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I went to three AA meetings to get a better and more personal understanding of how addiction affects people. The three meetings that I went to were AA Discussion in Costa Mesa on Friday, Pride + Program in Newport Beach on Friday, and Women’s Discussion in Costa Mesa on Friday. The meetings were all an hour long. All of the meetings that I attended were Discussion meetings. All of the meetings had a moderator/leader that helped guide the meeting. The meeting commenced with the moderator passing around a basket for that meeting’s rent. The first time this happened, I didn’t expect it so I felt bad about not being able to donate because of my lack of cash, so I made sure to bring at least a dollar to the future meetings. The moderator then had everyone go around and introduce themselves. Everyone stated introduced themselves using the “Hi, my name is ____, and I’m an alcoholic.” I had heard this phrase previously used in movies and shows, but I wasn’t aware that it was actually used in meetings so that was a bit of a surprise to me. After all the introductions had been done, the moderator then asked someone to read the 12 Big Book steps. Once the steps had all been read, people began to share their experiences.
In the first meeting I attended, Speaker Meeting, the minute I walked into the door, I wanted to walk out. I walked in and I saw a group of people that did not look like me and that made me feel out of place and uncomfortable. The room was mostly composed of older men, with most of them appearing to be somewhere in middle age. There were a few women; I recall 3 or 4. There were a few people that looked close to being my age, and there was one small child. I remember looking at everyone in the room and trying to figure out if anyone else was there from this class. As the meeting went on, I felt more at ease. As people started talking about their personal experiences, I forgot about my own discomfort and listened to their experiences. Still, I knew that these were people that I would most likely never encounter in my own life, as I could imagine very little places were our social circles would overlap. At the end of the meeting, the moderator asked us to hold hands while saying a prayer. The prayer that was chosen was “Our Father,” this prayer was actually chosen in all three of the meetings, so I’m not sure if other prayers are used as well. Saying a prayer was somewhat of an odd experience for me. I was raised Catholic, but I do not identify with any religion. I was able to recite most of the prayer from memory, but I did struggle with parts of it, since one, I was much more comfortable reciting it in Spanish, and two, I hadn’t recited the prayer in such a long time. I have to admit that I did feel slightly uncomfortable holding the hand of a large 50-some year-old man while reciting a prayer that didn’t really mean anything to me, but it wasn’t uncomfortable enough to make me want to not ever attend the meetings again.
My second experience and third experiences were much better than the first, and I believe this is due to the fact that these two meetings were meant to specific groups. The other two meetings that I went to were meant for LGBT alcoholics and women alcoholics. I think that because of the fact that I belong to these two groups, I did not feel as out of place at these two other meetings. I felt like the people in these meetings looked more like me and could be people that I might interact with in my day-to-day life. What in particular struck about the LGBT meeting was the age of those there. First, there were a lot more women present, and the meeting was also composed of much younger people. The majority of those in attendance appeared to me in their 20’s. I didn’t exactly know how to feel about that. On one hand I was glad that this group of people existed, as it would surely be a good environment for someone young and LGBT struggling with addiction, but I also felt saddened by just how many young people were struggling with addiction. The first meeting, as well as what I’d seen on TV or movies, lead me to believe that AA meetings were normally for older individuals, but this meeting showed me that this was not the case. Another thing I observed about this meeting in particular was that when the question was asked about who was willing to be a sponsor, a greater amount of people raised their hands in this meeting compared to the other two. I’m not entirely sure why this may be, but it may have something to do with the age of those in the meetings, but I can only speculate. It also seemed as though this group had more of a bond outside of the meetings. As I was leaving the meeting, I noticed that quite a large group of the attendees were talking outside, which is not something I noticed in the other two meetings. It seemed that there was a social aspect to his meeting.
As for the final meeting, as I said previously, I was much more comfortable in this one compared to the first. Like the first however; this meeting also had mostly older women in attendance. The average age of the women in attendance was probably around late 40’s/early 50’s. One thing that was interesting about this meeting is that out of the 6 or so younger women in attendance, 3 of them had a child with them. In the first meeting, one out of the three women in attendance had a child with them. This was something that I had never thought of before, but it became clear that child care may be in hinderance for women in particular. Even though these women came with their children, there were probably many others that were not able to attend because they did not have anyone to watch over their children or did not want to risk their distributing the meeting. That being said, all of the children in attendance were fairly well behaved, and no one seemed to mind that they were there. In fact, people offered them candy and treats and seemed to generally enjoy their presence.
All in all, I believe the meeting that was most similar to my expectation was the first. I definitely expected there to be more men and I expected the men to be older. I honestly had no idea that AA meetings existed for more specific groups, but I’m glad that they do, as I can see people being deterred from the general meetings, because they might not see as much in common between themselves and the group of people present. I believe it’s important for the person in AA to feel some sort of connection to those that they are in the meetings with in order for them to gain more from said meetings.
The aspect of these meetings that I personally enjoyed was the discussion. It was very insightful and impacting to be able to hear the experiences of those that were dealing with addiction. I learned a lot about what the daily struggles of addiction look like, and just how much some people go through to get to the place that they are at today. The aspect that I disliked was the prayer and the mention of religion. While I understand that AA does not necessarily emphasized religion and that AA does encourage those following in the steps, to find their own interpretation of God, I do believe that this may be off putting to those that are not religious, especially if they have had bad experiences with religion or religious individuals.
Overall, I would say that AA was a very positive experience for me. I enjoyed the environment of the meetings and if I were in the position to refer a client to AA meetings, I definitely would. I would however, encourage the client to attend with an open mind, and to try to attend various meetings in order to find the ones that they enjoy the most. I would encourage them to stay for a meeting even if they think they might not like it, and if it turns out that they do not, to attempt to go to a meeting, maybe meant for a group more specific to them.
The peer-reviewed article that I focused on revolves around a study looking to determine whether the age and decreases in impulsivity are mediators for the link between AA attendance and better drinking outcomes and better psychosocial functioning (i.e. social support, emotional coping). The participants included both individuals with and without Alcohol Use Disorder. The study was a naturalistic longitudinal study that assessed participants at the commencement of the study, one year, 8 years, and 16 years. At baseline, participants were asked to complete self-report questionnaires meant to assess their drinking, psychosocial functioning, and impulsivity. The participants were then contacted at the 1,8, and 16 year marks and also asked to report on whether they had attended AA meetings and for how long. The findings of the study indicated that decreases in impulsivity were associated with greater self-efficacy, fewer alcohol use problems, better coping and better social support at the year 1 mark. The study also found that decreases in impulsivity accounted for a large portion of the link between improvements and AA attendance at the 8 year mark.
It is hard to say whether those that have been attending AA for longer periods of time had decreased impusility, as I do not have a reference of what those individuals were like in the past. What I can say however, is that from their sharing of their experiences, it is clear to see that those that have been attending longer have fewer problems with alcohol and do seem to engage in less risky behavior. Again, I can not say for certain that they have had decreases in their impulsivity, but it does appear to be so.
One difference between the study and my own observation was that the study included individuals who upon original assessment, did not meet the conditions for AUD. In my observation there was no real way to observe those without AUD and assess for their impulsivity, as I can not simply assume that those that were not in attendance of the AA meetings I went to do not have AUD. Other than that, I would say that the subjects of the study were pretty similar to the individuals that I was observing at these meetings. The study had a very broad range of participants, similar to those in the meetings I attended.
All in all, this experience was incredibly insightful, and it’s something I’m really appreciate being able to have done.
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