Narcotics Anonymous

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

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a group of people who consider themselves recovering addicts. They meet regularly to help one another maintain sobriety. NA takes an approach of complete abstinence, and the only requirement for members is the desire to stay clean.

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.

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.

Members of NA attend meetings, and the group believes that regular attendance at meetings is a tool for helping to maintain sobriety.

What to Expect in an NA Meeting

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:

  • 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

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.

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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 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.

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Effectiveness in Treating Substance Abuse and Addiction

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.

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12-Step Programs

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.

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

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.


“About Us.”,

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Effective Treatment.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2018,

Rodriguez, Tori. “Criticism of 12-Step Groups: Is It Warranted?” Psychiatry Advisor, 5 Oct. 2016,

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Updated on: June 30, 2020
Addiction Group Staff
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Medically Reviewed: March 18, 2020
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Annamarie Coy

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