Differences Between AA Open and Closed Meetings (2023)

On published schedules of 12-step meetings, some are designated as open meetings, while others are shown as closed meetings. Open meetings are open to the public, while closed meetings are for members only—however, each program's guidelines define who counts as a member.

This article discusses the differences between an open AA meeting and a closed AA meeting (and similar 12-step groups). It also explores how to determine which type of meeting might be right for you.

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Closed 12-Step Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon Family Groups, and Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings are generally closed meetings unless otherwise stated. Closed meetings are limited to members and prospective members only.

It is up to individuals to determine if they are qualified for membership based on the following criteria from Tradition 3 of the 12 step groups:

  • ACOA: The only requirement for membership in ACOA is a desire to recover from the effects of growing up in a family affected by alcoholism or another dysfunction.
  • Al-Anon Family Groups: The only requirement for membership is that there be ​aproblem of alcoholism in a relative or friend.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous: The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  • Debtors Anonymous: The only requirement for DA membership is a desire to stop incurring unsecured debt.
  • Gamblers Anonymous: The only requirement for Gamblers Anonymous membership is a desire to stop gambling.
  • Narcotics Anonymous: The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using drugs.

If you are interested in attending a closed meeting for any of these groups, it may be good to check beforehand to make sure that you are considered a member.

Reasons for Closed 12-Step Meetings

The spiritual foundation of all 12-step groups is anonymity. Members of the group can choose to attend closed meetings, knowing that everyone in the meeting is guided by the group's steps and traditions. This encourages each member to maintain their own anonymity and the anonymity of others in the meeting.

In a closed meeting, members can speak openly and honestly about their problem or situation, knowing that everyone else in the room has experienced similar situations.

Open 12-Step Meetings

If the meeting is an open meeting, members understand that there may be visitors from the public or even the media in the meeting, and they conduct themselves accordingly.

(Video) What’s the difference between an open and closed Alcoholics Anonymous AA meeting?

Usually, but not always, open meetings are speaker meetings, at which one person has been designated to speak, telling their story—what it was like, what happened, and what their life is like now. The speaker knows ahead of time that the meeting is an open meeting and that there may be non-member visitors present.

However, open meetings can also be discussion meetings. During open discussion meetings, AA members will share their experiences with the rest of the group. They might talk about why they started attending AA and how the group has helped them. These open meetings may focus, in particular, on how non-members can help support their loved one who is a member of the group.

Open meetings can be attended by any, including but not limited to:

  • The general public
  • People who don't have a drinking or substance use problem
  • People who are thinking about joining AA
  • Family members of people who are in AA or who have a substance problem


Open meetings are for anyone who is interested in learning more about the support group program. Open meetings can be attended by students, professionals, and other non-members interested in learning more about the recovery programs.

Primary Purpose of Open Meetings

The designation of a meeting as "open" does not change the meeting's primary purpose of the group. Generally speaking, when attending one 12-step meeting, members do not mention their membership in other 12-step groups during the meeting to keep the meeting focused on its primary purpose.

One of the benefits of an open meeting is that the individual's partner or other loved ones can attend. This can be helpful for a variety of reasons. Individuals in recovery can feel supported as they work toward recovery, and the loved ones who are closest to them can learn more about their experiences and the recovery process.

Having social support has been linked to a number of important benefits, including better treatment retention and a reduced risk of relapse following treatment.

If a meeting is not designated either open or closed on a published schedule, in most cases, it should be considered closed.

Open vs. Closed: Which Meeting Is Right for You?

How do you determine whether a closed or open meeting is the right choice for you? Both types of 12-step meetings can be helpful, but there may be times you want to select one over the other.

You may want to attend an open meeting if:

  • You are thinking about joining AA or another 12-step group
  • You want to hear more from people who are affected by alcohol or substance use
  • You want to have non-member friends or family come along to support you
  • You're interested in learning more about the recovery process

You might prefer closed meetings if:

  • You don't want family or friends to be present
  • You want to listen to others who have the same experiences as you
  • You want to share your experiences with other members of the group
  • You are working closely on a specific step and want input from other members

It is also important to note that online meetings are also an option. Like in-person meetings, online AA meetings can either be closed or open. This can be a great option due to the convenience and accessibility of the meetings.

(Video) Precise definition and distinction between Open and Closed AA meetings

Open Meetings

  • Open to the general public

  • Experiences can be shared with friends or family there to support you

  • You're open to learning more about recovery, AA, or another 12-step group

Closed Meetings

  • Limited to members and prospective members

  • Experiences are shared with other members of the group

  • You're working on a step and want input from members/others with the same experiences

A Word From Verywell

Twelve-step groups such as AA can play an important role in recovery. It is important to consider what you might gain from each type of meeting these groups offer, whether they are open or closed. If you are interested in joining AA or attending an open meeting to learn more, you can find meetings in your area or online by visiting the Alcoholic Anonymous website.

How to Find a Support Group Meeting Near You

(Video) Recovering Alcoholic Tony H. Speaks at AA Open Speaker Meeting

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What does open discussion mean in AA? ›

During open discussion meetings, AA members will share their experiences with the rest of the group. They might talk about why they started attending AA and how the group has helped them. These open meetings may focus, in particular, on how non-members can help support their loved one who is a member of the group.

What to say when handing out AA chips? ›

5 Positive Things to Say When Handing Someone Their AA Sobriety Chips
  1. I Am Proud of Who You Are. It's easy to get entrenched in the glamor of alcohol with how effectively the industry has marketed itself. ...
  2. I Admire Your Strength. ...
  3. I Am Here. ...
  4. Keep It Up. ...
  5. Speak from the Heart. ...
  6. AA Sobriety Chips Are Worth Celebrating.
11 Sept 2019

Can I just turn up to an AA meeting? ›

Going to an AA meeting is simple. You can find where and when there is a meeting convenient for you and you just turn up. That's it. There's no signing in, no money to pay, no appointment to make.

What do they say at the beginning of AA meetings? ›

Opening: 1. "Welcome to Alcoholics Anonymous, a worldwide fellowship of men and women who help each other to stay sober. This is a closed meeting,you are welcome to stay if you have a desire to quit drinking.

What are the 4 absolutes in AA? ›

What are the 4 Absolutes
  • Honesty.
  • Unselfishness.
  • Purity.
  • Love.
21 Dec 2020

Do you take minutes in a closed session? ›

Yes, minutes must be kept for closed sessions. All board actions, whether taken in open or closed session, must be recorded in the minutes.

What does a white chip mean in AA? ›

One of the chips may be called a “white chip,” “surrender chip,” or “24-hour chip.” This chip is for anyone new or returning to A.A. interested in giving sobriety a chance for 24 hours. The meeting may also leave time to see who is available to sponsor by a show of hands.

What does a red chip mean in AA? ›

Typically, A.A. chips include: white to start or renew a commitment to sobriety; yellow for 30 days; red for 90 days; blue for six months; green for nine months; and a bronze chip for one or more years.

What do you say when chairing AA meetings? ›

My name is___________and I am an alcoholic and your Secretary. 2. Let us open the meeting with a moment of silence to do with as you wish followed by the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.

How many times a week should you go to AA? ›

How Often Should I Go to AA Meetings? There is no set number of meetings you should attend. Some people go every day, while other people only go when they feel like they need to. It all depends on you and what you think you need.

Do you have to be sober to be in AA? ›

As noted in the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, the only requirement to attend AA meetings is “a desire to stop drinking.”2 Strictly speaking, you can attend AA meetings if you are still using alcohol. AA understands that individuals may not be fully sober when they join or may experience relapses.

Why does AA work so well? ›

AA works because it's based on social interaction, Humphreys said, noting that members give one another emotional support as well as practical tips to refrain from drinking. “If you want to change your behavior, find some other people who are trying to make the same change,” he said.

Do you have to say your name in AA? ›

When you go to an A.A. meeting you don't have to give your name. Some groups will invite newcomers to introduce themselves by their first name only. At some meetings a sign-in sheet may be circulated for the chairperson to use during the meeting — no one has to sign it.

What is the AA mantra? ›

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.

What is the new AA Preamble? ›

The A.A. Preamble

A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

What are the 5 C's of AA? ›

Also Howard Walter's “Soul Surgery” which was not only one of the earliest Oxford Group writings but also defined the Five C's—Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, and Continuance—which became the heart of A.A.'s Step process from Step Four to Step Twelve.

What percentage of people stay sober in AA? ›

Addiction specialists cite success rates slightly higher, between 8% and 12%. A New York Times article stated that AA claims that up to 75% of its members stay abstinent. Alcoholics Anonymous' Big Book touts about a 50% success rate, stating that another 25% remain sober after some relapses.

How many musts are in the Big Book of AA? ›

While the program is considered a suggested method for dealing with the disease of Alcoholism, there are places within the Big Book where the authors used the word 'MUST. ' The following is a list of the 40 Musts from the Big Book.

What is a closed meeting called? ›

Definition of closed session

: a meeting or a portion of a meeting closed to all but members The board will meet in closed session to discuss the issue.

What is a closed agenda? ›

The closing agenda provides the road map of the closing procedures. It tells the associated parties about the people in the working group and all the documents delivered in the settlement of the offer of the sale of securities to various parties.

Do you include executive session in minutes? ›

The general nature of an executive session should be mentioned in the minutes to all members but not the minutes of the executive session itself.

How do you congratulate a recovering alcoholic? ›

What to say to someone on their sobriety anniversary
  1. “I'm so proud of you.”
  2. “You're doing incredible work. ...
  3. “I'm here if you ever need anything.”
  4. “I am so happy you're doing well.”
  5. “You are truly inspiring to others who are struggling with addiction.”
  6. “You've grown to become such a confident and strong person.”
27 Sept 2021

What is an old timer in AA? ›

An A.A. "Old-Timer" is any member who has been continuously sober for a significant period of time. The definition of "significant" is open to interpretation and varies widely. The "Old-Timer's" interviews listed here are representative of the significant impact long-term sobriety can have on our A.A. community.

What are AA coins called? ›

A sobriety coin is a token given to Alcoholics Anonymous or other twelve-step program members representing the amount of time the member has remained sober. It is traditionally a medallion the size of a poker chip, 34 mm (1.34 in) (standard) or 39 mm (1.5 in) in diameter.

Can someone be kicked out of AA? ›

These Traditions provide for the unity of the group and, therefore, ultimately protect each member's sobriety. So, while no one who says they are a member of A.A. can be kicked out of A.A., someone can be asked to leave a meeting for the sake of the common welfare of the group.

What is a white chip? ›

1. : a white-colored poker chip usually of minimum value. : a thing or quantity of little worth.

What is the third legacy of AA? ›

Members of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous place a significant amount of emphasis on the Three Legacies of AA: Recovery, Unity, and Service. Over the years, these Legacies have proven to provide for effective recovery in a harmonious atmosphere that encourages selflessness.

How long do you have to be sober to chair a meeting? ›

It is suggested the chairperson have at least 30 days of continuous sobriety. Prior to beginning ask one person to begin reading How It Works and a second person to read the Twelve Traditions. Also consider a discussion topic, if you plan to suggest one.

How do you introduce an AA speaker? ›

How to Introduce Another Speaker in 3 Steps (CC) - YouTube

Do AA circuit speakers get paid? ›

Some circuit speakers have become extremely famous and are actually known throughout AA culture, such as Clancy, Bob Bisanz, Sandy Beach, and the duo, Joe and Charlie. Circuit speakers are not paid, but their transportation and boarding is generally paid for, even if they often are staying at another fellow's house.

How long do people usually stay in AA? ›

Research shows that almost 80% of people who regularly attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are still sober after five years. Conversely, 43% of those who showed low meeting attendance rates remained clean and sober after five years.

How long should I go to AA? ›

Most sponsors encourage the AA newcomer to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. That may seem like a lot and it may seem like a long time to commit to going to meetings. However, most 12-step programs, including those for people addicted to drugs, encourage new members to commit to those 90 meetings in 90 days.

What does AA say about dating? ›

The official policy of Alcoholics Anonymous (as laid out in the Big Book) does not specifically close the door to dating in the early period of sobriety, but abstaining from relationships is an integral part of the conversation.

How do you know when you're an alcoholic? ›

Some of the most common symptoms of alcohol abuse are: Experiencing temporary blackouts or short-term memory loss. Exhibiting signs of irritability and extreme mood swings. Making excuses for drinking such as to relax, deal with stress or feel normal.

What is crosstalk AA? ›

Cross talking in A.A. is when a person gives advice to others who have already shared their stories. The individual speaks to them directly, instead of speaking to the group as a whole. Cross talk can also include interrupting the person who is speaking or asking them a question unexpectedly.

What are the disadvantages of AA? ›

What are the Cons of AA?
  • Members are encouraged, although not required to rely on a “higher power” as the most effective means of recovery.
  • Lack of concrete evidence associated with outcomes.
  • Emphasis on complete abstinence.
  • Reliance on a higher power presents religious undertones, a problem sometimes for atheists.

What is the magic of AA? ›

“It's rather that the magic of AA is that it's everywhere and mobilizes these therapeutic mechanisms in a very strong, socially supportive network of recovery support.” – John Kelly; a Researcher at Harvard who led the Cochrane review in an interview for vox.com.

Which behavior is most likely to indicate alcohol abuse? ›

Some of the most common physical, psychological, and behavioral signs and symptoms of alcohol misuse are:
  • Poor coordination.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Impaired thinking.
  • Memory impairment.
  • Wanting to stop drinking but not managing to do so.
  • Diverting energy from work, family, and social life in order to drink.
9 Sept 2022

What should you not talk about in AA? ›

AA Meetings: Rules for Sharing

When speaking to individuals or the group, you should not share personal information about yourself or anyone else. If you happen to see someone you know, perhaps from work or within your community, you should not acknowledge your prior connection with them.

Why is anonymity so important in AA? ›

At the personal level, anonymity provides protection for all members from identification as alcoholics, a safeguard often of special importance to newcomers. As valuable as privacy is to new members, most of them are eager to share the good news of their A.A. affiliation with their families.

How do you introduce yourself in NA? ›

As a newcomer, you may be asked to introduce yourself. When introducing yourself, you will use your first name only as part of the commitment to privacy and anonymity. Also, you do not have to say "I'm an addict" unless you feel comfortable doing so.

What saint is for alcoholics? ›

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Patron Saint of those suffering with addictions. Venerable Matt Talbot, Patron of those with addiction to Alcohol, Serenity Prayer; God Grant Me The Serenity.

What is the 3 step prayer? ›

Third Step Prayer

Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. To those I would help of Thy Power, Thy love and Thy way of life, May I do Thy will always!

Did the Preamble of A.A. change? ›

“Review suggested gender-neutral language options for changes to the AA Preamble.” This item was not acted on by the Grapevine committee, since they felt they needed more direction regarding wording. However, a couple of Floor Actions at the end of the Conference did address a change to the Preamble.

What do they say at the beginning of A.A. meetings? ›

Opening: 1. "Welcome to Alcoholics Anonymous, a worldwide fellowship of men and women who help each other to stay sober. This is a closed meeting,you are welcome to stay if you have a desire to quit drinking.

Who wrote the A.A. Preamble? ›

The Preamble was not part of the original Alcoholics Anonymous literature created by AA founder, Bill Wilson in 1934. It was actually created in June 1947 by the AA Grapevine, a magazine publication founded by six AA members with Bill Wilson's permission.

What do you mean by open discussion? ›

Open Discussion is the term used to describe unstructured dialogue within a meeting. In an open discussion, anyone present can speak for as long as they like, and there are no rules governing turn-taking, topic adherence, or other constraints on the discussion.

What does a closed group mean in NA? ›

A closed meeting in Narcotics Anonymous is for those individuals who identify themselves as addicts or for those who are uncertain and think they might have a drug problem. A closed Narcotics Anonymous meeting provides a freedom that is necessary for more personal and intimate sharing by Narcotics Anonymous members.

What does Step 6 mean in AA? ›

Each of the 12 steps of recovery outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous is focused on helping people with an alcohol use disorder work toward long-term recovery. Step 6 is focused on acceptance, which involves accepting character defects exactly as they are and then being willing to let them go.

What is the meaning of the abbreviation AA? ›

Definition of AA (Entry 4 of 4) 1 administrative assistant. 2 Alcoholics Anonymous. 3 antiaircraft.

What is a closed meeting? ›

Closed Meeting – means a meeting, or part of a meeting, which is closed to the public as permitted by the Municipal Act, also referred to as an "in-camera meeting".

What is a closed conversation? ›

An open conversation is one where the group of people are facing outward, welcoming others to join. A closed conversation is just that, closed off from others. People in a closed conversation are most likely having a private discussion. An open conversation can be a group of one person or more.

How do you lead an open discussion? ›

Starting a discussion
  1. Refer to questions you distributed. ...
  2. Make a list of key points. ...
  3. Use a partner activity. ...
  4. Use a brainstorming activity. ...
  5. Pose an opening question and give students a few minutes to record an answer. ...
  6. Divide students into small groups to discuss a specific question or issue.

What is a closed meeting called? ›

Definition of closed session

: a meeting or a portion of a meeting closed to all but members The board will meet in closed session to discuss the issue.

Is it OK to leave AA? ›

Whatever your path is, know this: your recovery will evolve and your needs will change. It is absolutely okay to leave AA. That is your right as a person in recovery, and no one has the right to direct you otherwise.

What does the NA symbol mean? ›

Sodium is a chemical element with symbol Na and atomic number 11. Classified as an alkali metal, Sodium is a solid at room temperature.

What is drop the rock in AA? ›

Drop the Rock is a story about a group of Twelve Step members who set sail on a ship named Recovery, sailing across the Sea of Life toward the Island of Serenity. As the story is told, soon after the boat pulls away from the dock, its passengers realize some of their friends from AA are missing.

What are some character defects? ›

Examples of common character defects include:
  • Anger and Hatred.
  • Selfishness and self-centeredness.
  • Being dishonest and lying regularly.
  • Defensiveness.
  • Constantly playing the victim.
  • Blaming self and others.
  • Antagonistic.
  • Close-mindedness.

What does STEP 7 in AA mean? ›

Step 7 of AA gives you the opportunity to make a clear change in attitude about alcohol misuse and open up to life with a higher power and others. 1. Humility is an important part of step 7 as it can allow you to accept your shortcomings with grace and forgiveness. 1.

What is the full name of AA? ›

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international mutual aid fellowship of alcoholics dedicated to abstinence-based recovery from alcoholism through its spiritually-inclined Twelve Step program.

What's the meaning of AA genotype? ›

The contrasting terms genotype and phenotype are used to define the characteristics or traits of an organism. The genotype identifies the alleles related to a single trait (e.g. Aa), or to a number of traits (e.g. Aa Bb cc). The term can be extended to refer to the entire set of genes of an organism (or a taxon).

What does BBC stand for? ›


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