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Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a program of complete abstinence for recovering and active drug users. Members attend weekly (anonymous) meetings to help one another maintain sobriety.
NA is also known as a nonprofit Fellowship, or a society of men and women, who are recovering from serious drug problems.
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 a desire to stay clean.
Many members of NA believe that regular attendance at meetings is a helpful tool for staying drug-free.
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 a set of 12 principles to help them stay clean. People of all races, sexual identities, and with 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:
In general, 12-step programs are based on the following principles:
Research shows both 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 to brain disease and instead, offer 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.
According to 12step.org:
NA groups consider themselves autonomous, despite all being guided by the same 12-steps. This means that each meeting is different. Meetings take place in different locations and are attended by different people.
Your NA group might look similar from meeting-to-meeting, but it will be different than meetings in other cities, states, and throughout the world. Gaining new members is also the most important part of each meeting.
There are general NA meeting rules that help keep order and focus on everyone in attendance. Rules include:
Meetings might include educational speakers or allow attendees to share their stories if they choose. Meetings must be free to attend, but groups accept unsolicited donations.
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.
Narcotics Anonymous offers both open and closed meetings. Open meetings are just that – open to the public.
Closed meetings, on the other hand, are only for members of NA. Meetings are closed unless otherwise stated. Closed meetings are also anonymous, and everyone agrees to keep the details of the meetings and who attends 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 and know that everyone in the room has the same expectations of privacy.
In contrast, open meetings welcome members of the public with an interest in NA. This includes people struggling with drug use, but also visitors from the community, media, and anyone else who wants to learn more about the program.
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), which is a popular option during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
It’s difficult to measure exactly how effective Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-step programs are for members.
People who attend meetings who have remained clean say NA played a major role in their sobriety. But some people attend meetings and relapse. This doesn’t make the program any less successful for those who used it as a tool to maintain sobriety, but it also doesn’t make it universally successful.
It’s also difficult 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 at the time of data collection, but relapse occurs weeks, months, or years down the road.
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 an important part of managing addiction, and for many, NA is one of those tools.
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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“About Us.” www.na.org, www.na.org/?ID=aboutus.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Effective Treatment.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2018, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment.
Rodriguez, Tori. “Criticism of 12-Step Groups: Is It Warranted?” Psychiatry Advisor, 5 Oct. 2016, www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/addiction/criticism-of-12-step-groups-is-it-warranted/.