12-Step Meeting Guide, Manners, & Etiquette

12 Step meeting guide

Many people feel understandably nervous about starting 12-step meetings. On top of seeming like a significant commitment, it’s natural to feel anxious about speaking openly with so many strangers at once. Don’t worry: Everyone else in a 12-step group has had those feelings, gotten through them, and made meaningful connections and progress because of these very meetings!

There are a few things you can do to make sure you’re respectful of everyone, and their time, to make sure you’re a supportive addition to the 12-step group you start attending meetings with. By knowing what to expect — and following these guidelines we put together on how to behave — you can have a great experience and become a valuable member of your support group.

Silence (and Don’t Use) Your Phone

When it comes to phones, follow the same rules for 12-step meetings that you’d follow for workplace meetings. Silence your phone, and try not to open or use it during the meeting, especially when others are speaking. If you’re expecting an important call, set your phone to vibrate and position yourself in the room where you can quietly excuse yourself to take the call outside of the meeting area. We never want to appear distracted by our phones and uninterested in the meeting, especially if someone needs to get vulnerable and share something that has been weighing on them.

Don’t Have Side Conversations

Sharing during a 12-steps meeting takes courage, and talking to your neighbor during someone else’s time is disrespectful. Don’t converse to others or talk over the speaker when it’s not your time to share. If you have to communicate with someone, just wait until after the speaker is finished.

Limit How Often You Leave Your Seat

Try to limit how often you get up: Consider only getting refreshments or using the restroom before and after the meeting. If you really have to get up or leave, wait until the current speaker is done talking so you don’t — excuse the pun — step on their toes. A good rule of thumb is always to try to stay seated from prayer to prayer.

Use the Group’s Terminology

Most 12-step groups have very particular terminology to describe:

  • Members. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous members are Alcoholics (rather than addicts). If you are in a closed AA meeting, identify as an alcoholic instead of an addict (remember, the 12-steps and the solution to addiction is the same regardless of our substance of choice).
  • Groups. For example, they can be Open (to non-participants, such as loved ones or people interested in the program) or Closed (to outsiders).
  • Meetings. Examples include Step Study (discussing the 12 Steps one by one), Big Book Meetings (going over the Book of Alcoholics Anonymous), Topic & Share Meetings (the meeting chair will select a topic and participants share their experience around the topic), and Speaker Meetings (where a selected speaker will usually share their recovery story for the duration of the meeting).
  • Individuals. Examples include Newcomers (these are people who are new to recovery, or new to a specific meeting) Sponsors (who provide guidance to someone else’s 12-step journey), the “Geographical Change” (trying to physically escape addiction), Dry Drunks (technically in recovery, but not fully committed to a spiritual shift in thoughts and actions), and “Stick with the Winners” (we are not supposed to be judgmental of others, but we can surround ourselves with role models who are actively engaged in their steps, sponsorship and being of service to others).

Use Group Terminology

There’s also plenty of recovery-specific lingoes:

  • “Time” is how long someone’s been sober or in a 12-step program.
  • “The Rooms” refers to 12-step recovery meetings in a general sense
  • “Out” describes slipping or relapsing.
  • “The Fellowship” is anyone who is actively engaged with others in 12-step recovery
  • “Used” is said instead of specific methods of use, like “drank” or “smoked.”
  • “Birthday” is actually the anniversary of someone’s first day sober.

Don’t worry if it seems like you are joining a club where everyone speaks a different language – no one expects you to know all the lingo right away! Keep coming back and everything will start to make sense!

Respect People’s Anonymity

Many people experience guilt or shame when it comes to their addiction or alcoholism, or may simply not want certain people to know about it. Many people will also share things that they wish to keep confidential within the confines of the group. Give other group members this respect, what is said in the meeting stays in the meeting, and DO NOT talk about other people at 12-step meetings outside of the meetings unless both parties consent or you have a sponsor relationship.

Respect People’s Anonymity

Be Careful About Time Constraints

Meeting time is limited. To be respectful of others, don’t speak for longer than the time you’re given. Also, only share twice if there is extra time after everyone else is done sharing, and don’t try to share twice at every meeting.

Stay on Topic — Stay in the Solution

12-step meetings are opportunities for people to share experiences with addiction and alcoholism in a way they may not be able to anywhere else. Respect the purpose of the meeting and the time that your peers have allowed for each meeting by staying on the topic because this may be the only time they are able to speak freely about their recovery. It’s important to try and keep our shares focused on the solutions we’ve found as well.

All of us will experience seasons in our recovery, emotional ups, and downs, but if we need to vent about something we find it more constructive to do this with a select individual or group of people outside of the meeting. Remember, our aim is attraction rather than promotion. Be mindful of what we share with the group; If a newcomer were to find us at a meeting would they hear the solution or would they hear complaining? The Big Book offers the recommendation that we structure our shares by “what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.” This is a simple design for sharing our experience, strength, and hope in a way that can be relatable, honest, and solution-oriented.

Remember, if it’s our turn to speak and we are unsure of what to say, it is always okay to introduce ourselves to the group and say that we do not wish to share today. This is completely normal and respected in the rooms.

Tradition 3: The Only Requirement for Membership Is a Desire to Stop Drinking

There are no dues or fees to be involved in a 12-step group. In fact, being sober is not even a requirement to attend a 12-step meeting. The only requirement for us to be a part of a 12-step meeting is that we have a desire to stop drinking or using, that’s it! Nothing more is required. In AA (or any of the A’s: CA, HA, NA, PA) we do not judge others for relapsing, and in turn, we should never let guilt or shame from our own relapse prevent us from going to a meeting.

We should want everyone to feel most comfortable coming to a meeting during or after a slip, this is what we are here for, to help each other get sober and stay sober. Always remember the AA pledge, “I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to always be there. And for that, I am responsible.”

We Can Help You Prep For 12-Step Meetings

12-step meetings are excellent resources, and everyone there just wants to stay healthy, sober, and supportive of their peers. There’s really nothing to feel nervous about: The people around you want you to feel welcomed, and they want you to succeed in your recovery as much as they want to succeed in theirs. You’ll learn the ins and outs of these meetings in no time!

The only thing we have to do to prepare for a meeting is to get ready, to be honest. Honesty is our foundation. We do not need to pretend like we have all the answers, embellish our stories and adventures, or minimize our struggles with addiction. We have spent most of our lives in active addiction learning how to bend the truth, but the simple fact is, if we can engage others in recovery with complete honesty, we will begin to see complete and total recovery from addiction and alcoholism.

12-step Program Preparation

If you have any questions about 12-step meetings, whether or not you’ve been through rehab, we can help. At The River Source, we believe strongly in 12-step programming as a way to manage and measure recovery progress and foster accountability, so much so that we integrate 12-step programming at our Arizona rehab facility. To ask about 12-step meetings or The River Source’s 12-step programming, call our team at 866-294-9331 today!

Help is Waiting, Call Now:

Our programs

Welcome to The River Source, the place where new beginnings are created. We commend you for taking the first step in your recovery, and we want you to know that we are here for you.