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Narcotics Anonymous Explained: What it is and Why It Works

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Narcotics Anonymous – Helping Addicts Get Clean Since 1953

Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) is a 12-step program designed to help addicts stop using drugs and help them find a new way to live. The program happens at regularly scheduled meetings.

The program was created in 1953 by a recovering addict named Jimmy K. and founded in California with the help of other recovering addicts. N.A. was modeled after the Alcoholics Anonymous program and was born out of a need for a solution that focused not on alcohol addiction, but drug addiction.

Today, there are more than 67,000 weekly N.A. meetings held in 139 different countries in 16 different languages.

Learn more about the history of Narcotics Anonymous.

What is the Difference Between Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous?

Many people are familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) The main difference between A.A. and Narcotics Anonymous is that A.A. is available to alcoholics who are looking to stay sober and N.A. focuses on recovery from drug addiction. It is important to understand, though, that N.A. recognizes alcohol as a drug. Narcotics Anonymous encourages its members to remain abstinent from all drugs – this includes alcohol.

Who is an Addict?

Narcotics Anonymous is a program designed for addicts seeking recovery from drug addiction. Not sure if you are an addict? Here is what N.A. has to say on the subject when it comes to who is an addict:

“Most of us do not have to think twice about this question. WE KNOW! Our whole life and thinking was centered in drugs in one form or another – the getting and using and finding ways and means to get more. We lived to use and used to live. Very simply, an addict is a man or woman whose life is controlled by drugs. We are people in the grip of a continuing and progressive illness whose ends are always the same: jails, institutions, and death,” (Narcotics Anonymous, “Basic Text,” p. 3)

After reading this excerpt from the N.A. Basic Text, can you relate? If so, N.A. might be the place for you!

Who is an Addict

What is the Narcotics Anonymous Program?

Rather than elaborate on our understanding of the N.A. program, we decided it would be best to let Narcotics Anonymous speak for itself. Here is an excerpt taken from the N.A. Basic Text, which is a book written by addicts for addicts:

“N.A. is a nonprofit fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem. We are recovering addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean. This is a program of complete abstinence from all drugs. There is only one requirement for membership, the desire to stop using. We suggest that you keep an open mind and give yourself a break. Our program is a set of principles written so simply that we can follow them in our daily lives. The most important thing about them is that they work.

“There are no strings attached to N.A. We are not affiliated with any other organizations, we have no initiation fees or dues, no pledges to sign, no promises to make to anyone. We are not connected with any political, religious, or law enforcement groups, and are under no surveillance at any time. Anyone may join us, regardless of age, race, sexual identity, creed, religion, or lack of religion.

“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 what you want to do about your problem and how we can help. The newcomer is the most important person at any meeting, because we can only keep what we have by giving it away. We have learned from our group experience that those who keep coming to our meetings regularly stay clean,” (Narcotics Anonymous, “Basic Text,” p. 9).

N.A. is Not a Detox Program or Rehabilitation Facility

To be clear, N.A. does not offer any type of detox or professional rehabilitation services. The program is not run by licensed counselors or addiction specialists. Although many members are licensed chemical dependency counselors or therapists, they do not serve in that capacity while attending meetings. The meetings are made up of everyday people who are there to share their experience, strength, and hope about how they conquered their addiction to drugs. They simply share what is helping them stay clean one day at a time.

If you are in need of detox services or specialized addiction treatment, you will not find it at Narcotics Anonymous. However; you can connect with people who can help point you in the right direction and tell you where you get the help you need. People at N.A. are very resourceful and usually know where free rehabs are located in the city and can tell you how to get into a low-cost or no-cost detox if you need it.

How Does the Narcotics Anonymous Program Work?

Narcotics Anonymous is a simple, spiritual, not religious program. You do not have to believe in God to attend the N.A. Program. The program teaches that addiction is a disease that is treated through abstinence from all drugs and by working the program.

N.A. works in several ways:

  1. You make the commitment, one day at a time, not to use drugs no matter what.
  2. You go to regularly scheduled meetings, which last one hour long. N.A. meets in cities and towns across the United States and around the world. You can do a search online and find a meeting near you. Meeting schedules will also be made available at meetings which will give you a list of local meetings. You can also go to meetings online.
  3. You get a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who provides guidance and helps you stay clean one day at a time. The primary function of a sponsor is to work you through the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous.
  4. You work the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous with the help of a sponsor and apply the principles from the steps in your daily life.
  5. You fellowship with other recovering addicts and build a support system of other people who are staying clean too. You get connected and stay sober.

Narcotics Anonymous provides literature to help you understand more about the program and how it works.

Working the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous

The Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text is a book that provides an in-depth explanation of the 12 Steps. There is also a step-working guide. The step-working guide has a series of questions for you to answer with each step. You complete these steps one at a time and go over your answers with a sponsor. This is how you “work” the steps.

Here are the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous:

  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 the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

If seeing the word “God” in these steps alarms you, please do not let this scare you away from the program. A lot of people who attend N.A. do not believe in God. If you are an atheist or agnostic, this does not mean the program cannot work for you.

Read an inspiring story about someone who worked the 12 Steps (their story is about their experience in A.A.).

Narcotics Anonymous Program

How Do the 12 Steps Work to Conquer Addiction?

The 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous take you from the hopeless state of addiction to an empowered state of recovery. This happens through a process of honest admission, “cleaning house,” righting wrongs, engaging in spiritual practices, and being of service to others.

  • The steps allow you to make an honest assessment of your addiction and come face-to face with the reality that you are powerless over your use of drugs. You come to see how your obsessive and compulsive use of drugs has caused your life to become unmanageable. You get out of denial and start living honestly.
  • By working the steps, you are given hope that a power greater than yourself can restore you to a sense of sanity after years of living in insanity. You get to define what that power is. As we mentioned, you don’t have to believe in God to work the N.A. program. Your higher power can be the program itself.
  • You are given the opportunity to perform an inventory of yourself and admit your shortcomings. You then ask the God of your understanding to remove your defects of character, which brings relief from things like insecurity and self-loathing. Quite often, these defects of character are what drove your addiction to begin with.
  • You get to face the wreckage of your past. You right your wrongs and make amends to the people you have hurt. This helps to alleviate the guilt and shame you inevitably experience from things you did while you were using drugs. Quite often, people continue to use drugs because of shame and guilt.
  • You stay clean through prayer and meditation and learn to be of service to others by carrying the message of recovery to other addicts – just like the message was carried to you when you first got clean.

It will not make sense to you now, but by working the steps, you experience a complete positive transformation of the mind, body, and spirit. You put the past behind you and feel hopeful about a future without drugs. You find a new way to live – without drugs. The steps work if you work them!

Find out more about the science behind the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous.

The Promise and Message of the Narcotics Anonymous Program

If you go to an N.A meeting, they will tell you the message of Narcotics Anonymous is hope and the promise is freedom. Specifically, N.A. promises that an addict – ANY addict – can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use drugs, and find a new way to live. THIS MEANS YOU! This promise is the message – it is the message of hope.

By the time anyone attends their very first N.A. meeting, they have lost all hope that they can ever stop using drugs. However; we know that the Narcotics Anonymous program works. We have complete faith in the program. We have seen even the most desperate drug addict attend N.A., get clean, and stay clean. Millions of drug addicts around the world attend N.A. meetings every day and stay clean one day at a time.

People go to Narcotics Anonymous and stay clean for ten, twenty, thirty years! For someone who finds it impossible to stay clean for even one day, this might sound like hogwash – but it’s the truth. That’s the beauty of Narcotics Anonymous. You go to the program and see that other people who have struggled with addiction are staying clean….. and you realize you can too.

Have you been struggling with an addiction to drugs? Do you feel powerless over your addiction? Has your life become unmanageable? Why not attend an N.A. meeting tonight?


Narcotics Anonymous. (1988). “Basic Text.” Van Nuys, CA: World Service Office.

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By |2019-10-03T19:47:28+00:00December 7th, 2017|

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