How Court-Ordered Alcoholics Anonymous Works

Steps to Help You Through This Process

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting


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

You may be wondering what exactly takes place at an AA meeting, how the meetings work, and how you are going to prove that you attended one since it's an anonymous program.

Court-Ordered Into Alcoholics Anonymous

Most people find themselves court-mandated to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as a result of a drunk-driving conviction. In addition, AA may be ordered for other alcohol-related convictions, as well as certain domestic violence situations.

Due to prison overcrowding and the high cost of incarceration, alternative or diversion programs such as AA will sometimes be offered instead of jail time.

Besides AA, other program options a person may receive include:

That said, many offenders end up in Alcoholics Anonymous simply because it's the only treatment option that is free. It's usually the most available of the options, with meetings in virtually every city and town.

Steps to Attending Court-Mandated AA Meetings 

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. The program consists of five steps.

Step 1: Take an Alcohol Screening Test

One of the first things the caseworker will do is give you an alcohol screening test to evaluate your drinking patterns. It's worthy to note that these screening tests usually don't ask directly how much you drink (likely because it's common for people to downplay their alcohol consumption). Rather, these tests ask about the consequences of your drinking, like whether you have ever missed work because of alcohol use.

Step 2: Determine the Number of AA Meetings

The officer of the court will look at the results of your screening tests and try to determine the level of your drinking. They may decide that you don't have a drinking problem at all and that you just made a mistake. Alternatively, they could suspect that you have an alcohol use disorder.

The number of meetings you will be ordered to attend will be based on the officer's evaluation. With that, you may be ordered to attend anywhere from one meeting up to several weeks' worth. In cases of repeat offenses, you could be ordered to attend even more meetings.

Step 3: Getting Your Card Signed

After telling you how many meetings you will need to attend to meet your court obligation, your caseworker will provide you with a piece of paper on which you will list the days of the meetings you attended, as well as the times and places. You will carry that piece of paper, sometimes referred to as a "card" or "slip," to each and every meeting.

There will also be a space for a signature from someone at the meeting (generally the person in charge, called the chairperson, or the group's secretary) to confirm that you actually attended.

Occasionally, you will find a meeting that does not sign slips. The practice of signing slips is a bit controversial inside AA 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 don't 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.

Step 4: Attending Your First Meeting

It's important to keep in mind that AA 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. AA is a mutual support group, so there are no counselors or therapists there to question or interview you.

In addition, 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 AA meetings to meet at least some of your court-ordered obligation. Not all jurisdictions do this, though, so make sure you check first before attending an online meeting.

Moreover, in terms of getting your slip signed, there are some online meeting sites that will email you a confirmation of attendance after you attend the meeting.

Step 5: Turning in Your Signed Cards

Once you have attended the number of AA 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.

A Word From Verywell

Some people look at court-ordered AA attendance as just another chore they must complete, and they simply go through the motions. But many others have found that the experience changed their lives, even if they were resistant initially.

In fact, many have found long-term sobriety and a completely different lifestyle because they were once court-ordered to go to AA. Hopefully, you can find this silver lining, too.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.