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Updated on November 22, 2022

Narcotics Anonymous

What is Narcotics Anonymous (NA)?

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a nonprofit program for recovering and active drug users. Members attend weekly (anonymous) meetings to help one another maintain sobriety.

The primary purpose of NA is to build strong support groups and help members remain completely abstinent from drugs. The only requirement for members is the desire to stay clean. People with active addictions are also welcome to attend NA meetings.

The group does not judge members. More specifically, they do not care who you are, what you’ve done, or to what extent you had a problem with drugs. The only concern is that members have the desire to stay clean.

History of NA

Narcotics Anonymous was founded in Los Angeles, California, in 1953, by James Patrick Kinnon or "Jimmy K." The purpose of its formation was to help its members stop using addictive substances.

At the time, Alcoholics Anonymous had been around for 20 years and had gained recognition for its achievements. However, AA only focused on alcohol, not drugs. Kinnon recognized how a 12-step program could help people with drug use problems.

In the early 1970s, NA became an international organization when it opened in Australia. Soon after, NA meetings formed in Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Japan, and more.

By the end of 1983, NA had expanded into more than a dozen countries, offering almost 3,000 meetings worldwide. In 2018, there were more than 70,000 NA meetings in 144 countries.

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12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

What to Expect During an NA Meeting

Upon your first visit, you'll receive a key tag. You'll be given another after 30 days as a token of your hard work. You'll receive more periodically whenever you attend a meeting.

An NA meeting usually takes 60-90 minutes. Throughout the discussion, members can share their experiences for 5 or so minutes. However, every NA meeting is different.

Your NA group might look similar from meeting to meeting, but it will differ from meetings in other cities, states, and worldwide. Gaining new members is also the most important part of each meeting.

Meetings might include educational speakers or allow attendees to share their stories. Meetings must be free to attend, but groups accept unsolicited donations.

It's important to understand that the meetings aren’t meant to be group therapy sessions. The goal is to create a safe environment where people can connect and support each other’s recovery.

NA Meeting Rules to Keep In Mind

NA meeting rules help keep everyone orderly and focused; these rules include:

  • Showing respect to fellow attendees
  • Sharing only if you are comfortable doing so
  • Using only first names in meetings and keeping attendance private
  • Meetings are held in various public or religious locations, which do not necessarily indicate affiliation

Like other 12-step programs, Narcotics Anonymous operates on a set of Twelve guidelines called the Twelve Traditions of NA. The goal is to help members build healthier relationships and live drug-free lives.

Many NA members believe regular attendance at meetings is a helpful tool for staying drug-free.

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Open vs. Closed Meetings

Narcotics Anonymous offers both open and closed meetings. Open meetings are just that – open to the public.

Closed NA Meetings

Closed meetings are only for members of NA. The meetings are closed unless otherwise stated. Closed meetings are also anonymous; everyone agrees to keep the details of the sessions and those who attend private.

This is part of the NA traditions and all 12-step programs. Closed meetings make it possible for members to speak openly and honestly, knowing that everyone in the room has the same expectations for privacy.

Open NA Meetings

In contrast, open meetings welcome public members interested in NA. This includes people struggling with drug use, visitors from the community, and media. Essentially, anyone who wants to learn more about the program is welcome to open meetings.

Open meetings provide an opportunity to learn more about NA and the Twelve Steps, even if you do not want to participate in a recovery program. You can also participate in online meetings (virtual meetings).

How Effective is Narcotics Anonymous for Drug Addiction?

It’s difficult to measure how effective Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-step programs are for members. Although studies show the effectiveness of 12-step programs, it's not a complete guarantee.

It’s also challenging to measure success in terms of specific data because NA is anonymous. Additionally, most research focuses on a specific time frame. This means an NA member might be sober during data collection, but relapse occurs weeks, months, or years later.

Like all treatment programs, Narcotics Anonymous works for some and is not enough for others. It might also work temporarily for certain people. Finding the right tools is essential to managing addiction; for many, NA is one of those tools.

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How to Find an NA Meeting in your Area

You can easily find a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in your area by using the meeting search tool on the NA website. This tool gives you access to a complete meeting list for your city and state.

You can also view area service committee resources here.

If you have any other questions about treatment for substance use disorders (SUD), call SAMHSA's National Helpline for free at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The helpline is open 24/7 for those in need of a referral. For more information about Narcotics Anonymous World Services, visit na.org.

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What are 12-Step Programs?

NA tells members there are no strings attached, nor does it have any link to other organizations. It’s a 12-step program, which means members observe 12 principles to help them stay clean. People of all races, sexual identities, and varying religious beliefs are welcome to attend.

12-step programs are one of the most popular tools used for recovery.

One of the most popular is Alcoholics Anonymous, but there are 12-step programs for many different addictions, such as:

  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)
  • Cocaine Anonymous (CA)
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA)
  • Gamblers Anonymous (GA)
  • Heroin Anonymous (HA)
  • Marijuana Anonymous (MA)
  • Nicotine Anonymous (NA)

In general, 12-step programs are based on the following principles:

  • Admitting loss of control over an addiction
  • Turning to a higher power for strength
  • Self-examination of mistakes with the assistance of a sponsor
  • Accepting those mistakes and making amends
  • Learning to live by a new code of behavior based on the 12-steps
  • Committing to helping others with similar addictions

Do 12-Step Programs Work?

Research shows inpatient and outpatient treatment are beneficial but vary based on individual circumstances.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, effective treatment programs acknowledge, among other things, the fact that individual needs vary and that successful programs blend behavioral and pharmaceutical methods of treatment. NA does not do these things.

Some criticize 12-step programs for failing to recognize emerging science-based approaches and offering a one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem. There is also criticism of NA’s approach of focusing on spirituality and requiring members to identify as addicts.

Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-step programs are based on the belief that the individual’s life is “unmanageable.” And that unmanageability arose because of a lack of choice or determination within the mind of the addict concerning whether to use the substance again.

Summary

Narcotics Anonymous is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping recovering drug users. They are a community that meets regularly to help each other maintain sobriety.

Like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), they also use a 12-step program. Meetings tend to last for 60 to 90 minutes and offer open and closed meetings.

Studies show that NAs have been effective at helping people maintain sobriety. However, its effectiveness shouldn't be taken as a guarantee.

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Resources

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  1. About Us.” www.na.org.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Effective Treatment.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2018.
  3. Rodriguez, Tori. “Criticism of 12-Step Groups: Is It Warranted?” Psychiatry Advisor, 2016.
  4. Krentzman, A., et al. “How Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Work: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives.” Alcoholism treatment quarterly, 2010.
  5. Abdollahi, S. M., & Haghayegh, S. A. "Efficacy of Group Therapy Based on 12-step Approach of Narcotics Anonymous on Self-control and Quality of Life in People With Substance Use Disorder Diagnosis During Recovery." Journal of Practice in Clinical Psychology, 2020.
  6. Kelly, JF. et al. "Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12‐step programs for alcohol use disorder." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2020.
  7. "WCNA37 Program". Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 2018.

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