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People Sitting in a Circle
Some Hang Around for Years While Others Move On

How Long Do I Have to Go to A.A.?

By BuddyT

One question that is often asked by those new to recovery is, "How long will I have to go to Alcoholics Anonymous?" The answer is, it is entirely up to you.

Unless you are court-mandated to attend a certain number of A.A. meetings, how long you continue going to meetings is a question that only you can decide.

The facts are some people never really "connect" with the 12-step program and leave very soon after they begin, while others make their involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous part of a life-long commitment.

Then there are others who hang around long enough to "get" the program and then drift away, carrying with them the tools they need to live a sober life.

Life-Long Attendance?

There are those who claim that cutting back on meetings or stopping all together is a sign that you are headed for a relapse. You need to continue going to meetings for life or risk picking up a drink.

What they are actually saying, however, is that life-long attendance at meetings is necessary for them to remain sober. They decided to continue meetings; that is their choice.

Others, however, have found that after going to meetings, getting a sponsor to help them through the 12 steps, and then actually working the steps they are able to move on while practicing these principles in all of their affairs.

A Study of Meeting Attendance

They would argue that by doing so they are still working the program of A.A. (the 12 steps) although they are no longer participating in the fellowship of A.A. (the meetings).

There is some research that shows that those who became involved with A.A. for an extended period and then drift away are almost as likely to remain sober five years later as those who continue to go to meetings.

A study by the Alcohol Research Group in Berkeley, CA looked at patterns of A.A. involvement of 349 alcohol-dependent drinkers, who reported having attended at least one A.A. meeting, beginning when they first entered alcoholism treatment.

Four Types of A.A. Careers

The participants were interviewed again three and five years later. The study found four different types of A.A. "careers" emerged among the group:

  • Low attendance - mainly only attended during the first 12 months of recovery.

  • Medium attendance - stable attendance of about 60 meetings a year.

  • High attendance - stable attendance of about 200 meetings a year.

  • Declining attendance - those who double their attendance to 200 meetings after the first year, but by year five were attending only 6 meetings.

The researchers reported that a decrease in attending meetings did not "necessarily signal disengagement from A.A." After five years, 1/3 of the low attendance group and more than half of the declining group said they considered themselves to be members of A.A.

Rates of Abstinence at 5 Years

After five years, the following rates of abstinence were recorded for the various groups:

  • Low attendance - 43%
  • Medium attendance - 73%
  • High attendance - 79%
  • Declining attendance - 61%

Able to Move On?

Those who stopped going to A.A. altogether after the first 12 months had the lowest sobriety rates five years later. But, the group that was once highly involved in A.A. and gradually decreased their attendance maintained a relatively high rate of abstinence.

The authors concluded that "contrary to A.A. lore, many who connect only for a while do well afterwards."

These researchers are not the first to suggest that some who work the 12-step program seriously for awhile are able to move on to live a better life.

Graduating From 'Spiritual Kindergarten'

Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill W. said the following in a 1954 letter published in the book "As Bill Sees It:"

We are only operating a spiritual kindergarten in which people are enabled to get over drinking and find the grace to go on living to better effect. Each man’s theology has to be his own quest, his own affair.

If the 12 steps are a spiritual "kindergarten" it would suggest that participants should at some point graduate and move on to higher spiritual pursuits. Some can, but clearly some cannot.

The beauty of the program is, you get to choose. Take what you need and leave the rest.

Source: Kaskutas LA, et al. "Alcoholics anonymous careers: patterns of AA involvement five years after treatment entry." Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research November 2005


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