How Court-Ordered Alcoholics Anonymous Works

You May Be Wondering What's Going to Happen Next?

Support Group
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If you find yourself facing court-mandated attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings, you probably have questions about what is going to happen next, especially if you have never been to A.A. before.

You may be wondering what exactly takes place at an A.A. meeting, how the meetings work and how you are going to prove that you attended if it's an anonymous program. Hopefully, this article will answer some of those questions.

Court-Ordered Into Alcoholics Anonymous

The way most people find themselves court-mandated to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is by getting a drunk-driving conviction. In addition, A.A. is ordered for other alcohol-related convictions and in some domestic violence situations.

If you have been convicted of an alcohol-related offense, the court will sometimes offer you an alternative to going to jail. Because of jail overcrowding and the costs of keeping an offender incarcerated, many jurisdictions offer some kind of alternative or diversion program, such as A.A.

A.A. Usually Not the Only Choice

Under these alternative sentencing programs, offenders are usually given several program options they can complete instead of going to jail. These include: entering a professional drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, undergoing professional counseling or therapy, or attending A.A. or an alternative support group program.

Many offenders end up in Alcoholics Anonymous simply because it's the only option that is free and is usually the most available of the options, with meetings in virtually every city and town. But for those who object to going to A.A., the other, more expensive options are available along with secular support groups in some areas.

An Evaluation of Your Drinking

In most states, the court itself does not send people directly to Alcoholics Anonymous. Typically, you are first sent to a probation officer, counselor or a caseworker who will oversee your participation in the alternative sentencing program.

One of the first things the caseworker will do is give you an alcohol screening test to evaluate your drinking patterns. The tests usually don't ask directly how much you drink - because most everyone downplays their alcohol consumption - but rather asks about the results of your drinking (such as, have you ever missed any work because of alcohol).

The number of A.A. Meetings Determined

The officer of the court will look at the results of your screening tests and try to determine the level of your drinking. He or she may decide that you don't have a drinking problem at all, that you just made a mistake; or they could decide that you are a full-blown alcoholic or anywhere in between.

The number of meetings you will be ordered to attend will be based on their evaluation. You could be ordered to attend as few as one meeting or you could be ordered to attend 90 meetings in 90 days; in cases of repeat offenders, you could be ordered to attend even more meetings.

Getting Your Card Signed

After telling you how many meetings you will need to attend to meet your court obligation, the caseworker will provide you a card or piece of paper on which you will list the days of meetings you attended, and the times and places. There will also be a space for a signature from someone at the meeting to confirm that you actually attended.

You will carry that card, sometimes called a slip, to the meeting. After the meeting, you will take it to the person in charge of the meeting (chairperson) or to the group's secretary and ask if they will sign it.

Attending Your First Meeting

Remember, A.A.

is anonymous. You will not have to give your full name to anyone, and you will not be required to say anything at the meeting at all if you choose not to do so. A.A. is a mutual support group. There are no professionals, counselors or therapists there to question or interview you.

For one member's perspective on their first meeting, see What Can I Expect at a 12-Step Meeting?

Not All Meetings Sign Slips

Occasionally, you will find a meeting that does not sign slips. The practice of signing slips is a bit controversial inside A.A. groups. Some members feel it violates the group's traditions against promoting itself with outside entities.

But the main reason many groups vote not to sign slips is because they simply do not want people in their meetings who were forced to be there. Rather, they want people who have a desire to be there. It might be helpful, therefore, to ask someone before the meeting if their group signs slips.

Most meetings marked on the local "where-and-when" schedule as "open" meetings will sign slips.

Attending Online A.A. Meetings

If you have disabilities, transportation restrictions or other reasons that may keep you from getting to a meeting, some jurisdictions will allow you to participate in online A.A. meetings to meet at least some of your court-ordered obligation. Not all jurisdiction do this, so make sure you check first before attending an online meeting.

There are some online meetings sites that will email you a confirmation of attendance after you attend the meeting and fill out a form providing details of the meeting. You can then print out the email with all of the meeting's details, including time, place, topic, comments, etc.

Turning in Your Signed Cards

Once you have attended the number of A.A. meetings that you were ordered to attend, and you have your signed slip to prove your attendance, you will turn the slip into your probation officer or caseworker for validation.

Typically, there will be other requirements you will need to meet before completing your court obligation, but you will have finished the "rehab" component of the sentence.

Some offenders look upon court-ordered A.A. attendance as just another chore they must complete, and they just go through the motions. But many others have found that the experience changed their lives, even if they were resistant initially. Many have found long-term sobriety and a completely different lifestyle because they were once court-ordered to go to A.A.

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