Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous often meet at community centers or churches. The coronavirus has changed that because so many of those places are now closed. Alcoholics Anonymous is doing its best to adapt. WFAE’s “All Things Considered” host Gwendolyn Glenn talked to Ellen R., who is on a committee for AA’s Metrolina Intergroup Association that’s trying to help people continue to meet virtually. She says it’s been challenging.
Ellen: It’s a huge change and it is having an effect. We’re having to get up and running just like any other organization and start doing things from home just as a business would or a church world.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Let me ask you this then: About how many people are in these Alcohol Anonymous groups locally? How many people are affected?
Ellen: Well, I’m going to say probably tens of thousands in the Metrolina area. You know we don’t take attendance, but I will say that in south Charlotte, it’s unusual to go to a meeting that’s less than 50 people each time they meet, and they may meet six days a week.
Glenn: Wow, that’s a big difference. If you have meetings of 50 — and now people are being told 10 or less people in group meetings. So that’s a major, major change.
Ellen: Huge change. And part of the magic of Alcoholics Anonymous is we connect with each other. Any time you’re going through something difficult. For instance, if a person is grieving the loss of a loved one, being able to reach someone who has the same experience is really vital. Feeling like you’re not alone. And therefore, that’s how Alcoholics Anonymous does work. And not being able to meet face-to-face does put a strain on our members. We’re hearing it.
Glenn: And you mentioned that some are going virtual, having online meetings. How are people feeling about that, in terms of privacy, going through social media?
Ellen: Right. Some of the groups that are having online meetings, on social media they’re still identified mostly by their first name, occasionally their last initial. Sometimes they will assume a pseudonym in order to keep their privacy. Most of the people I know have no problem using their first name because unless it’s a highly unusual name, they know that they still have privacy.
Glenn: But with Facebook and some of the others that are out there, your face is shown. Is that a concern?
Ellen: I have not heard of anybody having that concern. And I will tell you that this may be somewhat of a generational thing. The young group of AA, there is a special group that is mostly millennials, and they are so out online that they are sort of fearless, really.
Glenn: Are you seeing the numbers go down in terms of those who are seeking help?
Ellen: No, actually, it’s been very interesting in this last week. The people who are trusted servants working at our group office, they’ve had to close the office for right now for security reasons, but they’re still answering the phone. And I will tell you, the phone calls are probably triple or quadruple. We’re getting a lot more phone calls from people.
Glenn: And I take it that’s because people are stressed?
Ellen: Well, people are stressed. And I know that anytime people feel stressed, they look for a way to cope. And drinking has been a way to cope for many people. And at this time of extreme stress, I think many people recognize that maybe they’re relying too heavily on alcohol. And so they call Alcoholics Anonymous. But say, what do I do? How can I get through those without making a mess of myself, of everybody around me?
Glenn: Well thank you so much for talking with us today.
Glenn: Ellen R. is with the Public Information Committee for Metrolina Intergroup in Charlotte.