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If Alcoholics Stop Going to AA

"What Happens When Alcoholics Taper Off Or Stop Going To AA?"
copyright 1999, all rights reserved

by Toby Rice Drews
author of the "Getting Them Sober" books

I get so many phone calls from people saying "Yeah, he's been to AA before, and he went for a week or two, or a month or so, and then he started slacking off meetings." Now usually when they start doing that, it's when they start feeling better. It gets to the point for many people that they start feeling really good (the program starts working), and unfortunately, instead of wanting more of it, they think they "got it," and they don't think they have to go to as many meetings. And so the problem is that they start doing other stuff because they feel good. They want to play "catch-up" -- catch up their lives because of all the time they wasted.

And it looks good to the family. It fools everybody. It fools the alcoholic, it fools the family. And they start coming up with reasons to go to fewer meetings. Like, "I'm working more, I'm giving you money where before I was squandering it all," or "Now I'm back at the church and, instead of going to Sunday AA meeting I go to church now, instead of going to Wednesday AA meeting I go to choir practice, instead of going to Tuesday AA meeting I'm a boy scout leader." And before you know it, over a gradual period of time he or she attends fewer and fewer AA meetings.

Now the problem with that is, they get to the point where they think they can do it themselves -- and then the stress hits, whatever the stress of life is -- and instead of going to a meeting to take their stress there and dropping it off at a meeting where they're getting all that support, they turn again to the chemical relief, to the drink.

So it's very important to not be fooled by the so-called "great reasons" to go to fewer meetings.

Why do you have to go to so many meetings? Wise people in AA go to 90 meetings in 90 days. I usually tell people that it's a real good idea to go to a MINIMUM of five meetings a week for your first year of AA, and the people who really stay sober over the long haul usually go to 7 to 10 or more meetings a week the first year of sobriety (if you can in your area). There's often many many meetings available. And people say "All I do is go to work and go to meetings." And I say, "Well, that's all you should be doing the first year of sobriety, because anything more than that, you're probably doing too many other things. You have to stay focused. It's a serious disease."

I want to talk about relapse here, because there are withdrawal times that the body goes through. At 3 months sober, 6 months sober, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months, 24, 36 months -- these are, for most people, pretty bad withdrawal times. That means at those times, stress really hits, and if you haven't been going to regular meetings, the stress really increases at that time, and there's more of a chance of drinking again. So if people are going to regular meetings at those times, they just know to double up on meetings at that time. Go to two meetings a day, three meetings a day. Talk with somebody after a meeting. Get there early and talk to people. Talk it through. Those withdrawal times do pass, but you need extra meetings and extra help at that time.

What Are The "Reasons" (i.e., Resentments) Why People Drop Out of AA?

They either resent the fact that the meeting is boring, they think, or they resent this or that about their meeting, or they think the rooms they go to are dingy, or the seats are hard, or, "so-and-so, he's always dominating the meeting with his talk," or this one curses, or that one seems real arrogant, or whatever.

What I tell people is, OK, if you had to go to the only clinic in town to get chemotherapy treatments for your cancer, you wouldn't drop out because, in the waiting room for an hour and a half before you went in, you didn't like the people. You also wouldn't stop going out to eat forever, probably, if you found a restaurant you didn't like. Try other meetings. If the chair is hard, bring a cushion. A good saying is, "Honesty got you there, tolerance keeps you there." If all you got was some stress relief for a few minutes, it doesn't matter if somebody is arrogant when they're talking. Just take what you like and leave the rest.

Your disease wants to drive you out of AA. So you would die from alcoholism. You don't have to listen to your disease.

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The information provided herein is not intended to be considered counseling or other professional advice. Please see a health professional about your particular situation.