Updated on February 29, 2024
6 min read

What to Expect at Your First AA Meeting

The anticipation of attending your first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting can be an intimidating experience. It's natural to feel anxious about the unknown, especially if it’s something as personal as your first support group meeting.

Let’s ease some of that worry by looking at other people’s experiences regarding AA meetings. Several YouTube videos are quoted throughout the article, discussing people’s experiences.

By knowing what others have been through, you’ll get a more rounded idea of what AA meetings are like.

What are AA Meetings Generally Like?

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings provide a judgment-free space for people struggling with alcohol addiction. Its members support each other in maintaining sobriety.

As one speaker emphasizes:

(AA is) a bunch of drunks talking to a bunch of drunks... people who understand you and you who understand them.

Meeting discussions can vary, but they often revolve around the program’s core principles, such as the Twelve Steps, to give you a framework for personal recovery. While AA certainly has spiritual components, you don’t have to be religious to attend and benefit from the meetings.

In one of the videos discussing people’s personal AA experiences, a member clarifies:

AA is not a religious organization. It has a god component that is real, that they relate mostly to a higher power. Some people call that higher power God, and it has a spirituality component, but it's not religion. It is non-religious whatsoever.

Dispelling Common Myths About AA Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous is a well-established program that’s been around for a long time. However, with its longevity are plenty of misconceptions surrounding its meetings.

The myths surrounding AA are directly addressed in the transcripts:

You Don't Have to Share if You Don't Want To

Some people are under the impression that they’re required to share their experiences during meetings. This myth alone can convince people not to attend an AA meeting.

You're never forced to do anything at all in AA. The only requirement to attend an AA meeting is that you have the desire to stop drinking. That's it.

The purpose of these meetings is to give people in recovery a sense of community so people don’t feel alone in their struggles and triumphs.

You never have to speak, you never have to do the 12 steps, you never have to identify as an alcoholic, you don't even have to believe in God. You could go there and sit down and just listen, never saying a single word for your entire life if you wanted to.

If actively listening is what helps you maintain sobriety, then that’s all you have to do in AA meetings.

Spotlight Isn't on You as a Newcomer

Hollywood is instrumental in the misconceptions people have about AA meetings. It often depicts these gatherings in a way that highlights newcomers, which can be anxiety-inducing for some.

One of the speakers disproves this myth:

I hope I can ease some of the stress that comes along with going to your first meeting. A lot of people are under the impression that they get put under a spotlight at the front of the room and have to tell their entire life's story at the first meeting they attend. “I'm Kate, um, I'm an alcoholic.” This is how Hollywood usually portrays AA, and it's not that accurate.

While members may be happy about seeing new faces in a meeting, they won’t go out of their way to make you the center of attention. With similar experiences as yours, they know better than to overstep and presume boundaries.

No One Will Pressure You

So while AA members will likely approach you, especially if you identify yourself as new, the environment is meant to be welcoming rather than demanding.

They'll let you know about other meetings, and they may give you literature or a book or a schedule or tell you about other meetings. So if you got it in you, listen, talk to some people. If you get called on, feel free to share. Get yourself a coffee and relax as much as you can anyway.


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What Actually Happens In an AA Meeting?

Now that we've clarified what doesn't happen, this is what actually happens in a standard AA meeting:

Readings and Openings

Meetings can be "open," allowing anyone to attend, or "closed," limited to those with a desire to stop drinking.

It varies in format, but some members tell you what you can expect:

A meeting starts with a bunch of traditional readings, and a chairperson will ask for volunteers to do these readings. This usually happens before the meeting starts.

The chairperson will ask everybody to join in a moment of silence followed by a prayer or something like that. This is how meetings are opened.

The prayer helps set a reflective and communal tone for the rest of the meeting.

Newcomer Introduction (Optional)

Once the meeting is officially opened, the chairperson will ask if there is anyone attending their first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. This is your time to shine if you'd like. I suggest you raise your hand or speak out⁠—yes, it lets everybody know you're here to make some changes in your life.

A newcomer introduction is optional. Declining does not exclude you from participating in the rest of the meeting if you eventually feel like doing so.

Topic and Discussion

The core of the meeting involves members sharing perspectives and experiences related to an identified topic.

Now, for the rest of the meeting, each person will get a few minutes to speak to the rest of the group about the topic that was brought up and how it relates to their recovery. The purpose of this part of the meeting is to share each other's experiences with one another.

If you choose to participate, there’s a certain flow to follow:

When it's someone's turn to speak, the person will usually introduce themselves as an alcoholic: 'Hi, I'm Christy, and I'm an alcoholic.' If you wish to speak when you're called upon, you can identify as an alcoholic or not.

But there is no obligation to share if that would make you uncomfortable.


The meeting ends similar to how it began:

When the meeting is over, the chairperson will get everyone to join in a closing prayer and moment of silence, just like how the meeting opened. And once that's over, the meeting is closed.

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Tips for Your First Meeting  

Here are some helpful suggestions if attending an AA meeting for the first time:

  • Arrive early to get oriented and find the meeting room location
  • Consider bringing someone along for support
  • Actively listen so you can identify shared experiences
  • Participate when ready, but know there’s no pressure
  • Have an open mind and let the process unfold

Your Path to Sobriety

Taking that first step to attend an AA meeting demonstrates a powerful commitment to personal change. These meetings offer a space to listen, learn from shared experiences, and know you are not alone.

If maintaining sobriety is your goal, know that AA welcomes you with open arms, just as you are. The decision of how much or how little to participate remains entirely yours throughout the process.

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Key Takeaways

AA meetings provide a safe, welcoming space for those seeking support in their sobriety journey. While there is a spiritual component, AA doesn't subscribe to any specific religion. Most importantly, there's no pressure to share personal details or to participate actively until you feel ready.

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Updated on February 29, 2024

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