Proper Etiquette for 12-Step Meetings

January 7th, 2020

For someone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, deciding to seek help can be intimidating. Even if they know the benefit that help can have on their life, someone can still be understandably afraid of what the process may look like. 

Support groups, especially 12-step meetings, are a popular first step towards seeking sobriety. Such groups can be powerful support systems for those who are working to live a sober life. However, entering into such a meeting for the first time can be an intimidating thing. It can be a scary thing walking into a room of strangers to discuss something personal like addiction. How are you to know what to say or how the meeting is supposed to look?

Luckily, 12-step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous have been long-running programs and as a result, have a set format. These programs have also developed a proper etiquette for how to conduct yourself in a meeting. Knowing the format and the suggested etiquette can help you become more comfortable walking in and joining a 12-step meeting group.

Let’s look at proper etiquette for 12-step meetings.


Arrive Early, Stay Late

Arriving early to anything is sure to turn heads and give others a positive view of you. Arriving early to a 12-step meeting such as AA is especially important as it allows you to break the ice with those in the meeting. It gives you the opportunity to get to know those around you alleviating many of the nerves that you may have your first few meetings. Getting to know people will help increase your comfort levels which can help put you on the fast track to success in a 12-step program. The same can also be said for staying after a meeting, which can give you even more time with those around you.

Avoid “Crosstalk”

An integral part of 12-step program meetings is everyone in the group being involved throughout the meeting. It is best to remember to address the group as a whole when talking rather than just one person. This allows all members of the group to benefit from what you have to say. Avoiding crosstalk will help to invite openness to the meeting, allowing everyone to feel like they are invited to participate. 

Use “I…” Statements when Speaking

It is considered proper etiquette within most 12-step meetings to share your personal experiences through using “I” statements instead of 2nd or 3rd person statements such as “you” and “they”.

 Limit Side Conversations

It is important to limit or avoid side conversations during a meeting. Sharing can be an intimidating and scary experience for many people especially if it is one of your first meetings. Having side conversations while someone is sharing can be disrespectful, distracting and even harmful due to the gravity of material that is often shared during a meeting. Try to avoid being disruptive and save your conversation until after the meeting.

Avoid “Double Dipping”

In the majority of 12-step meetings, it is recommended that you limit yourself to speaking only once a meeting. Doing so will give everyone who wants to share the opportunity to. An important part of the 12-step meeting is to give every participant the chance to participate and feel as if they can contribute. Additionally, it is proper etiquette to only speak again if time allows for it and everyone else has spoken. 

Be Aware of How Long You Talk

Another important part of sharing in a 12-step meeting is speaking for only 3-4 minutes. Doing so will allow for everyone to have the same opportunity to talk during a meeting. If you are afraid that you will lose track of time, do not worry. Many meetings have a timekeeper who will help to keep you and those around you on track. 

Avoid Being on Your Phone

Plan to silence or turn off your phone before entering a meeting. Additionally, try to avoid answering a phone call during the meeting unless an emergency arises. Doing so is respectful to both those around you and yourself. Avoiding using your phone can allow you to focus during a meeting and be an active participant. Using your phone during a meeting only serves to distract and can impact how effective your time in a 12-step program is. 

Try to Avoid Leaving and Re-entering Meeting

While it is hard to ignore the urge to use the bathroom, it is important to try to avoid leaving during a meeting if possible. Leaving and re-entering during a meeting can be both disruptive to those around you and can keep you from being fully engaged with the meeting. However, it is true that when the bathroom calls, you can’t avoid it. If you need to leave a meeting for any reason, try to be as quiet and unnoticeable as possible. Additionally, out of respect for those speaking, try to leave in between people sharing. 

Respect the Anonymity of Others 

Drug and alcohol addiction can be a deeply personal matter that people may not want outsiders to know about. This is one of the guiding principles of 12-step programs, that protects both participants and the program itself. Always avoid revealing to an outside party that a specific person attends a 12-step meeting with you. 

Feeling intimidated or afraid about attending a meeting for the first time is something nearly everyone in a 12-step program has experienced. As you continue to show up to meetings you will find your comfort level and confidence to increase. If you put the time and effort into these meetings, the 12-step program can be extremely valuable to your recovery journey. It is important to remember that no program is an instant fix-all, recovery takes time.