Narcotics Anonymous

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If you or someone you care for has been affected by drug addiction, you have likely heard of Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. You may be wondering if 12-step programs like this work or if NA could work for someone like you.

NA and other 12-step programs offer regularly scheduled meetings for people who want to quit using substances. When coming together, often weekly, NA members share their drug-related experiences and provide one another with support, encouragement, and guidance.

In this article: 

What is NA?

According to NA literature, NA is comprised of what they refer to as a fellowship of individuals that was developed based on the work of the previously established, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). About a decade after AA was founded, NA was founded and took roots in southern California. Since that time, NA has spread around the world, sharing the message of hope for those who are afflicted by substance use disorders. NA literature explains that NA sees therapeutic and healing value in the relationships between members who identify as having substance use disorders.1

NA is not affiliated with treatment centers, organizations, or medical facilities, and thus, does not employ therapists or counselors.1 There are many benefits to its independently-operated program, as there are no membership fees associated with attendance and there are no direct external influences on the organization. In this light, NA provides a setting for lifelong mutual support. NA is a welcoming, nonjudgmental space and the only requirement to join is that you have an earnest desire to quit using drugs.

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NA is Not Formal Addiction Treatment

NA literature clarifies that while the program provides a supportive environment, it does not provide classes or counseling and is thus not a replacement for appropriate treatment programs for substance use disorders.2

Professional substance abuse treatment occurs on an inpatient or outpatient basis and may provide many different interventions, such as:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Complementary and alternative approaches like meditation, yoga, and art therapy
  • Support groups

While some people find that NA meetings are enough for them to quit using substances, other people benefit from attending rehab where they can learn coping mechanisms, relapse-prevention skills, as well as ways to identity and combat drug-using triggers. Once they complete treatment, they may begin to attend NA meetings as a form of aftercare, which is ongoing care after initial sobriety is achieved.

NA Meetings: In-Person and Online

Although NA, as with other 12-step programs, was developed to make weekly, in-person meetings available to the public, NA is now available in an online format. Meetings are offered around the clock from all corners of the world, increasing accessibility and reaching even more people. As of May 2018, NA reported more than 70,000 weekly meetings in 144 countries.

Does NA Work?

Results from a 2018 survey of more than 28,000 NA members showed that the average time engaged in the program while abstaining from mind-altering substances was 11.41 years.1 In the same survey, many NA members reported significant improvements in their lives, ranging from improved family relationships to having more stable housing.1 Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Narcotics Anonymous is going to work for everyone. Whether NA works for you will largely depend upon your personal needs and preferences.

Part of the difficulty of having a substance use disorder is often the isolation that accompanies it. If you are struggling with drug addiction, a fellowship like NA could help you obtain and maintain sobriety, especially if you are in need of a healthy and sober support system. NA offers you a way to connect with other people who have had the same kinds of fears and challenges to overcome. In meetings, you will get the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others, meet a sponsor who can hold you accountable and serve as a confidant, and even make lifelong friends. Never underestimate the power of community support, encouragement, and empowerment.

Signs of Addiction

While some people may be aware that they have a substance addiction, others may not be. If you are unsure if you have an addiction that could be helped by NA, there are many signs to be aware of, including:3

  • Using a greater amount of the drug than originally intended
  • Failing to quit using substances, despite efforts to do so
  • Using mind-altering substances in dangerous situations, such as while driving a car or operating machinery
  • Continuing to use substances despite negative consequences at home, school, or work
  • Continuing to use drugs despite the knowledge that use is worsening or causing physical or mental health issues
  • Neglecting previously enjoyed hobbies in favor of substance use
  • Developing tolerance for the drug, which means you require more of the substance to experience the desired effect
  • Experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you abruptly discontinue or reduce use

Types of Meetings

Programs like NA offer different types of meetings for those with particular interests or needs. The following are some examples of the types of meetings you may find in your area:

  • Women’s only
  • Men’s only
  • LGBTQ
  • No pets or animals
  • No children
  • Meetings for mothers
  • Beginner or new member
  • Candlelight
  • Non-smoking
  • Young peoples
  • Virtual-only
  • Hybrid meetings, offering both in-person and virtual options for attendance
  • Literature study
  • Meditation-based
  • Discussion or participation based
  • Step study meetings, where participants spend time evaluating the step work as it is discussed in NA literature

On the website na.org, you can use a search engine dedicated to finding specific meeting types that you think may suit your interests. For those who have not attended NA or a 12-step meeting before, starting at a beginner’s meeting can be a helpful way to acclimate and get to know some fellow members. At beginner meetings, it is not uncommon to find that those with more experience will also be in attendance to welcome new members.

NA meetings tend to occur on a weekly basis, although it largely depends on the meeting and the area. Many NA members find that they benefit from attending meetings on a regular basis because they are able to get to know their peers and form connections.

What are NA Meetings Like?

NA meetings, which are generally held in treatment centers, churches, or other facilities, vary greatly from meeting to meeting. That said, there are many things most NA meetings have in common, including:2

  • Meetings tend to be speaker (one or two members share for an extended period of time) or discussion meetings (members take turns sharing).
  • Newcomers are often welcomed with a handshake or a hug.
  • In-person gatherings typically sit in a circle at the end to do an NA reading or prayer.
  • If it is a discussion meeting, members are encouraged to be mindful of time limitations when sharing.
  • Members are often encouraged to share their own experiences instead of responding to other people’s.
  • Nonmembers are typically asked not to share in meetings.
  • The use of cell phones or other electronic devices is discouraged, as well as side conversations.
  • Members have the option of remaining anonymous for privacy reasons.

If desired, you can also choose a sponsor, an experienced NA member who can offer you support and guidance as you make your way through the 12 steps of NA. The 12 steps of NA are similar to the 12 steps associated with other programs, such as AA. The basis of the steps is a spiritual approach (as opposed to religious) to behavior change and overall life improvement.4

Get Help Today

While NA can provide you with a great support system throughout your recovery, 12-step programs alone are not a replacement for rehab. Many people affected by drug addiction find that effective treatment programs are an important part of their journey to drug abstinence and overall better quality of life. Drug addiction may be an isolating and scary road, but recovery can be full of new beginnings and healthy new connections.

Call (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?) today to get connected with a treatment specialist who can help guide your journey toward recovery.

the Take-Away

When a person wants to overcome their addiction to narcotics, Narcotics Anonymous can help. They are a group of people who join together and support each others recovery.