What is Narcotics Anonymous?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is an organization which provides support and assistance to people who want to stop using drugs, and to recovering addicts who are not actively using drugs and want to stay clean. The organization is open to all people who feel that drugs have become a problem in their lives, and membership is free. Chapters of Narcotics Anonymous can be found in many cities around the world, and in regions where a chapter is not present, people can take steps to start one, should they so desire.

This organization is part of a family of similar organizations known as 12 step programs. All of these programs are modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), an organization which was founded in the 1940s. Narcotics Anonymous meetings first started occurring informally around 1947, when drug addicts began working with AA literature to form their own support group, and the first official Narcotics Anonymous group arose in Los Angeles in 1953.


Members of NA follow the 12 steps and 12 traditions. These steps include a recognition of the fact that the user has a problem, the need to make amends to people who have been harmed, and the obligation to assist others who are struggling with substance abuse. 12 step programs have a heavy spiritual element, with members recognizing the existence and influence of a higher power, although people are not expected to subscribe to the beliefs of any religious group to be involved in a 12 step program. Anonymity is also critical, with members identifying themselves to each other by first name only and keeping the contents of meetings private.

In Narcotics Anonymous, members are expected to abstain from all mood altering substances, not just the drugs that they were struggling with, and they support other members in meetings and as sponsors. Sponsors are experienced members of the program who offer advice, assistance, and support to new members who may be struggling; a new member might, for example, phone his or her sponsor if the need to do drugs arises. Members of the group have a collection of books and pamphlets which they can use to guide their 12 step practice.

The efficacy of 12 step programs varies, and there has been some controversy about them. Some members of Narcotics Anonymous find that the approach is extremely helpful, and it meshes well with their attitudes, beliefs, and concerns. Others find that the group does not work well for them, but this does not mean that treatment is out of the question. Numerous organizations and groups provide assistance for people who wish to end an addiction to drugs, and if the Narcotics Anonymous approach does not work, another organization's techniques might.


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