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An Overview of Narcotics Anonymous

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Some of the most widely accessible recovery resources in the United States are 12-step fellowships, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Narcotics Anonymous was formed in the early 1950s in Southern California.3 NA is a recovery program adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous and based on the 12 steps. The main distinction from AA is that NA members classify themselves as “addicts” and identification is all-inclusive to any mood or mind-altering substance.3 NA was born because addicted people were unable to talk openly about their specific problems in AA meetings, where the words “sober” and “clean” clashed. The NA literature refers to alcohol as a drug and deals with the illness of addiction, whereas AA focuses primarily on alcoholism. NA’s mission is to provide a context where addicts can help one another stop using drugs and find a new, healthy way to live. The only requirement for NA membership is a “desire to stop using drugs.”3

Originating in Los Angeles, NA grew quickly and is now a worldwide organization, with meetings spread across North and South America, the Middle East, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia.3 A total of 67,000 NA meetings occur weekly in 139 countries and NA literature is available in 49 different languages.3 Statistically, NA’s gender ratio is 59% male and 41% female.3 NA is not restricted to any political or geographic boundaries, nor is it limited to any one faith, dogma, or philosophy.2 The main tenets of NA are based upon three basic features: Unity, Service, and Recovery (meetings, service work, and the 12 steps), as depicted by NA’s triangular emblem. The NA program is a set of spiritual principles used to recover from addiction.

The 12 Steps

NA’s 12 steps begin with “We” instead of “I.” The purpose of this is to demonstrate how program members recover together and to highlight the importance of community.

The 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous are as follows:2

  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.

The 12 steps are positive tools that help make recovery possible.2 Working the 12 steps of recovery is a cornerstone of most, if not all, 12-step programs. Generally, members will look for a sponsor with whom they feel comfortable being rigorously honest with. Twelve-step work may involve writing assignments, taking inventory, making lists of persons/places harmed, and making direct amends. Steps 10, 11, and 12, also known as the maintenance steps, are practiced daily. You can work through the 12 steps at your own pace or as negotiated between you and your sponsor.

The 12 Traditions

The 12 traditions of NA are to the group what the 12 steps are to the individual. The NA 12 traditions are as follows:7

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on NA unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as he may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or NA as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry the message to the addict who still suffers.
  6. An NA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the NA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, or prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every NA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Narcotics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. NA, as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Narcotics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the NA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

The 12 traditions are the guidelines that keep the NA fellowship alive. They are a set of standards to be followed by the group so that internal dealings are smooth and effective and NA’s mission can be carried out. The 12 traditions are spiritual tools used to interact with other people harmoniously. NA members vote on certain topics in meetings, and often a group conscience is necessary. The 12 traditions help keep everyone on the same page. They also protect the NA fellowship as a whole, so that outside forces cannot interfere.

How Effective Is NA in Recovery?

Twelve-step programs like NA, during and after treatment, are a cost-effective and useful approach to promoting recovery from drugs and other substances.1 Based on a survey conducted in 2015, the average length of continuous clean time in NA is 8.32 years.3 Research shows that attendance of 3 or more NA meetings per week are associated with complete abstinence and optimal outcomes.4 Results from the survey confirmed that people were 4.1 to 8.6 times more likely to stay abstinent by continuously attending 12-step meetings and remaining involved.Another study found that individuals who consistently attend NA meetings have higher abstinence rates than those who do not participate in the 12-step program.5 The more meetings someone attends in the first 6 months after seeking treatment the more likely they are to be clean at 6-month follow-up.5

Belief in the 12-step ideology, specifically that moderate use of drugs is not an option, is the greatest factor of abstinence regardless of how many NA meetings individual people attended.5 People receiving individual counseling are more active in self-help groups, such as NA.5 A person’s ability to remain clean is also dependent on the user’s non-drug dependent “clean” network; the environment and social circle impact a person’s recovery.6

Can It Work If You Aren’t Religious?

Religiousness has specific denominational attributes because it involves an organized system of worship and doctrine shared within a group. Spirituality is generally thought of as more open, inclusive, and universal than religiousness and is a subjective experience; people create their own spiritual constructs. Additionally, many spiritual activities are independent from religion. NA members have varying concepts of a Higher Power; members may choose their Higher Power to be God, the program itself, the group, or anything else. It just has to be something they strongly believe in. Even atheists have found a place in the NA fellowship. The point is that members should remain open-minded, regardless of religious beliefs and limitations.

NA’s concept of a Higher Power provides a positive outlook and instills faith in something bigger than self-reliance. Before NA, for many people struggling with addiction, self-sufficiency and the ability to stop using drugs had failed. A belief in a Higher Power enables people to practice spiritual principles and is the basis for getting and staying clean. The member chooses a personal concept of a Higher Power; religion may or may not influence that decision.

Sources

  1. Laudet, A., Morgan, K., White, W. (2006). The role of social supports, spirituality, religiousness, life meaning and affiliations with 12-step fellowships in quality of life satisfaction among individuals in recovery from alcohol and drug problems. Alcohol Treatment Quarterly, 24(1-2): 33-73.
  2. Narcotics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2008). Narcotics Anonymous.
  3. NA World Services, Inc. (2016). Information about NA.
  4. Krentzman, A., Robinson, E., Moore, B., Kelly, J., Laudet, A., White, W., Zemore, S., Kurtz, E., Strobbe, S. (2010). How Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) work: Cross disciplinary perspectives. Alcohol Treatment Quarterly, 29(1): 75-84.
  5. Moos, R., Timko, C. (2008). Outcome research on 12-step and other self-help programs. Textbook of substance abuse treatment. (4th pp. 511-521).
  6. Witbrodt, J., & Kaskutas, L. (2005). Does Diagnosis Matter? Differential effects of 12-step participation and social networks on abstinence. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, (31), 685-707.
  7. Narcotics Anonymous. (1988). The Twelve Traditions of NA.

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