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Especially in the initial stages of recovery, the 12-step model encourages an intense experience for participants, with "90 meetings in 90 days" a standard recommendation from experienced group members.
12-step groups ask that members attend sober, but if a person has not yet stopped using, he/she will still be welcomed in the meetings and often referred to a drug treatment center. The theory is that at least for the time the meeting is taking place, that person is not using, and may be learning things that will eventually lead toward recovery.
Experienced members suggest that a newcomer find a "home group," one that seems comfortable and is convenient to get to, and build connections by arriving early to help set up and/or staying late to help clean up.
Over the course of the first several weeks of meetings, the new member may identify a more experienced person with whom she seems to bond (usually someone of the same gender), and may ask that person to act as "sponsor" -- a sort of coach through the 12-step process and first point of contact for dealing with cravings or other troubling situations.
The "Anonymous" in the names of 12-step groups is just that. Members pledge to keep one another's identities and personal stories confidential, and to come together as equals.