What is Narcotics Anonymous (NA)?

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Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a global, community-based organization that provides programming and community support to help individuals addicted to drugs recover from their addictions.

NA does not discriminate and is open to all addicts regardless of age, race, sexual identity, creed, religious beliefs, or drugs used.

NA says on its open membership policy: “We are not interested in what or how much you used or who your connections were, what you have done in the past, how much or how little you have, but only in what you want to do about your problem and how we can help.”

History & Benefits of Narcotics Anonymous 

Narcotics Anonymous was founded in 1953 and inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous. 

In 1983, Narcotics Anonymous published its Basic textbook (also called the Big Book), which contributed to NA’s growth.

Today, the organization is a worldwide multilingual and multicultural fellowship with over 70,000 weekly meetings in 144 countries.

Participation in NA or similar 12-step programs offers many positive benefits, including:

  • Cost-free membership that doesn’t require health insurance
  • No requirements, pledges, or oaths needed to become a member
  • Reduced average health care costs for members
  • Education on addiction and how to avoid relapse
  • Effective in achieving abstinence
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Social support 
  • Ample availability of meetings in many places and at many times of the day and night
  • Compatibility with other addiction treatments
  • Sharing at these substance recovery meetings is voluntary, and participation is confidential

Some studies have found that 12-step programs like NA are more effective in psychotherapy in achieving abstinence. 

Most believe that NA is more effective when used with other addiction treatment programs.

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What to Expect at Meetings

NA describes their meetings as places to “share recovery with other addicts”.

Each meeting is usually based on open sharing and discussion around substance abuse and recovery, facilitated by a moderator. The meeting dynamic can change with the meeting time of day, location, or meeting type. No two meetings are alike; the commonality lies in the member’s desire to stay sober. Sharing at these meetings is voluntary, and participation is confidential.

NA recommends that new members show up early, stay late, and ask lots of questions before and after meetings to get the most out of every meeting they attend. 

NA recommends that new members commit to a meeting every day for at least 90 days to get to know NA members and the program.

The key with any 12-step program is that results come with continued attendance. It’s unnecessary to experience a “breakthrough” at every meeting, but sustained attendance will create results in your recovery. 

What are the 12 Steps of NA?

Narcotics Anonymous, like Alcoholics Anonymous, is a twelve-step program because it employs a twelve-step method aimed to help each member abstain from drug addiction. The 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous are the principles that made recovery possible and “the source of freedom for the individual”. NA recommends that all members follow the 12 steps of NA to make the most out of their recovery program. 

The 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous are:

  1. “We admitted that 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 a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Science Behind the 12 Steps

The original 12-step program was developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, founded in 1935 by Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, who were addicted to alcohol and looking to maintain sobriety.

12-step programs are not medical treatment; however, they do have something important to offer people attempting to quit an addiction. 

12-step programs work by providing a social network that can attract and engage people long-term. This support group offers mental health benefits for members, which reduces relapse risk. This system works because addiction tends to be a chronic relapsing condition that requires ongoing support. 

12-step programs also emphasize the powerfully compulsive nature of addiction rather than a moral failing, which helps relieve addicts from feeling guilt which hinders recovery.

How do the 12 Steps Work? 

Addiction is a progressive condition characterized by powerlessness over substance use. The disease of addiction cannot be “cured,” but the illness can be arrested by abstaining from using substances. Members help one another stay sober by utilizing the twelve steps.

Addiction is not a moral failing, and recovery depends on alcoholics’ taking responsibility for living with their condition, much like asthmatics must maintain treatment of their illness.

Do You Have to be Religious to Follow the 12 Steps? 

You do not have to be religious to follow the 12 steps.

While the 12 steps often refer to a “higher power,” members of NA have the liberty to identify their own higher power which can be non-theistic, such as the power of love or community. Individuals from various spiritual and religious backgrounds and many atheists and agnostics have developed a relationship with their own higher power.

Spiritual beliefs are not prerequisites to attend NA and are not necessary for a successful recovery.

Spiritual Aspects of NA’s 12 Steps

Narcotics Anonymous, like Alcoholics Anonymous, was designed as “a spiritual program of recovery” from “the disease of addiction.” Narcotics Anonymous places importance on developing a working relationship with a "higher power.” 

Narcotics Anonymous is not associated with any religion. Members of Narcotics Anonymous formulate their understanding of a higher power. Members have the freedom to a sense of a higher power that works for them. 

NA also makes frequent use of the word "God" and some members who have difficulty with this term substitute "higher power" or read it as an acronym for "Good Orderly Direction".

NA meetings often close with a circle of the participants, a group hug, and a prayer.  Both AA and NA utilize The Serenity Prayer, which reads: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Benefits of the 12 Steps of NA

The median length of abstinence reported by NA members is over five years. These members reported attending, on average, two to four meetings per week. These findings suggest that longer-term abstinence is achievable and sustainable among those with relatively regular meeting attendance.

Are the 12 Steps Always Effective?

Attending one or more 12-Step programs enhances the odds of sustaining abstinence for multiple years among those addicted to drugs.

Individuals who attend 12-step meetings and consider themselves members of a 12-step fellowship are more likely to maintain abstinence over one year. Individuals who attended 12-step meetings continuously over three years were more likely to sustain abstinence long-term.

The average length of abstinence in NA is 8.32 years.

Most medical experts recommend a 12-step program in combination with other addiction treatments for the best results. 

How Long Does it Take for the 12 Steps to Work? 

Narcotics Anonymous encourages new members to commit to 90 meetings in 90 days. The amount of time it takes to work through the 12-Step Program will vary from person to person, as recovery is a highly individualized process.

How to Join Narcotics Anonymous 

If you or a loved one struggles with drug addiction, you can visit NA.org or call the Narcotics Anonymous helpline to find a meeting in your area.

Find Help For Your Addiction

You don’t have to overcome your addiction alone. Professional guidance and support is available. Begin a life of recovery by reaching out to a specialist today.

Related pages:

Resources +

“Alcoholics Anonymous Most Effective Path to Alcohol Abstinence.” Stanford University Medical School News Center, Stanford University Medical School, https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/03/alcoholics-anonymous-most-effective-path-to-alcohol-abstinence.html

Carroll, Linda. “AA, Other 12-Step Programs More Effective than Talk Therapies.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 11 Mar. 2020, www.reuters.com/article/us-health-12step-alcohol-abuse/aa-other-12-step-programs-more-effective-than-talk-therapies-idUSKBN20Y3F2 

Christo, G, and C Franey. “Drug users' spiritual beliefs, locus of control and the disease concept in relation to Narcotics Anonymous attendance and six-month outcomes.” Drug and alcohol dependence vol. 38,1 (1995): 51-6. doi:10.1016/0376-8716(95)01103-6 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7648997/ 

Crits-Christoph, P et al. “Psychosocial treatments for cocaine dependence: National Institute on Drug Abuse Collaborative Cocaine Treatment Study.” Archives of general psychiatry vol. 56,6 (1999): 493-502. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.56.6.493 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10359461/ 

Donovan, Dennis M et al. “12-step interventions and mutual support programs for substance use disorders: an overview.” Social work in public health vol. 28,3-4 (2013): 313-32. doi:10.1080/19371918.2013.774663 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3753023/ 

“Information About NA.” Narcotics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous World Services Inc., www.na.org/admin/include/spaw2/uploads/pdf/pr/Info_about_NA_2016.pdf 

“An Introduction to NA Meetings IP No. 29.” Narcotics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, June 2014, www.na.org/admin/include/spaw2/uploads/files/EN3129.pdf  

IP No.1 - Who, What, How and Why?, Narcotics Anonymous World Services Inc., 9 Nov. 2007, web.archive.org/web/20071119033428/www.na.org/ips/eng/IP1.htm 

Krentzman, Amy R et al. “How Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Work: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives.” Alcoholism treatment quarterly vol. 29,1 (2010): 75-84. doi:10.1080/07347324.2011.538318 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3140338/ 

Mendola, Annette, and Richard L. Gibson. “Addiction, 12-Step Programs, and Evidentiary Standards for Ethically and Clinically Sound Treatment Recommendations: What Should Clinicians Do?” Journal of Ethics | American Medical Association, American Medical Association, 1 June 2016, https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/addiction-12-step-programs-and-evidentiary-standards-ethically-and-clinically-sound-treatment/2016-06

“What Happens at an NA Meeting.” Narcotics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, www.na.org/?ID=NAMeetings-WhatHappensAtAnNAMeeting

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