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What's the Difference Between Open and Closed AA Meetings?

When entering addiction recovery, you may consider joining Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA. AA is where people struggling with addiction come together to share their experiences and offer hope and support to others in similar situations.

The people in these groups all share a common issue: alcoholism. The goal is to work together to ensure success in everyone’s recovery journey.

If you look for an AA meeting to join in your area, you may find that some are considered open meetings, and some are considered closed meetings. The difference is pretty straightforward, with open meetings being open to the public and closed meetings only for members.

Joining any AA meeting is encouraged because of its proven effectiveness in fighting addiction. To learn more about the difference between the two and what each meeting entails, keep reading!

What Are Closed AA Meetings?

Closed AA meetings are for the members of AA to join. This is also for people who believe they have a drinking problem and want to stop drinking. You might not be a member yet but are considering joining, so these meetings are for you, too!

Closed AA meetings are meant to be very open and raw. They are meant to show prospective members why AA meetings are a safe and supportive space to join and continue to give support to current members.

Why Are They Closed?

Closed groups allow people to be more honest about their situation. Knowing that everyone in the room with you has some type of shared experience can help you open up about your alcoholism. You are meant to understand that you are not alone and that others around you are in the same fight.

Closed AA meetings allow people to meet others going through similar problems and may have more support and advice to give. Learning from other people's mistakes and triumphs can help someone new to AA as they enter recovery.

Even if a person has endless support from family and friends, being around people that truly understand what you’re going through can have enormous benefits.

Discussion vs. Step Meetings

In closed AA meetings, two kinds of meetings take place: discussion meetings and step meetings. Each caters to different aspects of the recovery journey, so you should try to attend both kinds.

Discussion meetings are led by an AA member who first shares their addiction experience, which is then opened up for discussion. People can share their thoughts about their own experiences and how they might relate to the person who shared them.

This kind of meeting can end anywhere, considering different topics, emotions, and advice might be brought up as the conversation evolves. Step meetings discuss one of the 12 steps of AA.

In these meetings, you do a deep dive into a singular step so that everyone can better understand what it’s asking them to do. Doing these meetings in order can be really helpful if you are new to AA, but it’s not unusual for people to revisit steps later on when they need a refresher and support.

What Are Open AA Meetings?

Open AA meetings are open for other people, not just members and prospective members, to join in on the meeting. This might be something that your supportive family and friends want to attend to learn more about what it’s like to struggle with alcohol.

These people attend as observers and do not distract from the meeting going on. Observers do not lead discussions or participate unless pertaining directly to alcoholism.

Why Are They Open?

Open AA meetings can be useful for people trying to understand a family member or partner’s alcoholism. Hearing the stories of other people that have undergone the recovery process or share details about their addiction can be eye-opening. It allows the observers to hear from a wide variety of people, which can humanize the cycle of addiction.

The goal of an AA meeting is to offer information about addiction and help people better understand what it means to deal with substance abuse. The open format is inclusive of everybody while still keeping space for those looking for support.

Speaker vs. Discussion Meetings

If you attend an open AA meeting, you will find one of two kinds of meetings: speaker meetings and discussion meetings. Both are valuable and could be useful in your own recovery journey. If you’re just starting out in your recovery and are experiencing AA for the first time, a speaker meeting might be beneficial.

Speaker meetings are what many people picture when they think of Alcoholics Anonymous. Everyone is sitting around in a circle, sharing their name and their story.

Speaker meetings do exactly that, with the added topics of how alcohol changed that person’s life, their relationship with alcohol, and how they found AA. These meetings are helpful to nonalcoholics and alcoholics because it sheds light on the prevalence of addiction and how you are not alone in the process.

Discussion meetings are similar to how closed AA meetings facilitate their discussion meetings. One member of AA will share their name and experience with alcohol. From there, anyone in the room can chime in to continue the conversation.

Topics will be brought up, and everyone who wants to add to it can speak up. Some topics you may encounter are:

  • When they realized they had an addiction

  • How they found AA

  • How non-members can help

  • Sharing common experiences

  • Discussing things they are proud of

  • The ups and downs of recovery

How To Know Which Is Right for You

You don’t have to pick just one meeting to attend. You can completely switch up which you attend every week if you’d like! If you are looking to bring someone for emotional support, you can attend an open meeting one week and decide to go to the next alone.

There may be some weeks when you want to know that everyone in the room is going through the same struggle and that you’re not alone. You may want to share your story but want only other AA members to hear about it. That’s your right to decide when you share certain information.

Both open and closed AA meetings are important to attend. You will learn something from any meeting that you attend and will be able to use that knowledge in your own recovery journey.

Find Your Community

AA meetings offer people a place for community and support. Dealing with addiction is isolating and can make you feel like the most misunderstood person in the world. AA hopes to change how you view yourself and your relationship with alcohol so you can become healthier and happier with your life.

Looking for a community like this can be intimidating, but Sober Sidekick hopes to help! When you download the app, you can join a community of sober-seeking individuals who want to support others as they enter into their recovery journey.

When you join, you can gain access to resources to help you along your journey, can chat with addiction professionals and form relationships with the other members of the app.

Support can be found anywhere, and sometimes doing it behind the screen is easier! Don’t let your fear of disappointment stop you from making the changes necessary to improve your life. Sign-up and start today.


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