aa na differences

If you’re relatively new to the idea of getting treatment for your addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, you’ve probably wondered about whether you need AA vs NA.

AA vs NA: Differences and Similarities You Should Know

There are probably a lot of words that are used in recovery that you don’t recognize right away. You might hear about Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and wonder what the difference is between the two, for example.

In this article, we’ll talk about some of those differences, but we’ll also discuss some of the similarities. First, let’s go over some basic background behind each of these addiction treatment programs.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous (or AA) began in 1935 by two men who had one unified goal. They wanted to help alcoholics give up alcohol and empower them to help others do the same.

The program is centered around twelve steps, which is often simply referred to as The Twelve Step Program. These steps guide the alcoholic into growing spiritually, becoming aware of the hurt and pain they have caused to themselves as well as to others, and making amends for that pain.

As the person progresses through the program, he learns the importance of embracing these principles throughout every area of his life. In addition, he also becomes passionate about and learns the skills to help others as they begin and complete their own journey toward sobriety.

AA is built upon the premise of therapy via a support group. This has proven to be a very effective model for treating alcoholism because people can draw upon each other for the support they need.

Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous

As AA took off, there was a group of people who were struggling with addiction, but they lacked the type of support people received in AA. Because AA was designed to assist alcoholics, those who used recreational or prescription drugs weren’t included.

As an answer to this dilemma, Narcotics Anonymous (or NA) was formed.

Like AA, NA also utilizes the support group model of therapy because it has shown to be very effective in treating addictions of all kinds. They make use of The Twelve Step Program, just as AA does.

Their focus is also on coming to terms with the pain they have caused themselves as well as others in their lives, healing broken relationships and working to help others overcome their addictions.

As you can see, there are many similarities between AA and NA, and it’s easy to get them confused. However, there are some differences between these two groups too, and they include more than just the addict’s chosen substance. While they may be subtle differences, they still exist.

Understanding the Differences: AA vs NA

Understanding the Differences: AA vs NA

When you attend AA, you are attending a group that is based upon helping people who struggle with alcoholism. NA focuses on helping people who struggle with all drugs, including alcohol. In addition, there is a small difference in each group’s approach to The Twelve Step Program, and it all begins with the very first step.

For the alcoholic, step number one states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

For the person attending NA, step number one states, “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

At first glance suggests that the difference is solely seen in the substance of choice. However, it’s a difference that goes much deeper than that.

There is a difference between being powerless over a substance and being powerless over the addiction. It suggests that in AA, the lack of control is due to the alcohol, while in AA, the lack of control is due to the actual addiction itself. One is external (alcohol) and one is internal (addiction).

This difference has led to many people concluding that NA is more focused on the individual, rather than focusing on the assistance of a Higher Power, which is a major part of The Twelve Steps in AA.

For many, this approach is appealing because they may not feel comfortable discussing a Higher Power and its influence in their lives. Instead, they may feel that the responsibility lies completely with them and that they need to, in a sense, get out of their own way if they’re ever going to be free from their addictions.

For the NA member, once you’re able to accomplish that goal, there is room for the Higher Power (as you see it) to work in your life and help you work toward being clean.

Another difference between AA and NA is the fact that one focuses on a legal substance (alcohol) and the other focuses on all substances, many of which are illegal. This difference tends to draw different types of people to each meeting. For those who are trying to decide which approach works for them, they should consider that fact before choosing which program to attend.

What are NA and AA Meetings Like

What are NA and AA Meetings Like?

Perhaps you’re thinking about going to an AA or an NA meeting. However, you’re feeling nervous about what you’ll experience. This fear of the unknown can keep many people from even walking through the doors of a meeting. It can help to know what NA and AA meetings are like.

The first thing you should know is that almost everyone feels this way about their first meeting. You’re not strange or odd because you feel nervous. You should also know that there’s nothing to fear. The people there are just like you. They all face similar challenges to what you’re facing right now. They just want help, and they’re hoping that Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous is the answer.

Let’s talk about the things you’re not going to be expected to do at an AA or NA meeting. You will not:

  •      Be singled out without your consent
  • Be expected to share your entire life story
  • Be made to feel as though you’re “less than” because you’re an alcoholic or an addict
  • Be expected to talk at all unless you want to
  • Be made to tell people your name or give them your phone number for accountability

Now let’s talk about the things you will be expected to do at an NA or AA meeting. You will:

  • Be expected to sit and listen quietly
  • Be expected to drink as much coffee, and have as many snacks as you’d like
  • Be expected to take the principles you learn and apply them to your life
  • Be expected to keep your identity a secret for as long as you’d like to
  • Be expected to come back and learn more
  • Be expected to remain free of alcohol and/or drugs

Typically, both NA and AA meetings begin with reading the 12 Steps. You may also hear people reciting the serenity prayer or the 12 Traditions. After that, you’ll find that meetings are all quite different from each other. Some meetings may include speakers, or people sharing about their experiences. Others will involve discussions or reading from a chosen textbook.

There’s no need to worry. You won’t be called upon to answer questions or speak at all. All you need to do is listen and learn as much as you can.

AA 12 Steps

The 12 Steps are the main component of AA, and everything you’ll learn is based on them. The 12 Steps of AA are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. 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 the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

NA 12 Steps

Like AA, the NA 12 Steps are also a foundational part of the information you’ll learn. You will notice that there are some differences. The 12 Steps of NA are:

  1. We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We can 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.

Facts About Alcohol Abuse and Drug Abuse

Alcoholics and drug addicts often don’t think about how addiction has plagued others. It’s interesting to take a look at some statistics on alcohol abuse and drug abuse. Perhaps you’ve never done this before.

alcohol abuse statistics

Alcoholism is prevalent, and according to multiple sources:

  • In 2015, more than 86% of people admitted to drinking alcohol at least once.
  • More than 70% stated that they had consumed alcohol during the last year.
  • 56% stated that they had consumed alcohol during the last month.
  • Almost 27% of people ages 18 and over reported binge drinking in the last month.
  • 7% of people in this age group admitted to heavy drinking in the last month.
  • 15.1 million adults in the U.S. have an alcohol use disorder.
  • Only 1.3 million adults were treated for an alcohol use disorder in 2015.
  • 2.5% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 have an alcohol use disorder.
  • About 88,000 people die from alcohol each year.

drug abuse statistics

Drug addiction is also prevalent. Statistics tell us that:

  • About 10% of cocaine users will go on to become heavy users.
  • There are about 750,000 heroin users in the U.S.
  • Methamphetamine is currently on the rise in the U.S.
  • The most frequent abusers of meth are people between the ages of 15 and 25.
  • Prescription drug abuse is increasing rapidly; particularly among teens.

Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work?

You may be wondering if AA is right for you. AA does work. Research tells us that about 40% of AA members who reach one year of sobriety will remain sober. This statistic increases the longer a member is sober. Continual participation is the key to the effectiveness of the program.

Does Narcotics Anonymous Work?

NA has also shown to be effective. This is largely due to the fact that the organization keeps growing continually. As of 1994, there were close to 20,000 weekly meetings being held in 70 countries. That number is sure to have increased since then.

Which Program Should You Choose

Which Program Should You Choose, AA vs NA?

As you can see, both programs have very similar premises, yet there are some subtle differences to consider as well. When trying to choose AA vs NA, you might find it more appealing to call upon the help of a Higher Power and focus on alcohol as being the main issue if you’re an alcoholic. Or, you might decide that you need to focus on your addiction (to alcohol or to another substance) as a whole and concentrate on yourself as an individual first.

Either way, both AA and NA are excellent programs that were created to foster success for those who are struggling with addictions. The fact that they both include a support system is a great benefit to you because you’ll find that although it can be intimidating in the beginning, learning that there are people just like you who struggle with addictions can be very beneficial to your overall success. These are people who have been where you are, and who want to invest in you the way others have invested in them. There aren’t many places where you will find that kind of support.

Is AA or NA the Right Program for You?

At first glance, it may seem as though your choice between AA and NA should be an obvious one. However, as you dig deeper, you’ll realize that’s not the case at all. While there are some similarities between the two groups, there are also some slight differences.

You might be an alcoholic who is more comfortable with healing your addiction than blaming alcohol. If that is how you feel, Narcotics Anonymous might be the better option for you. In looking at the key differences between these two groups, you can find the right one for you.

Here at Northpoint Recovery, we recognize the fact that AA and NA are both important. Both of these organizations have been instrumental in people’s lives. In fact, there are many people who feel they could never have recovered from their addictions without them. Even so, it’s important to recognize the fact that a solid drug or alcohol rehab program is necessary for recovery. That should be the very first step you take as you seek to heal from your addiction.

Drug and alcohol rehab can help you build the foundation for a solid, successful recovery. We would love the opportunity to assist you as you press on to leave your life of addiction behind.

Do you have more questions about AA or NA? How can we help you begin your recovery journey? Please contact us today.

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AA and NA Differences and Similarities

HuffingtonPost.com. (1, January 2015). So What Really Happens in an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting?. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeanpaul-bedard/so-what-really-happens-in_b_6471862.html

HealthyPlace.com. (20, June 2016). Drug Abuse Statistics – Drug Abuse Facts. Retrieved from: https://www.healthyplace.com/addictions/drug-addiction/drug-abuse-statistics-drug-abuse-facts/

NIAAA.nih.gov. (February 2017). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

EN.Wikipedia.org. (7, June 2017). Effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effectiveness_of_Alcoholics_Anonymous

NANJ.org. (1995). Facts About Narcotics Anonymous. Retrieved from: http://www.nanj.org/pi/facts.shtml

AA vs NA: Differences and Similarities You Should Know
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3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Robert McArthur March 9, 2018 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Playing semantics with the 12 steps ‘short form’ here. In the AA big book it states quite clearly that alcohol is only a symptom of our disease, selfishness and self-centeredness is the root of our problem. We had to be rid of this or we would die.

    AA does not focus on the substance of alcohol as the problem. It focuses on ego as the problem and that a sick ego cannot heal itself…only a Power Greater Than Ourselves could perform this healing…. on a day to day basis.

  2. Avatar
    Brent Mayhew June 3, 2019 at 12:33 am - Reply

    Also, AA makes a clear distinction that selfishness and self-centeredness is the root of the problem and other centeredness is the answer. Altruistic movement.

    • Northpoint Recovery
      Northpoint Recovery June 3, 2019 at 3:30 pm - Reply

      Thank you for sharing!

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