The history of the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous began over 80 years ago, when a New York businessman and an Ohio surgeon began a fellowship based on mutual aid, founded with the goal of helping fellow alcoholics regain and retain their sobriety.
Over time, this fellowship society drafted a list of guiding principles intended to aid the recovery process on every level – physical, mental, emotional, and especially, spiritual.
This was the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Although AA was intended specifically for those individuals whose lives were being made unmanageable by alcohol, the philosophies of those original guiding principles – now called the 12 Steps – can be applied to every person suffering from any addiction.
What Is the Purpose of the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous?
At their core, the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous are a step-by-step outline of the journey that leads from the suffering of active addiction to the serenity of sober living to the satisfaction of service to fellow addicts. This path is open to anyone who finds themselves living an unmanageable life because they are powerless over their addiction.
The 12 steps of NA are meant to provide a clear, workable, and realistic guideline for changing patterns of behavior and helping to alter the fundamental modes of thinking that have fueled an addict’s substance abuse for so long.
Each of the 12 steps of NA help addicts of every kind move closer towards fully realizing the extent of their addiction while righting the wrongs that their substance abuse has caused themselves and others. Beyond that, 12 step NA meetings also help to keep recovering addicts from returning to destructive behaviors like substance abuse.
And finally, the 12 steps of NA are also meant to connect individuals going through similar hardships so that the support and guidance of a like-minded community can help reinforce long-term sobriety and provide the motivation that’s so essential for permanent recovery.
The Benefits of the 12 Steps of NA
While the most obvious benefit of following the 12 steps of NA is that it can help you overcome a crippling and potentially life-threatening addiction, there are a few reasons in particular for choosing Narcotics Anonymous over other addiction support groups.
These specific benefits of the 12 steps of NA are listed below:
1. Reliance on a Higher Power – A sense of hopelessness is incredibly common when it comes to struggling with addiction. Numerous failed attempts to get clean, tattered relationships that may seem beyond repair, and an overpowering physical dependency can undoubtedly make it seem like you simply can’t do this on your own.
With the 12 steps of NA though, you can rest assured you aren’t going through recovery alone. A hallmark of the 12 steps is a reliance on a higher power (however it is that you experience or interpret it). By putting your trust in this higher power, you can push aside doubt and worry and ultimately overcome a disease you may have felt too weak to conquer alone.
2. Taking Responsibility & Righting Wrongs – One of the cornerstones of the 12 steps of NA is admitting responsibility for your actions and taking the steps to make amends. A shattered family, wronged friends and loved ones, and broken trust are all common when it comes to addiction.
The 12 steps of NA teach you to confront your actions that were driven by addiction and seek out ways to make it right. Whether you’re able to fix these broken relationships or simply taking responsibility and apologizing if forgiveness is impossible, the 12 steps of NA can be instrumental alone the way.
3. Helping Others in their Journeys – Finally, the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous is also driven by a strong sense of community as well as continuing long-term support. These two values are both exemplified by the group’s commitment to sponsoring others during the later phases of the 12 steps.
Not only will helping others continually reinforce the notion of sobriety for you in particular, helping others can also improve your dedication to the group as well as that of the group as a whole. Helping others stay sober, then, is one of the best ways of keeping sober yourself.
How Does the Narcotics Anonymous Program Work?
In most cases, there’s more to getting the most out of a Narcotics Anonymous program than simply following the 12 steps of NA.
There are five core principles of how to really engage with Narcotics Anonymous that every member should follow. These principles are:
- Commitment – NA is an abstinence program. As such, members are expected to remain clean of drugs and be honest with others in the event of a relapse.
- Attendance – A membership to Narcotics Anonymous won’t mean a thing if members don’t regularly attend meetings. These will help keep you sober-minded, focused, and clean.
- Accepting Help – A big part of the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous involves sponsorship. Learning from the experiences of others and having someone to call in times of tribulations is absolutely essential for sobriety. Overcoming the shame and blame of addiction and learning how to actually ask for help is an integral part of NA.
- Work – Members must actively work through the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous. It takes diligence, effort, and persistence to do so and members are expected to consciously apply the principles of the program to their daily life.
- Charity – And finally supporting other members during group sessions as well as becoming a sponsor yourself is an important principle of NA. Passing on your knowledge (just as knowledge was passed onto you) can help others overcome their addiction.
The Spiritual Principles of NA
One of the fundamentals of Narcotics Anonymous is that members are asked to turn themselves over to what’s referred to as a “higher power.” Many people not familiar with the program interpret this as NA being associated with a certain religious sect or creed.
However, the truth is that Narcotics Anonymous is adamant in its stance that NA is not aligned with any religion in particular. Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and absolutely any other faith are all welcome in these meetings.
In fact, many atheists actually attend 12 step meetings every day. The point of the spiritual principles of NA is to communicate the fact that with addiction, you are not in full control. Some atheists or agnostics choose to instead think of their higher power as reality, as the fact that they cannot control their addiction on their own.
In the end, the spiritual principles of NA mean can mean different things to everyone. But in the end, it’s the dedication to sobriety that is most important in recovery.
Do the 12 Steps Really Work?
“There has been hostility among researchers, partially because of the spiritual emphasis of (NA). There is still hostility, but because of the recent evidence indicating the effectiveness of the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous in assisting in recovery, this hostility among researchers seems to be diminishing.”
~Dr. Robert Fiorentine, PhD, Director of Research Training at UCLA’s Drug Abuse Research Center
Originally, critics of the NA were skeptical of the idea of laypeople creating a positive force – especially when those laypeople were other addicts. However, a growing number of independent studies now strongly suggest that participating in a 12-Step fellowship program results in a “statistically-significant advantage” when total abstinence from intoxicating substance is the goal, compared to other stand-alone approaches.
“The Kinship of Common Suffering”
It is true that drug addiction causes collateral suffering – but it is also a fact that that suffering is magnified when one has to suffer ALONE. There is a theory that addicts have difficulty forming close emotional bonds with others, and this problem exists even before their addiction first presents itself.
When the internal psychological processes that allow a person to form healthy attachments with other humans aren’t working properly, the result can be other disorders – depression or social anxiety.
Unfortunately, these psychiatric conditions can make it even more difficult to form those connections. This creates a vicious, self-perpetuating psychic cycle.
In an effort to ease this pain, some people attempt to self-medicate with addictive drugs and behaviors. They will try anything to escape that feeling of disconnection and isolation.
But the short-term relief found in a pill, powder, pipe, or syringe is once again lost when their burgeoning addiction negatively impacts the other areas of her life. Once again, this causes a disruption in their ability to create those necessary emotional connections with other people.
Addiction has been called “an attempt at self-repair that fails” by Dr. Philip Flores, PhD, a clinical psychologist who authored the book, Addiction as an Attachment Disorder. In his book, Dr. Flores explains that some vulnerable individuals will turn to chemical solution to make up for the absence of emotional connections.
He goes on to link the need in humans for social interaction with the health of the central nervous system, saying, “Addicts don’t want to engage in these behaviors, but they can’t control himself. The only way to truly treated as with something more powerful. We, as social animals, cannot regulate a central nervous system by ourselves. We need other people to do that.”
According to Dr. Flores, 12-Step fellowship groups are communities “for people to break the isolation and to start connect on an emotional level with other people.”
What Does Science Say about the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous?
Addiction is no longer thought of as a moral failing or weakness. Research into the connection between neurology and psychological counseling as indicated that peer group therapies such as 12-Step fellowship programs help stabilize the brain’s reward pathway. In essence, attendance at Narcotics Anonymous meetings can help correct neurotransmitter systems that have gone awry.
The Project MATCH study has stated, “by incorporating 12-Step facilitation into treatment, providers can increase the likelihood that patients will continue to improve, EVEN AFTER professional treatment has ended.”
The evidence supporting the effectiveness of following the 12 steps of NA is so strong that even federally funded agencies focusing on addiction openly support the practice of following the 12 steps.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), for example, lists 12-step Facilitation Therapy as one of the eight evidence-based behavioral therapies that have been proven to be effective in fostering long-term sobriety.
However, NIDA also points out that the 12 steps of NA should be used in conjunction with professional treatment rather than as a substitute for it.
While “these groups can be particularly helpful during recovery, offering an added layer of community-level social support to help people achieve and maintain abstinence and other healthy lifestyle behaviors over the course of a lifetime,” they are still meant to “complement and extend the effects of professional treatment.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also recognizes the effectiveness of 12 step programs like Narcotics Anonymous as well, particularly because of the peer support system that is involved.
What Does All of This Mean to a Recovering Addict?
When a person has struggled with an addiction that is compromising their ability to live a normal, productive life, science has shown that they will maximize their chances of recovering from that addiction if they participate in a rehab program that incorporates the philosophies of the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous – those self-same steps that have aided generations of addicts worldwide.
What’s more, the effectiveness of the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous is readily accessible to almost everyone in the country. NA meetings are incredibly common and are spread across the United States and membership is free to anyone looking to become sober and get over their substance addiction.
Ultimately, then, the Narcotics Anonymous 12 steps are a cheap, easy, and widely-available way to continue long-term recovery, no matter the type of addiction.
Warning Signs of Addiction
As far as identifying an addiction within yourself, you’re not really sure where you should begin. There are some initial warning signs of addiction that you can look for. If you do have an actual addiction, you might notice some or even all of the following:
- You’re big on excuses – When other people point out your addictive behaviors, you always have a reason. Addicts tend to make excuses for why they do what they do. If you do this, it is a clear warning sign of addiction.
- You take a lot of risks – Risk taking behaviors are a classic warning sign of addictions. These risks often revolve around being able to use drugs. You may take big risks to be sure you have enough drugs on hand, or to use. If you’re an addict, your brain has adapted so that these risks seem OK to you.
- You can’t stop using – You may have told yourself time and time again that you’re not going to use. The problem is that you just can’t keep yourself from doing it. Drugs have taken on a very important role in your life. The fact is that your addiction is really the one in control, not you.
- You need more – This is known as tolerance. Tolerance has to do with how much of a substance it takes for you to get the same experience as before. Tolerance levels tend to change frequently for addicts. If you need more of a drug to get high, then you have developed a tolerance.
- You are secretive – You tend to believe that your drug use is no one’s business but your own. Because of this, you keep your drug use a secret from those you love. You may be feeling ashamed of the fact that you use drugs. Or, you could be trying to avoid an argument or confrontation. Either way, your drug use is a secret you keep.
Symptoms of Addiction
Have you noticed any of the above warning signs of addiction? If you have, then it might be time to take a look at some of the symptoms of addiction.
Many addictions are very similar to each other. They often produce the same types of symptoms because of how the brain responds to substances. If you do have an addiction, you’re likely to notice many of the following symptoms of addiction:
- Feeling as though you need to use regularly. This might be several times a day.
- Feeling as though you need a drug in order to feel normal.
- Experiencing intense cravings or urges to use a drug.
- Becoming obsessed over ensuring that you always have enough of a particular drug.
- Spending money on drugs, even though you can’t afford to do so.
- Not being able to take care of your responsibilities at home.
- Missing obligations that you have to work, school, or family.
- Stealing money in order to obtain a drug.
- Spending a lot of time focusing on obtaining a drug, using a drug, and recovering from use.
Are any of these familiar to you? If they are, you may have an addiction. If you do have an addiction, it needs to be treated in the appropriate ways. This means going to a professional drug rehab to get help, for many people. For others, it may mean becoming involved in a 12 Step group like Narcotics Anonymous.
If you’re still not sure, taking a drug addiction quiz can give you more clarity into your drug use.
AA Vs. NA
People often wonder about NA vs. AA, and what the differences are between them. Maybe you have wondered this as well.
The similarities between NA and AA are easy to see. They both help people with addictions. They both focus on recovery, and on helping people find healing in their lives. They also both focus on a 12 Step model of recovery. However, that is where the similarities end.
AA stands for Alcoholics Anonymous. Therefore, it was created primarily to help alcoholics recover from alcoholism. NA stands for Narcotics Anonymous. It was created for all types of addicts, alcoholics included.
Another main difference is that AA focuses on recovering from alcohol. NA focuses on recovering from addiction. One is external, and one is internal. Some would argue that in dealing with the actual addiction, a greater work is being done.
NA traditionally takes a bit longer to work through the program than AA does. AA participants can take a few months to work through all 12 Steps. For NA members, it can take much longer. They tend to become more involved in their text, and they also use a workbook. NA members also write down a lot of information, whereas AA members are not required to do that.
The focus of the 12 steps of NA worksheets are a great tool for helping recovering addicts truly engage with the lessons and internalize the teachings more strongly. Some of these may be focused on particular steps – others might help members identify triggers so they can be better prepared to deal with the cravings that come about as a result.
Ultimately, the 12 steps of NA worksheets can be instrumental in building an effective relapse recovery plan and help NA members stay cleaner, longer.
The 12 Traditions of NA
In addition to the 12 steps of NA, there are also a few more guiding principles of the support group that help keep the groups functioning in accordance with the goal of unity.
These guiding principles are called the 12 traditions of NA. According to official literature, they are as follows:
- Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on NA unity.
- 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.
- The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using.
- Each Group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting other Groups, or NA, as a whole.
- Each Group has but one primary purpose – to carry the message to the addict who still suffers.
- 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.
- Every NA Group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
- Narcotics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our Service Centers may employ special workers.
- NA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- NA has no opinion on outside issues; hence, the NA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
- 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.
- Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
Do You Have Questions About the 12 Steps of NA?
If you’re not familiar with Narcotics Anonymous, the 12 Steps can be somewhat confusing. You may be wondering how these steps can help you recover from your drug addiction. If you are, you’re certainly not alone.
At Northpoint Recovery, we understand how serious your addiction is. We know that your deepest desire is to recover, but you might not be sure how to do it. Regardless of what your addiction is, we want to help you the best way we can. We’ll be happy to help you get the answers you’re looking for.
Narcotics Anonymous has been such a great program for so many people. However, most individuals find that they need to start with drug rehab. Perhaps that’s what you’re thinking right now.
Do you need direction on going to drug rehab, and how it can help you with addiction recovery? Do you need to know more about the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous? If so, please contact us right away for assistance.
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- PsychologyToday.com. (5, November 2014). 6 Signs That You’re Addicted to Something. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hope-relationships/201411/6-signs-youre-addicted-something
- ASAM.org. (19, April 2011). Definition of Addiction. Retrieved from: https://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction
- MedicalNewsToday.com. (4, January 2016). Addiction: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments. Retrieved from: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/addiction