Open vs. Closed 12-Step Meetings

What is the Difference Between Open and Closed AA Meetings?

Open vs. Closed 12-Step Meetings

The differences between open Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and closed AA meetings are quite simple: closed meetings are for AA members only, while open meetings are open to others outside of AA, including (but not limited to):

  • Non-alcoholics
  • General observers
  • Those who are considering joining AA but haven’t committed yet
  • Family members and friends of AA members

As an AA member, you can choose which type of AA meeting you’d to attend, whether you always choose closed AA meetings or whether it’s a mixture of the two.

Open AA Meetings

Open AA meetings are open to anyone in the community, not just AA members. These meetings are both for the person seeking help with a drinking problem and those without an alcohol use disorder, including family members and spouses of AA members.

Open AA meetings exist to share information about the recovery program with anyone. They are helpful for the awareness and overall understanding of how to address an alcohol disorder. The open AA meeting format leaves space for anyone to be informed about the AA program, members, and operation.

There are usually two different types of open AA meetings:

  • Speaker meetings
  • Discussion meetings

Speaker Meetings

In a speaker meeting, AA members share their stories about their relationship with alcohol, their experience with it, how they found AA, and how AA has changed their lives.

Speaker meetings are useful to understand the other members’ stories and how they started their journey to recovery.

Speaker meetings are important for both non-alcoholics and alcoholics to hear to relate to other people’s experiences and know they are not alone on this journey of recovery.

Open AA Discussion Meetings

Discussion meetings begin with a lead AA member sharing their experience and relationship with alcohol. The discussion will then move on to topics brought up by anyone in the open AA meeting, which can include:

  • How they started with AA
  • How AA has helped them
  • As a non-member, how AA can help
  • Sharing common experiences for members and non-members

These are great meetings for everyone to break the barrier of members and non-members and help everyone realize that they are not alone on their journey.

Remember that these are open AA meetings with family members, friends, and other non-AA members in attendance.

Closed AA Meetings

Closed AA meetings only allow current or prospective AA members to attend. Everyone has a story with alcohol, and can they tend to be a very relatable approach for members and prospective members in the group.

These meetings help you understand that you are not in this by yourself, and other members are right there with you, working on the same steps in the journey of recovery.

If you’re new to AA, there are many benefits of closed AA meetings, including being surrounded by others who have experienced similar situations and struggles and also observing the benefits of staying in the program.

If you’ve been an AA member for some time, you can observe new members, see how far they have come in their journey, and provide support to them.

Within closed AA meetings, there are two different types:

  • Discussion meetings
  • Step meetings

Closed AA Discussion Meetings

Discussion meetings in closed AA meetings are very similar to open discussion meetings. They are led by an AA member who shares their experience with alcohol abuse and addiction, then they open up the discussion to the group.

These closed AA meetings are very helpful because you will have an outlet to share your experience with others on a similar journey. Having a support system with -minded people is very powerful for your recovery process.

Remember also that you’re not required to share at these meetings, although you are encouraged to participate. If you want to attend a meeting just to listen and observe, that is completely fine. Just being in attendance is taking the right step towards a life of sobriety.

Step Meetings

Step meetings discuss one of the twelve steps of AA. In these step meetings, you will be able to digest each of AA twelve steps more thoroughly than just reading it yourself.

There will be lessons within your journey for every step. The twelve steps are an ongoing practice for all people with substance use disorders. Revisiting these steps regularly can be very beneficial for your journey. Once you have progressed through the program’s steps, you will be able to help other members understand and take each step into action.

Open AA Meetings vs Closed AA Meetings

Both types of AA meetings are beneficial to AA members, but deciding which ones to attend and how frequently you should attend each one can be difficult, especially as a new AA member. Of course, non-AA members (unless you’re considering becoming one) can only participate in open AA meetings.

Choosing Open AA Meetings

These are some things to address before deciding to attend an open AA meeting. Open AA meetings are a great way to understand the program for its entirety. It’s a great first meeting environment for the newcomer to the program. Remember that open AA meetings are for everyone, and anyone can attend. They’re also a great option when you would support from family and friends.

Open AA Meetings are best if you want:

  • To see the perspective of someone who is currently in the AA program.
  • To hear the stories of others who are impacted by a person with alcohol use disorders.
  • Family and friends there to support you
  • To know what it’s to recover from alcohol abuse
  • To know more about AA and how it can help you or a loved one recover

Choosing Closed AA Meetings

Closed AA meetings are a great way to hear the experiences of other AA members who are already involved, are new to AA, and are still deciding whether or not to join.

Closed AA Meetings are best if you:

  • Are interested in only hearing other members who have the same experience with alcohol as you do
  • Don’t want family or friends to be there
  • Want to share your experience with alcohol with others who have similar experiences
  • Want to hear others’ experiences with alcohol and how they are growing from the AA program
  • Want to focus on one of the AA twelve steps at a time

Online AA Meetings

Online meetings are very readily available both in open and closed formats. These online AA meetings are mainly held over Zoom or Google Hangouts and are great because you can connect with people from almost anywhere in the world, which isn’t possible at in-person meetings.

Of course, you will be able to find people in your nearby community if that’s what you are looking for and most comfortable with.

If you’re unable to join via Zoom or Google Hangouts, there are many options for conference phone calls.

Finding an AA Meeting

Finding an AA meeting to attend, whether open or closed, can be done easily online. It can take some time (and trial and error) to find a group that you truly resonate with, but remember you don’t have to attend the same meeting every time.

Location, time, and day of the week are all the factors that will draw in a slightly different crowd for every meeting. Simply showing up to either an open meeting or a closed meeting and experiencing the meeting for yourself is the best way to find a meeting that suits you and can help you on your recovery journey.

Of course, sometimes AA isn’t enough, especially if you’re just starting on your path to sobriety. If you want to discuss your rehab options, including detox and help with withdrawal, call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak to a treatment specialist.


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA Effectiveness & How Much It Costs)

Open vs. Closed 12-Step Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a worldwide organization of peer-facilitated alcohol support groups that helps people recover from alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD encompasses all drinking problems, including alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcoholism.

AA meetings were created to: 

  • Help members support each other
  • Share their shortfalls and successes
  • Hold each other accountable by regularly discussing how alcohol addiction has altered their lives and the lives of their families 
  • Discuss the difficulties of staying sober and offer advice 

Typically, newer members pair up with a veteran member who is their «sponsor.» This sponsor helps guide them through the steps of the program. They are also the person to call if the sponsee ever gets the urge to drink.

There is a spiritual aspect to AA. Members call on the strength of prayer and their higher power to assist, support, and hold them accountable through the different steps of the program. However, AA is non-denominational and is not allied with any sect, political organization, or institution.

Who Should Attend AA Meetings?

AA is an all-inclusive group and meetings are open to everyone. The organization and its members are not in a position to tell any participant that they are addicted to alcohol. It is instead the responsibility of the participant to admit they have a drinking problem.

One may have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) if they have trouble drinking only one alcoholic beverage in the evening or if they have bouts of memory loss after a night of drinking. Someone can also be addicted to alcohol if their drinking is keeping them from living life as normal or if it is causing violent outbursts or harm to those they love or care for. 

Rehabilitation Services To Help You Overcome Your Alcohol Use Disorder. Alcohol Rehab Help Has Specialized Drug And Alcohol Rehab Facilities Across The U.S.

Call now (855) 772-9047

How Do AA Meetings Work?

Organized by other people struggling with addiction themselves, AA meetings are usually community-based and easy to find. Each group posts their scheduled meetings online, so they are as public as possible. This helps those battling with alcoholism find a meeting anywhere at any time.

Program success is dependent on attending these meetings regularly and holding yourself accountable.

You can also participate in an online AA meeting (AA intergroup), virtual meeting, or zoom meeting instead.

Open Meetings

Open meetings are open to both alcoholics and their guests, such as family or friends. These meetings are a safe space where people can share their journeys and trials. These meetings are totally open to the public so their family and loved ones are able to attend. The AA member is still supported by the structure of the meeting and the group, just with their families present.

Closed Meeting

Only those with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) are allowed to attend closed meetings. A closed meeting is an alternative safe space for those who require more privacy or anonymity throughout the program. 

You don’t have to overcome your addiction alone. Professional guidance and support is available. Begin a life of recovery by reaching out to a specialist today.

Call now (855) 772-9047

12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are as follows:

  • Step One — Admitted powerlessness over alcohol—that life had become unmanageable. 
  • Step Two — Come to believe that a Power greater than oneself could restore an individual to sanity. 
  • Step Three — Decided to turn one's will and lives over to the care of God as they understand Him. 
  • Step Four — Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of oneself.
  • Step Five — Admitted to God, to oneself, and to another human being the exact nature of their wrongs. 
  • Step Six — Must be entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • Step Seven — Humbly asked Him to remove shortcomings. 
  • Step Eight — Made a list of all persons they have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. 
  • Step Nine — Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 
  • Step Ten — Continued to take personal inventory, and when they were wrong, promptly admitted it. 
  • Step Eleven — Sought through prayer and meditation to improve conscious contact with God as they understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for them and the power to carry that out. 
  • Step Twelve — Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, they are to share this message with other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all affairs.

How Effective Are AA Meetings?

Some AA attendees never relapse, while others relapse once and never relapse again. Other people stay sober for a few months or years and keep coming back to the program to start over. 

Many prefer their involvement in an AA program to remain anonymous, in line with the group's intention. Most participants do not want to admit to relapsing.

However, since the number of members who attend meetings is continuously changing because people drop the program, it is difficult to track success rates. 

Is AA Worth It?

Every addiction aftercare program has to fit a person's needs for success in continued recovery. Therefore, each individual should research their options to determine if the spiritual approach to recovery that AA provides is ideal for their recovery.

A twelve-step program could be a viable option if the person has the motivation to attend meetings regularly. Lack of participation will hinder the results of the program. 

How Much Does AA Cost?

There are no membership fees or dues for AA. Each AA group usually has a collection box or a designated time during the meeting to make donations to help cover expenses, such as rent, pamphlets, or coffee. Members are not obligated to contributeand can contributeas much or as little as they wish.

What's Next?


Public Information

Open vs. Closed 12-Step Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous is an alcoholism recovery program with one primary purpose:  to carry the message of recovery to alcoholics who still suffer.

“Alcoholics Anonymous is an international organization of people who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about their drinking problem.”

A.A. does not diagnose anyone with a drinking problem. However, we can show others how to diagnose themselves.

If you think you have a problem with your drinking, ask yourself these simple questions: 

  1. Can you control how much you drink every time you drink? 
  2. Have you been able to stay “stopped” through your own willpower?

If you answer “no” to either of these questions, and would help, please call our 24-hour Hotline:

510-839-8900 (English) or 510-502-8560 (Espanol)

Or attend a meeting: (visit our meeitng list to choose one)

Or contact us by email: (

If your drinking does not bother you, it does not bother us. If you think you have a drinking problem, we have a solution. Experienced A.A. members suggest that the sooner you address this progressive illness, the easier it will be to recover.

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What is AA?

Alcoholism is one of the oldest and most debilitating diseases in the world. The question of how to stop drinking has plagued mankind for thousands of years. Understanding alcoholism and its causes can remove the stigma that keeps alcoholics from getting the help they need.

Many people believe that problems cause alcoholism. A.A. members understand that this is not true. Problems may create hard drinkers or folks who drink because of problems. Alcoholism is not the result of problems; alcoholism itself is the problem.

The American Medical Association, the National Council on Alcoholism, and twenty other professional entities define alcoholism as an illness:

“Alcoholism as a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal.

It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.

Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.” 

A.A.’s approach to the disease of alcoholism is holistic. Simply put, A.A. is a program of recovery for body, mind, and spirit.    

  • Alcoholics have a physical allergy, (an abnormal biochemical reaction to alcohol).  We do not process alcohol non-alcoholics. Once we take the first drink, we develop a physical craving that makes it impossible for us to stop drinking.
  • Once we become alcoholic, we develop a mental obsession that can only be described as “insanity”. We return to drinking, regardless of our desire to stay stopped.  “At a certain point in the drinking of every alcoholic, we pass into a state where the most powerful desire to stay stopped is of absolutely no avail.”
  • Over time, we develop what A.A. refers to as a spiritual malady, becoming emotionally disconnected from others and ourselves. Doctors and professionals refer to the spiritual malady described in the program of recovery as the need for a “complete psychic change” or a “personality change sufficient to overcome alcoholism”.

Without addressing these three fundamentals, many of us pursue the illusion that we can learn to drink “ a normal person” or learn to “control our drinking”. Without a solution, we will pursue this to the “gates of insanity or death”.

Those who have recovered from alcoholism by working the A.A. program, realize that they have solved the “spiritual malady,” have had a “complete psychic change” and/or have experienced a “personality change sufficient to overcome alcoholism.

We no longer have the desire to drink because we have discovered a new “design for living”.

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Have you been HURT or embarrassed by a drinker’s behavior?

The Al-Anon Family Groups are a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience and knowledge in order to solve their common problem.

We believe alcoholism is a family illness and that changed attitudes can aid recovery. Al-Anon is not affiliated with any sect, denomination, political entity, organization, or institution; does not engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any cause.

Al-Anon has but one primary purpose: to help families of alcoholics. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps, by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics, and by giving understanding to the alcoholic.

Visit: or Call: (888) 406-1648

The A.A. Organization and Self Support:

The founders of A.A., for the first time in history, discovered a solution for drinking by alcoholics for alcoholics. A way to solve their drinking problems. They wrote the book, Alcoholics Anonymous “to show other alcoholics precisely how they recovered”. This later became the foundation of the recovery program that is A.A. today.

There are over 50,000 A.A. Groups nationwide and represented in 180 countries.

An A.A. meeting is free to anyone who thinks they may have a drinking problem or to those that would to observe.

A.A. is fully self-supporting through contributions from its members; we do not accept contributions from outside entities. Annual monetary contributions by members are limited, therefore individuals cannot influence the greater whole of the organization.

Although we have no affiliation with other entities or organizations, members are available to bring the message of recovery to the public and professionals. A.A. members are trained to bring presentations to any organization so that they might better help the still-suffering alcoholic.

The program of recovery is so effective that A.A. has given permission to hundreds of other recovery groups that base themselves off the A.A. model for other problems.

Studies show that the A.A. program remains the most successful form of treating alcoholism.  While A.A. may not be the solution for everyone suffering from this disease, it is still the baseline for recovery that all others use to measure success.

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A.A. Myths:

One misconception of A.A. is that it is a religious program. It is neither affiliated with, nor endorses, any religious belief or dogma. Members of A.A. range from the hard and fast beliefs of atheism to the most ardent of religious devotees from every denomination, sect and culture. A.A. does not endorse nor oppose any other organization or profession.

A.A. has no interest in discouraging others in their efforts to find solutions to the age-old problem of alcoholism. The A.A. organization has no opinion on any other subjects, including alcohol reform, detox, alcoholism treatment, social issues, politics, or religion. A.A. does not oppose medical professionals that are researching other solutions for alcoholism.

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Anonymity in A.A.

  • Anonymity is maintained by its members because of the stigma of this illness and how this stigma can affect their personal and professional lives.
  • Personal anonymity is important to protect our fellow members of A.A.
  • Protect the organization from personalities that would become the face of A.A.
  • Most importantly, so that the newcomer will know that their anonymity is protected.

The A.A. organization and its members have worked for eighty years in their efforts to educate the public at large, and to remove the stigma of this disease. Our primary interest is in helping anyone with a drinking problem.

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What to Expect from an AA Meeting?

Making the decision to go to an A.A. meeting can be intimidating and uncomfortable. Yet, it is a courageous first step in admitting to yourself that you may have a drinking problem that can be helped by the shared experience of recovered alcoholics.

Fortunately, every A.A. participant has had a similar experience. The organization itself was founded by recovering alcoholics. The success of this program is the concept that one alcoholic has the ability to help another alcoholic, as only an alcoholic can.

Experience has shown that those who do not understand this disease remain hopelessly unable to help us. The purpose of an A.A. Group is to cultivate a feeling of community and understanding to bring the program of solution to the alcoholic who still suffers.

Attendees of an A.A. meeting will be welcomed into the group. Discussion among new members is encouraged, but not required. Participants may share their personal stories, including commentary, experience, and readings from A.A. literature.

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Closed vs. Open Meetings

A.A. groups have both open and closed meetings. Closed meetings are for A.A. members only, or for those who have a drinking problem and “have a desire to stop drinking.” Open meetings are available to anyone interested in Alcoholics Anonymous’ program of recovery from alcoholism.

Non-alcoholics may attend open meetings as observers. At both types of meetings, the A.A. chairperson may request that participants confine their discussion to matters pertaining to recovery from alcoholism. Whether open or closed, A.A. group meetings are conducted by A.A.

members who determine the format of their meetings.

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