymous "Fourth Tradition" states that "Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole."

This tradition is taken seriously by group members. In fact, there is a great degree of variety from group to group regarding what is emphasized, the informal group norms, the type of ritual, the emotional tone of the meetings, the selection of readings, and the meeting philosophy.

This great variety appears to be one of the secrets of success of Alcoholics Anonymous and typically means that newcomers, if they are willing to spend the time and the effort, will be able to find a meeting that closely matches their specific needs.

The following represents some of the different Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that are available:

Open Meetings: These meetings are open to anyone: to non-alcoholics, alcoholics, and to anyone interested in solving a personal drinking problem or helping someone else to solve such a problem.

Closed Meetings: These meetings are limited to alcoholics. They provide an opportunity for members to share with one another regarding drinking problems and patterns and about the difficulty to remain sober.

Closed meetings also a provide a forum for detailed discussion of the different aspects in the recovery program.

Beginners Meetings: These meetings are typically targeted at newcomers, i.e., those individuals with less than one year of sobriety.

A topic will be suggested by a chairperson and then members who want to, can share their personal hopes, fears, or experiences related to the topic. In this manner, beginners will start to understand the Alcoholics Anonymous program and how they can abstain from drinking, one day at a time.

Speaker Meetings: One or two members of AA will share their story-- what alcoholism was like, what happened to them while they drank, and what life is like now that they are sober.

The speaker, typically chosen in advance, agrees to tell his story of drinking and recovery to the group. Speakers are usually members with a year or more of sobriety who have previously been asked to share their story.

A common format at speaker meetings is to start the meeting with the usual opening readings and then to devote the rest of the meeting to the speaker's story. When the story is finished the meeting is closed without any formal discussion.

Some meetings are combined "speaker-discussion meetings." In this type of meeting, the main speaker shares his or her story for 15 to 30 minutes, and then opens the meeting to a group discussion of the topics raised in accordance with the typical protocol of a discussion meeting.

During speaker meetings, newcomers or beginners are encouraged not to compare, but to relate to each member's experiences.

Discussion Meetings: A topic will be suggested by a chairperson and then other members can share their own experiences about the topics. Newcomers are encouraged to avoid comparisons as they relate to each member's experiences.

It is important to point out that attendees come to the meetings for the same reason: to stay sober, one day at a time. In discussion meetings, sharing that consists of personal experience and an application of the referenced text is valued over purely theoretical and impersonal discussions.

Step Meetings: One person will present a 10 or 15-minute discussion about one of the twelve steps and then will invite other members to share their experiences about working on the particular step.

Not unlike the discussion meetings, sharing that consists of personal experience and an application of the referenced text is seen as more important than impersonal or theoretical discussions during step meetings.

Big Book Study Meetings: Members discuss a specific reading from the "Big Book," a term Alcoholics Anonymous members use in reference to the program's basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous.

Similar to the step meetings, sharing that consists of personal experience and an application of the referenced text is seen as more important than impersonal or theoretical discussions.

Due to the fact that most people find various meeting formats more helpful than others, local Alcoholics Anonymous advisers can offer a wide variety of meeting formats such as panels, orientation, seminars, study groups, etc.

In addition, group meetings can be offered for specific groups of people such as lesbians, gays, families of alcoholics, and women.

And finally, advisers can sponsor group meetings for particular groups of students such as disabled students, first-year students, honors students, transfer students, students who are seniors, international students, students on probation, and non-traditional students.

Key for Meeting Types

The following represents the "Key" for the different types of meeting on the schedule:

  • 12 & 12 = 12 Steps and 12 Traditions

  • BB = Big Book

  • C = closed (Alcoholics Only)

  • CC = Child Care Available

  • DSP = Does Not Sign Court Papers

  • D = Discussion

  • FF = Floating Format

  • G = Gay

  • HS = Heavy Smoking

  • L = Lesbian

  • LS = Limited Smoking

  • M = Men only

  • M/L = Mini Lead with Topic

  • NS = Non Smoking

  • O = open

  • P = Panel

  • S = Speaker

  • SLI = Sign Language Interpreter

  • W = Women only

Conclusion: Format for Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

Based on the information discussed above, it can be concluded that there is definitely a general format for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Having said this, it is important to emphasize that diversity and variety are also key characteristics of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

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For instance, since most people find various meeting formats more helpful than others, local Alcoholics Anonymous advisers can offer a wide variety of meeting formats such as panels, orientation, seminars, study groups, etc.

Furthermore, group meetings can be offered for specific groups of people such as lesbians, gays, women, or families of alcoholics.

And finally, advisers can sponsor group meetings for particular groups of students such as students who are seniors, international students, first-year students, students on probation, honors students, disabled students, non-traditional students, and transfer students.

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