Can Online AA Meetings Substitute for Face-to-Face?

by Melvin
(Texas)

A young friend with a drinking problem promised to go to AA. He felt that he didn’t fit in with the group and was told that he could do the meetings online, which he says he is doing. He has a history of not being completely honest and I am concerned that he is trying to do this the easy way and not yet committed to making a change. Can on-line meetings substitute for face-to-face?

Reply

Online support groups can provide many of the same benefits as an in-person group. Online meetings still provide a method of interaction, learning, and engaging in mutual support with other people who are also struggling with alcoholism. Having that sense of community has been shown to be a beneficial component of alcoholism recovery. However, it depends on the person’s engagement level with the group.

The American Psychological Association has stated that face-to-face meetings are more effective than online meetings. Meeting online often times makes it easier to “hide,” be quiet, or not engage. A study done by HealthDay stated that people were more inclined to be dishonest in online meetings versus in-person meetings. You stated that your friend struggles with being honest so this may be a sign that online meetings are not the best option for him. They may not provide the level of accountability that he needs. On the other hand, this may be the reason why he is choosing online versus in-person meetings.

It is important that your friend assess his reasons for feeling uncomfortable at the in-person meetings. If he felt that he did not fit in, he will likely not feel like he fits in when online either. If he is truly committed to change, he needs to develop the courage to analyze his feelings about the group and process where those feelings are stemming from and how they are related to his drinking. Counseling can be very helpful in working through these things. Unless you live in a small town, rural area, there are likely multiple AA groups to choose from so he can try a different group if he does not like the people at the one he attended. It can take some time for a person to find the right group(s) for them.

It is also important for you to know that you cannot make him be committed to change or quit drinking. That is a choice that he has to make. Many times alcoholics are dishonest about their drinking in an effort to cover up because they know that their loved ones do not approve or are worried about them. It is a serious addiction that can be very difficult to treat. The change will not happen until he is ready. He cannot quit because other people want him to. It has to be because it’s something that he wants. The best thing that you can do for him is to encourage him, support his positive steps, and affirm his desire to change. If he is ready for change, these actions from you will be invaluable.

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