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Updated on September 27, 2022

12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous

What is Narcotics Anonymous (NA)?

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a global, community-based organization. It provides community support to anyone addicted to drugs.

NA does not discriminate on age, race, gender or sexual identity, religious beliefs, or drugs used.

“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.”

— Narcotics Anonymous

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What are the 12 Steps of NA?

Narcotics Anonymous, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is a twelve-step program.

The 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous are principles 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. AA was founded in 1935 by Bob Smith and Bill Wilson. They were addicted to alcohol and looking to maintain sobriety.

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

12-step programs work by providing a community that attracts and engages people long-term. This support group offers mental health benefits for members, which reduces relapse risk. This is necessary because addiction is a chronic relapsing condition that requires ongoing support. 

12-step programs also emphasize that addiction is a disease, not a moral failure. This helps addicts let go of guilt, which hinders recovery.

Spiritual Aspects of NA’s 12 Steps

Narcotics 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.” 

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

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

The 12 steps often refer to a “higher power.” However, members have the liberty to identify their own higher power. It can be non-theistic, such as the power of love or community.

People with various spiritual and religious backgrounds, along with atheists and agnostics, have developed a relationship with their own higher power.

Narcotics Anonymous is not associated with any religion. Spiritual beliefs are not necessary to attend NA or for a successful recovery.

NA makes frequent use of the word "God." Many members choose to 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:

“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.”

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Benefits of the 12 Steps of NA

NA's 12-step program offers many 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

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 long-term abstinence is achievable and sustainable, especially with regular meeting attendance.

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

Many groups like NA or AA are an integral part of aftercare programs once someone has finished inpatient or outpatient treatment.

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. Recovery is a highly individualized process.

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

What to Expect at Meetings

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

Each meeting is facilitated by a moderator. It is usually based on open sharing and discussion around substance abuse and recovery.

The meeting dynamic can change with the meeting's time of day, location, or type. No two meetings are alike. 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 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. 

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How to Join Narcotics Anonymous 

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

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Resources

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  1. “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
  2. 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 
  3. 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 : 51-6. doi:10.1016/0376-871601103-6 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7648997/ 
  4. 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 : 493-502. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.56.6.493 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10359461/ 
  5. 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 : 313-32. doi:10.1080/19371918.2013.774663 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3753023/ 
  6. “Information About NA.” Narcotics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous World Services Inc., www.na.org/admin/include/spaw2/uploads/pdf/pr/Info_about_NA_2016.pdf 
  7. “An Introduction to NA Meetings IP No. 29.” Narcotics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, June 2014, www.na.org/admin/include/spaw2/uploads/files/EN3129.pdf  
  8. 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 
  9. Krentzman, Amy R et al. “How Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Work: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives.” Alcoholism treatment quarterly vol. 29,1 : 75-84. doi:10.1080/07347324.2011.538318 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3140338/ 
  10. 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
  11. “What Happens at an NA Meeting.” Narcotics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, www.na.org/?ID=NAMeetings-WhatHappensAtAnNAMeeting

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