12 Step Meeting Etiquette

12-step-programAA and NA meetings can be intimidating to newcomers who have decided that they want to stop using.  Early sobriety is an uncomfortable time and stepping into the rooms without knowing any of the rules or conventions only adds to this discomfort.  The last thing a newcomer needs is to be confronted about an unwritten rule with which he is not familiar.


First and foremost it is a sign of humility for the newcomer to prioritize listening over sharing.  New members generally know very little about living a healthy, sober life and the only way to learn from the experience of others is to listen to them.

It is not appropriate to share about problems that do not relate to alcohol in AA (or substance abuse in NA).  A common faux pas committed by newcomers is to share whatever is going on in their lives instead of speaking on topic.  Also, the experience of newcomers generally consists of drug use and not with sobriety.  As a result, their shares are often “war stories”, or nostalgic recollections of past drug use.  No matter what your addiction is, it is considered a sign of respect to introduce yourself as an addict to the substance that the meeting addresses.  For example, even if your drug of choice is heroin, you should introduce yourself as an alcoholic at an AA meeting.

Respectful 12 Step Meeting Behavior

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.

It is also considered rude to get up once the meeting begins.  If you need to get coffee, go to the bathroom, or smoke, do it before the meeting begins.  People moving around can be very distracting to those who are sharing.  Most meetings do not permit crosstalk, or directly addressing the comments of others.  Instead, shares should be confined to the topic at hand and how it relates to your own experience.  If crosstalk is permitted the chairperson will say so at the beginning of the meeting.

DID SOMEONE SAY COFFEE??? – Americans Addiction to Coffee is Interesting. 

Talking to neighbors during the meeting is disrespectful to whoever is sharing.  Public speaking can provoke a lot of anxiety in some people.  Not only are side conversations distracting, but they convey the message that attendees are not listening to what the speaker has to say.

If you have to leave the meeting early or get up for some other reason, wait until the speaker finishes to do so.

Beginner’s meetings are a more welcoming environment for newcomers than conventional meetings.  Attendees are more forgiving of mistakes, so these meetings are a good place to learn the fundamentals of AA without feeling judged or ostracized.  These meetings also encourage newcomers to share, which can help alleviate any anxiety they might have with it.

At AA and NA meetings it is important to have respect for those with more experience in sobriety.  Introduce yourself as an addict to the substance that the meeting addresses, do not specifically comment on the shares of others unless the meeting permits it, do not act in ways that may distract whoever is speaking, and make an effort to learn as much from each meeting you attend.

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  1. Elizabeth says

    Honest question–I am new to the fellowship. In an area with crazy traffic and a life with little kids, there are times I skip a meeting because I worry I might be late. If it comes to walking in late and being distracting or skipping a meeting, what would the group prefer? Happy because I came when I needed the meeting or upset by my rude arrival?

  2. CeceB says

    41 days clean and sober and been in the rooms for about 65 days. I’m attend a crazy loud meeting where people often get up and down and make smart ass comments. Whenever I start getting irritated about the door slamming open and shut, then I remind myself that I don’t have control over that. I’m not the meeting boss. I also enjoy not feeling guilty if I want some coffee or need to go pee. In addition, this atmosphere felt familiar and comftorable to me when I first came in the door and I felt as if some of my anxiety was being released through the chaos. I’m ready to expand my horizons now and try out some different locations but I will always have a special place in my heart for that first spot that “kept me coming back.”

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