What Is the Etiquette For 12-Step Meetings?

For many recovering addicts and alcoholics, beginning to venture into 12-step and other support group meetings can feel like intimidating at first. Do I have to speak? Where do I sit? What if I can’t find the meeting? These are just some of the many questions that may cross your mind, creating increased stress. To decrease stress levels, it is helpful to understand the format and suggested proper etiquette when attending 12-step meetings in order to make this venture a positive one, help ease any discomfort of being new, and acclimate to the group more quickly.

Common proper etiquette for 12-step recovery meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) include:

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Avoid Crosstalk

It is important to address the group when sharing, rather than addressing another person after they share with the group. When shares are directed to the group, everyone can benefit from the message being discussed, and no individual is singled out.

Use “I” Statements when Sharing

In general, it is suggested to limit your sharing to your own personal experiences by using “I” statements, rather than “you.”

Avoid Double-Dipping

Unless time permits and there is no one else sharing, it is typically advised to only share once at each meeting to allow other members time to express themselves and share as well. It is important that everyone feels they have the ability to participate in the meeting, and this helps create openness.

Limit The Number Of Times You Leave Your Seat

Try to get your coffee, final smoke break, and last run to the restroom prior to the meeting starting in order to prevent disrupting the meeting by getting up while someone is sharing. If you absolutely must get up and leave your seat, be sure to wait until the person sharing finishes prior to getting up.

Arrive 15 Minutes Early, And Stay 15 Minutes After

An important component of 12-step meetings is fellowship. Arriving 15 minutes prior to the meeting beginning allows for time to converse and get to know other members of the group. Staying 15 minutes after the meeting allows for time to further converse and develop new relationships.

Limit Side-Talk

Sharing in a meeting can be intimidating and anxiety-inducing for many people. When people are chattering or having side conversations while someone is sharing, it can be very distracting and even hurtful to the person sharing. It can also distract other peers from listening. Do your best to sit quietly and listen to respect your peers while they share.

Stick To The Meeting Topic

It is generally best practice to stay focused on the meeting topic when sharing. Some groups may offer the opportunity to share at the beginning or end of a meeting if someone is having a “burning desire” or a pertinent need to share due to having cravings to use or something pressing they feel they need to share.

Use Proper Terminology

Going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as an addict is acceptable. However, it is respectful practice and customary to identify as an alcoholic when at an AA meeting, even if you identify as an addict. It is further proper to use the term “drinking” rather than “using” to show respect for the meeting and fellowship. The same goes for attending Narcotics Anonymous if you are an alcoholic. The proper term would be to identify as an addict and use the phrase “using” rather than “drinking.” This is customary when attending meetings outside of your typical fellowship.

Respect Anonymity

As one of the guiding principles of 12-step programs, anonymity protects not only the participants at the meeting but also the 12-step program as a whole. Never share with someone that another person is in a meeting you attend without their consent.

Limit Cell Phone Use

Cell phones should be silenced or turned off at the beginning of the meeting.  If you receive an important phone call you should take it outside, but this should be avoided if possible. 

Obtain A Sponsor

The cornerstone of 12-step programs is obtaining a sponsor and individually working the 12-steps with them. While this is not required, it is strongly advised in order to work the recovery program. Find a person with more clean or sober time than you have (at least one year) and if they have something you want (glowing happiness, friends to socialize with, a good job, success in recovery, or shared something you relate with, and et cetera). Once you find that person, introduce yourself, and ask them if they will be your sponsor. They will lead you from there.

Be Aware Of Time Constraints

It’s important to limit your shares to only 3-4 minutes. Some meetings offer a timekeeper, who’ll notify you when your time is up. Keeping your shares limited to a few minutes allows everyone to have the same chance to share during the meeting.

Get A Phone List

In the beginning or ending of each meeting, the chairperson will offer newcomers a list of phone numbers of individuals in your gender to reach out to for support and accountability. It is strongly advised that women stick with women and men stick with men. Be sure to use this phone list as it is known to be a lifeline for many.

Get Help Today

Attending meetings for the first time can be intimidating at first, but as you continue to attend meetings, you will gain confidence as you learn the meeting formats. It is very important as a newcomer to not get overwhelmed or discouraged and to take the necessary steps to achieve long-term recovery. Contact a treatment provider today to learn more about entering an alcohol and/or drug rehab.

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Theresa Parisi, CAP

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  • Theresa Parisi is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) with over 12 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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