How Effective are Online AA Meetings and How to Find Them

A guide to understand online AA meetings, the benefits of this support group, and different resources to find AA meetings near you.
HOW EFFECTIVE ARE ONLINE AA MEETINGS AND HOW TO FIND THEM

Table of Contents

What Are AA Meetings?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international fellowship of people who struggle with drinking. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements, and membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about their drinking problem.

At AA group meetings, the AA program, as outlined in the renowned Twelve Steps, is discussed. There are several types of group meetings:

At open speaker meetings, AA members describe their experiences with alcohol, how they came to AA, and how their lives have changed as a result of AA. At open discussion meetings, one member speaks briefly about their drinking experience and then leads a discussion on AA recovery or any drinking-related problem brought up.

Closed discussion meetings work the same as open discussion meetings but are only attended by AA members or anyone who may have a drinking problem. Lastly, step meetings are for discussion of one of the Twelve Steps.

How Do Online AA Meetings Operate

Each group makes its own rules, but in general, online meetings follow the agenda of in-person meetings. The same traditions and principles of in-person meetings apply: anonymity, no recording or taking pictures, no profanity, etc.

The group sets up the meeting date and time, gets the meeting ID and access code, and then sends that information to all of the group members. The AA website aa-intergroup.org has an online directory that anyone looking to attend an online meeting can browse based on meeting type (e.g., video, chat, etc.), language, gender, age, topic, location, day, and time.1

Why Are There Online AA Meetings

Dating all back to 1986, the first AA meetings online used Bulletin Boards. Email groups started forming in the early nineties and the number and variety of groups grew with the development of the internet. The first online AA group, Lamp-lighters, was formed in 1990 and continues to meet by email. Today, there are hundreds of AA groups with thousands of members, connected through the Online Intergroup of AA. The online presence of AA was boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic Various digital platforms, including Zoom, Google Hangout/Meet, and other video conferencing options, as well as phone conferencing, message boards, emails, and chatrooms are used for online meetings and to carry the message of AA.

How Effective are Online AA Meetings?

In online AA meetings, groups stick to AA’s single purpose – recovery from alcoholism, protection of the anonymity of their members, and avoidance of affiliation with or endorsements of outside enterprises. Online groups still use the Twelve Traditions of AA, thus maintaining unity and ensuring their ability to be there for the sick and suffering individual who reaches out for help.

It may be too early to know exactly how effective online meetings are, but AA groups have certainly increased the number and frequency of online meetings. Online meetings maintain the fellowship aspects of support groups – and that is better than nothing.

The Benefits of Online AA Meetings

Members Without Transportation

Online AA meetings are inarguably more accessible than in-person meetings. All that is needed to attend online AA meetings is a device capable of connecting to the internet (and perhaps a certain level of technology literacy).

Members in Remote Areas

Online AA meetings can be attended by geographically isolated members, such as those living in a foreign country or members of the military. Online AA meetings can also allow people who have moved away to access the meetings they used to attend at their prior location.

Flexible Schedules

Online AA meetings may work better than face-to-face meetings for older AA members, shift workers, or parents with young children who find it difficult to attend meetings outside the home or at particular hours of the day. Online meetings happen at all hours of the day, seven days a week. A person who used to attend a meeting in person once a week could now be meeting twice a week – or twice daily if they preferred.

Members with Social Anxiety

Almost everyone can relate to the feeling of anxiety that comes with public speaking. Even when surrounded by those who share common experiences, it can be nerve-wracking to stand up and share your personal story. With online AA meetings, a person can still benefit from the program without having to struggle with the stress that comes with social anxiety. Online AA meetings can also aid those with a disability such as hearing loss or mobility impairment.2

The Negatives of Online AA Meetings

Members Feeling Less Accountable

Some people in recovery may rely on in-person interactions for accountability. They may depend on the regular attendance of others to bolster their attendance.

A downside of having so many online meetings to choose from is that those who attended a local meeting regularly may start attending different meetings. With online meetings, rather than being accountable for showing up, they are accountable for logging on.3

Concerns for Security and Anonymity

While there may be concerns about security and anonymity, most e-mail and chat groups are closed groups, and last names are generally not required for members. Online groups typically monitor who enters meetings, and attendees may alter their names and hide their videos.

The fundamental principles and traditions of AA are upheld in all member communications using electronic media. However, members who accept electronic-based service positions do sacrifice some of their privacy, and there is the potential for their information to be hacked via online services.3

Lack of Emotional Connection

At in-person AA meetings, people can connect emotionally – and through physical connections, like hugs and handshakes. Many groups hold hands while reciting the prayer at the end of each meeting. There is also time before and after in-person meetings for people to mingle and socialize, but that time doesn’t exist when using Zoom.

It would be wrong to say that there is no emotional connection in online AA meetings – but it’s not the same, especially since only one or two people can speak at a time in an online chat room.

How to Find AA Meetings Near You

Through the Official AA Website

The official AA website, aa.org, offers resources to help find meetings near you. From the home page, you can navigate to the A.A. Near You page. You can select your U.S. state (or Canadian province) from a list or use the interactive map to locate your area. Information about the meeting location, including the city, address, phone number, and website, are given for most of the results. However, because the AA website does not provide AA meeting information directly, you will need to contact the locations or visit the locations’ website for further details. Another official AA website, aa-intergroup.org, has better resources to help find online meetings near you.

Through a Clinic

Many rehabilitation clinics have incorporated AA guidelines into their treatment programs, so information about local AA meetings is available there. Some approaches that health care professionals use in referring problem drinkers to AA include having a list of AA contacts available to take people to their first meeting or asking a patient to dial the local AA number while still in office.4

Other Peer Support Groups

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery is a non-profit organization providing a mental health and educational program focused on changing human behavior to those who desire to achieve abstinence, free of charge. SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program aims to help those in recovery to:
  1. Build and maintain motivation to change
  2. Cope with urges to use
  3. Manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors effectively without addictive behaviors
  4. Live a balanced, positive, and healthy life.
Meetings (online and in-person) are run by volunteers and facilitators who are themselves recovered addicts and those who “graduate” from the program are invited to volunteer.5

Moderation Management

Moderation Management (MM) is a free behavioral change program and national support group network for people concerned about their drinking and who desire to make positive lifestyle changes.

MM bases its philosophy on the assumptions that:

  • People should be offered a choice of behavioral change goals (unlike AA, which is abstinence-only).
  • Action should be taken to cut back or quit drinking before drinking problems become severe.
  • Harm reduction is a worthwhile goal, especially when the total elimination of harm or risk is not a realistic option.
  • Moderation programs shorten the process of realizing whether moderation (as opposed to total abstinence) is possible for each individual by providing defined guidelines about the limits of moderate alcohol consumption.

MM emphasizes taking personal responsibility for choosing and maintaining one’s path whether that be moderation or abstinence. MM’s Steps of Change guides members through the process of changing their behavior. Members are encouraged to help each other. MM also has an online drink tracker, ABSTAR, which can provide accountability to members by posting their goals and results on the public ABSTAR page (there is also a private page).6

Al-Anon

Al-Anon is a mutual support program for people whose lives have been affected by another person’s drinking – not for someone struggling with alcohol use. By sharing common experiences and applying the “Al-Anon principles,” people close to those with substance abuse issues can positively change their situations regardless of whether their struggling loved one acknowledges their drinking problem or seeks help.7 Meetings are confidential, free, and on walk-in basis.

Resources

  1. https://aa-intergroup.org/
  2. https://r8d3n7w3.stackpathcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/SNC.pdf
  3. https://aa-intergroup.org/about-aa/anonymity/
  4. https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-23_aaasaresourceforhcp1.pdf
  5. https://www.smartrecovery.org/about-us/
  6. https://moderation.org/about-mm-support-overview/our-purpose/
  7. https://al-anon.org/newcomers/what-is-al-anon-and-alateen/

If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
(888) 744-9969 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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