While the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, it has been especially trying for those with mental health conditions. One of the biggest problems has come in the form of not being able to attend events, gatherings, or most importantly, group therapy sessions.
This lack of support can be difficult for those in the middle of recovery from a substance use disorder, particularly when the state of the world may push them to cope with substances.
Throughout the past year, Alcoholics Anonymous has made the effort to push online AA meetings and ensure that its members are receiving the support that they need. The question remains, are online Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as effective as in-person AA meetings for supporting those in recovery?
Alcoholics Anonymous is an international organization dedicated to providing support and fellowship to those with a history of alcohol dependency. Their primary focus is to help people get sober and to promote ongoing sobriety in its members.1
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio by two men; a New York stockbroker and a surgeon, both of whom had struggled with alcohol dependency.2 Upon meeting each other, they discovered that it was significantly easier to avoid relapsing when they had an understanding individual to talk to and lean on.
Before their meeting, the two had separately sought help from the Oxford Group, an Episcopalian fellowship, which helped lay the foundation for their recovery. Taking what they learned from the Oxford Group and applying it to their own experiences, they achieved lasting sobriety.
From that point on, they began working with Akron City Hospital to help others that struggled with alcohol addiction, and the basis of the original Alcoholics Anonymous was founded.
The 12 steps of recovery were created by Alcoholics Anonymous, but these steps have since been adapted to many other support groups that have members who struggle with substance use disorder.3
The 12 steps of recovery are a series of tasks to help a person come to terms with their condition, acknowledge that it is a problem, and take steps to overcome it. Although the steps have their root in Christianity, they can be adapted to apply to any religion or spiritual belief system.
At any time, a person may return to a previous step if they need additional support or believe that they may benefit from repeating a step. The steps are an aid and a guide to help provide a clear path to recovery and sobriety for those who need support.
Due to the pandemic, the majority of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings now take place online, although they are slowly transitioning back to in-person meetings.4 For some, this change has been beneficial as it allows those who did not have access to transportation to now attend meetings.
Additionally, there is wider availability of meetings now that a designated space does not need to be reserved, and more people can attend at one time. This factor may help those who wanted to attend a meeting but felt that they didn’t have enough time before.
On the other hand, some people may feel more isolated without the availability of in-person meetings, and many do not have access to online meetings. This sense of isolation may also be increased for those that are required to work from home or for those who have lost their jobs during the past year.
AA online meetings follow a similar format as in-person meetings do. Some may have a designated speaker while others may be an open forum where anyone that wishes to talk may do so. Because online meetings may be more accessible for people, there may be more attendees than usual.
It can be difficult for everyone to talk as there may not be enough time if the attendance is not limited to a certain number of people. However, for many, simply the sense of community that an online meeting provides may be enough to prevent relapse and encourage sobriety.
On average, Alcoholics Anonymous has proven to be up to 60% more effective in achieving sobriety than other forms of treatment such as psychotherapy.5 However, there are no studies currently that show the effectiveness of online AA meetings as opposed to in-person meetings.
On the other hand, there are significant negatives that may impact some individuals more than others. This aspect is especially true for those who have other co-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. Here are some of the negatives that can be associated with AA online meetings:
Alcoholics Anonymous offers meetings in most major cities across the world. Visit their website and select your location to find your nearest meeting. If you prefer to participate in an online AA meeting instead, you’ll be able to find options on their website as well.6