Are Closed AA Meetings Better?

I was once asked to offer my opinions on the effectiveness of open AA meetings and if attending closed meetings produces better outcomes.

I am very well acquainted with Alcoholics Anonymous – professionally, personally, and academically. All my graduate work in the social service field was geared toward examining the criminal offender and substance abusing population. I have spent hundred of hours studying treatment modalities and therapeutic approaches meant to produce cognitive and behavioral change in individuals.

I do not know of any studies that conclude that one type of AA meeting is better than the other – open to closed meetings.  If you take only a small amount of time investigating meeting schedules throughout the country you will likely discover that there are arguably no more closed meetings than there are open ones; again this is based on my experience in that fellowship, worldly travels, and referrals made to Alcoholics Anonymous when working in DOC or treatment centers in divergent geographic areas.

An open meeting should never be construed as an inferior meeting just because it allows the public in. Generally there are few public/”normal” people in attendance anyway.

Keeping in mind the AA Traditions, an AA meeting needs to be open if anyone, be they friends and family of alcoholics, dual addicts, or court ordered individuals or treatment referrals unsure of their identity, is going to be in attendance. Any negative opinion on open meetings is probably derived from knowledge that court sanctioned offenders or treatment clients are mandated to go and are often present there.

It is construed perhaps that these individuals are not serious, reflect as a poor example of the AA program to others, and maybe create a distraction away from those trying to share their experience, strength, and hope. While that may be true to some extent, it does not mean the meeting will fail to provide valuable and perhaps vitally critical information to those that are open-minded or desperate enough to listen.

In fact, a great many good AA’ers seek out those meetings to try to carry the message and recruit sponsees.  I have read some statistics that suggest that 30% or more of the membership of Alcoholics Anonymous is comprised of people who were initially mandated to frequent meetings and required to get a paper signed to verify their attendance. This has been the case since the 1940’s/1950’s, from what I have gleaned from my readings.

To be honest though, I believe there are few open AA meetings that have a large contingent of mandated attendees or people frequenting the meeting that do not have a desire to stay sober. The open meetings would never survive at any rate, if there were not stalwart members in attendance to school and direct those interested or even disinterested in a new manner of living.  “Don’t quit 5 minutes before the miracle happens” is a popular saying in AA and is not just heard in closed meetings.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking but an honest effort is not always necessary to make a beginning. AA jokingly offers the guarantee of your misery back if you find fault with the design for living outlined in that program.

Alcoholics Anonymous (open meeting or closed) is a place that the alcoholic in need can go to join in brotherly and harmonious action, for free and for fun, with no strings attached.  “Rarely have we seen a person fail that has thoroughly followed our path” is a line from Chapter 5 of the AA basic text that is read every meeting, open or closed.

Additionally, I have found that the majority of peer reviewed journal articles and highly touted research studies, those heavily scrutinized by the rigors of quality statistical analysis, support the effectiveness of AA meetings as a proven means to partial and permanent recovery.  When AA is coupled with outpatient treatment, outcomes are even better.

I remember no article that offered much, if any opinion on closed versus open meetings. It would be a good study, but I would postulate that the results would be negligible. Obviously, AA works best for those that are open-minded and willing to change, but it makes little difference if those that wish to abstain are introduced to AA through open or closed meetings.

Once in AA a certain number of seemingly hopeless individuals find a new resolve and a new grip on life. It matters not if he/she goes to open or closed meetings, as there will almost certainly be someone there to embrace him/her and offer hope and the solution to sustain it.

In conclusion, I would say that it is not worth arguing about the value of one type of meeting over the other. The differences in my opinion are relatively insignificant. To reiterate, the wanting person will find himself/herself in the middle of AA if he/she wants to stay sober and enjoy a new freedom and a new happiness, regardless of what meeting he/she was initially directed to attend.  And for those less pliable, to quote a line from the AA Big Book, “though he perhaps came to scoff, he may remain to pray”.



Steve Evans MSCJ, CADC

Owner/Director Hopewell Clinical

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