With members dependent on group meetings, Alcoholics Anonymous faces challenges in time of social distancing

The Ed-Lynn Fellowship in Lynnwood hosts dozens of in-person AA meetings each week, but the number has been decreasing with COVID-19 concerns. . (Photo by Doug Petrowski)

Over the years, Alcoholics Anonymous has strived to use relationship-building and face-to-face interaction to help those wanting to overcome addiction issues. But in the current season of social distancing and government-directed bans on gatherings, AA finds itself in a struggle itself, trying to meet the needs of its many local members and meeting attendees.

While AA had still been holding some in-person meetings in South Snohomish County prior to Governor Jay Inslee’s “stay-at-home” order on Monday, the number of meetings was dwindling, much to the concern of one AA representative.

“I’m a little bit worried, said AA Area 72 Delegate Alan F. “I am a little concerned that the availability is a little bit less – and the consequence of a lack of availability to AA can be quite dire as we all know.”

Alan F. – use of last names are prohibited in AA circles – serves as a representative of AA members in Western Washington to the organization’s annual conference in New York. He is also a believer in the long-held practices of AA.

“A huge number of meetings are cancelled and I think that the meeting members themselves would opt to still try to meet in-person and maybe practice social distancing within their meetings,” Alan F. said. “The face-to-face methodology in AA is one of the core enablers for AA’s success.”

AA would normally hold thousands of meetings throughout the area for members and drop-in guests seven-days-a-week and at all hours of the day and night. But many of those meetings are being cancelled due to the unavailability of the rooms they have been held in.

“Meetings are damaged quite a bit because the venues that the meetings are held in are refusing, correctly – they should be,” Alan F. explained. “It’s mostly churches and then there’s halls where the space is rented. And due to the recommendations from our government and from health officials, a lot of these venues are now closing their doors for the time being. They’re very likely temporary closures, but that means that for a couple months perhaps the available number of in-person meetings is dramatically reduced.”

The Western Washington Area 72 website lists AA meetings in the area, but keeping up with cancellations and rescheduling of meetings has been a challenge during these times of what can be daily updates, recommendations and directives from state government and local health districts. And now with Governor Inslee’s latest directive, there will likely be no in-person AA meetings at all until April 6 at the earliest.

As in-person AA meetings have become increasingly unavailable, the internet has been deployed by area sponsors and meeting hosts as a substitute.

“There’s been a surprisingly fast and I think technically astute response in that in Western Washington hundreds of online meetings per week are already established and running,” Alan F. noted. “The number of online meetings has exploded into literally hundreds per week.”

For an organization that has stressed the need for interpersonal accountability, going online with meetings has been met with mixed reviews.

“Well I think everybody has to decide that for themselves,” Alan F. said of the effectiveness of online AA meetings. “Some people like them more, some people like them less. What I can say is that with the number of in-person meetings dramatically reduced, the availability of online meetings is very important.”

While volunteering recently at a Lynnwood AA resource center, Alan F. saw the pensive nature that some have responded to concerning AA’s online options.

“A gentleman walked up looking for a meeting and I tried to help him find online meetings and he wasn’t too thrilled,” Alan F. said. “And he was obviously somebody newer in recovery.”

“There’s probably a lot of people out there that it’s going to be a bit more of a hurdle for them to instead of just go drive somewhere and go to a face-to-face meeting to figure out how to get on to an online meeting.”

Perhaps not ideal, Alan F. does see some advantages with online AA meetings. In addition to the ability to conduct meetings during a global pandemic, meetings online can attract both new and old members – even if they’re miles away.

“The other nice thing about it is people who move away miss their old home groups,” Alan F. said. “And with online meetings people can visit their old home groups from anywhere in the world. The possible footprint of people joining is the globe.”

Alan F. expects online AA meetings to grow in number, not just during the COVID-19 outbreak but into the future. And he also expects that many will prefer in-person meetings.

“I would say that online meetings are great and I expect that when this crisis passes many of these online meetings will continue. However the face-to-face meetings will return in their normal strength,” he said/

To find AA meetings, both in-person and online, a good place to start is at the AA Western Washington Area 72 website: area72aa.org/meetings/?tsml-day=any

— By Doug Petrowski


  1. What about inviting people to an online meeting like we do when we have watch movie groups. Most people have cell phones even homeless people. Just a suggestion

  2. Use of last names is not discouraged in meetings. It is discouraged “at the level of press, radio and films.” There is the hope than when the member ignores this that the press does not. History has shown this to be a good practice.

  3. My name is Frank I’m an alcoholic. Sometimes hard decisions have to be made ie “Just don’t drink”. The medical community is stressing social distancing to Reduce Exposure. If AA’s think not canceling meetings is for the good for the all, not true. If an AA goes back out they have the opportunity to get a 24hr. Chip later. A covid death caused by cross contamination does not have that option. AA needs to bite the bullet by doings their part by helping reduce cross contamination.
    We can continue to have televised group sessions and personal phone and electronic messaging. A covid19
    Death can not pick up their 24hr chip.
    Don’t we always advise “Do the next right thing?”. Time for AA to do the “Next right thing.”God’s Speed”
    Frank D.

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