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12 Step Etiquette

12 Step Meeting Etiquette

Reading Time: 5 Minutes

12-step meetings are community support meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and are an integral component of treatment. They provide a supportive and empowering environment for people in recovery to connect with others on their journey toward recovery. For many people in recovery, venturing into a 12-step meeting can feel 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 before attending your first 12-step meeting. To ease your stress levels and anxiety, it is helpful to understand the format and etiquette of a 12-step meeting so you can have a better idea of what to expect to make this a positive experience. You want to feel comfortable, and the goal is to connect with like-minded people while feeling empowered during your recovery.

What is the purpose of a 12-step meeting?

The goal of AA meetings is to provide a safe, confidential space where people can talk about their addiction to alcohol, discuss challenges they face, and offer support to other people who are on the same journey. Each person in recovery is unique, but we all share a common goal of wanting to address our problem with substance misuse. Some people might be sober; others might be struggling in the throes of addiction. Some people may want to mentor others, while others want to observe and participate less. You don’t have to share at your first couple of meetings if you don’t want to, but the goal is to feel comfortable enough within time to meet people within this community and feel supported. Before walking into a meeting make sure you silence your phone.

Respect anonymity:

If you choose to share about yourself or your journey in the meeting, the golden rule is to remain anonymous and respect confidentiality. For this reason, only first names are used during introductions of members and guests. When speaking to individuals or groups, you should not share personal information about yourself or anyone else. Remember, who is seen and what is heard in the meeting must stay within these closed doors. These meetings are intended to be a safe space for all who wish to live a clean and sober life to connect with like-minded individuals. Be sure to respect other people’s confidentiality by not sharing personal or private information with others outside of the meeting. If you see someone you know at the 12-step meeting, perhaps from work or within your community, you should not acknowledge your prior connection with them. You may have an opportunity to speak one-on-one with this person later in the meeting, and if so, you should allow them to indicate how they wish to relate to you in this setting. The same goes for seeing people from your 12-step meetings in public places; it is okay to not acknowledge them, or a simple “hello” can suffice.

Arrive early and stay late:

A general rule of thumb is to arrive 15 minutes early and stay 15 minutes late. An essential component of 12-step meetings is fellowship. Arriving 15 minutes before the meeting begins allows for time to converse and get to know other members of the group; it also prevents you from being late to a meeting and will enable you to use the bathroom, etc., before starting the meeting. Staying 15 minutes after the meeting allows for time to meet a potential sponsor, have any necessary court documents signed, and get a copy of the phone list while giving you more time to chat with other individuals. During the meetings, stay seated, as getting up from your chair can distract other members of the meeting.

12 Step Etiquette

Use “I” statements:

Using “I” allows you to share your personal experience without being perceived as projecting onto others by using “you.” Keep your share centered around your personal experience, and the proper way to do so is by speaking using “I” statements instead of “you.” In the rooms of a 12-step fellowship, everyone’s story is different. By following the rule of “I,” you can effectively keep your share centered around your experience.

Avoid specific topics of conversation:

Topics that fall outside of the scope and purpose of an AA meeting are best left for other settings, especially when the meeting has a specified discussion topic identified. Avoid unrelated topics, controversial topics, “trigger talk”, past trauma or any grievances. Controversial topics that should be avoided are religion and politics. We are all entitled to our opinions but should not share them at a 12 step meeting. Remember that your attendance at a 12-step meeting has a very specific focus: to address your alcohol use and to find support and assistance in dealing with that.  

Examples of “trigger talk” to be avoided include graphic details about a particular drinking episode, visual or sensual details about cravings, or a vivid description of a favorite drinking environment or setting. Such descriptions and mental associations may stimulate the brain’s reward-seeking response, arousing urges and wanting sensations in both the speaker and listener.  

If you have experienced a distressing or traumatic event related to your alcohol use, you may want to share it with others who are likely to understand. Retelling a traumatic event can be therapeutic for the person sharing the story. Still, for listeners, the retelling often draws them into the same uncomfortable emotional state that you are attempting to distance yourself from.  

Avoid talking about grievances in a way that turns them into heated gripe sessions about angry emotions, as this can be triggering for others. Such personal and heated emotional outpourings are best shared with a counselor, sponsor, or a trusted and willing friend. 

Avoid cross-talk or side conversations:

Crosstalk is the act of addressing another member’s share instead of speaking directly to the group, such as giving feedback to the speaker while they are still speaking. This is discouraged; instead, you should wait until the speaker has finished, then raise your hand and pose your question or comment to the group. When shares are directed to the group, everyone can benefit from the message being discussed, and no individual is singled out. Avoiding side conversations with people around you is also essential as this can be very disruptive.

Share once and be aware of your “share time”:

Sharing is when you address the group and share your experience using “I.” This could be introducing yourself by your first name and sharing your story. It is important to keep time constraints in mind when sharing, so you don’t want to take more than 3-4 minutes to share your story. You also want to limit your “share” to one per meeting.

AKUA Mind Body Aftercare

Akua Mind Body is a full-service treatment program that offers a wide range of “east meets west” treatment modalities for many different populations struggling with substance use and mental health disorders. We offer both residential programs and outpatient treatment. AKUA works diligently with each client and their family to ensure that the treatment plan is tailored specifically to their needs, not just their disorder. “Each client leaves Akua Mind Body with a customized post-treatment plan, laying out essential relapse prevention skills needed to ensure ongoing success with day-to-day stressors. Once individuals re-enter living and work environments, they discover additional issues that could threaten their ongoing recovery. Our alumni coordinators provide mentorship, peer support as well as community resources to assist our graduates succeed in their desired life goals and apply the skills learned in treatment to everyday life”. 12-step meetings can be a part of your aftercare plan as they are considered community resources. To learn more about AKUA Mind Body Aftercare, click here.  


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