What Is NA?

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) was founded in 1953 as an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Like AA, Narcotics Anonymous is a program built on the 12-step model. For both organizations the three major tenets are 1) that you accept the belief that you are completely powerless over narcotics and must be willing to turn your recovery over to a higher power, 2) that you accept the belief that narcotic addiction is a disease and that using any narcotic will lead to a relapse, and 3) that you accept the belief that you can never recover but must be in continuous recovery for the rest of your life.

By its own estimates NA members today hold more than 63,000 meetings in 132 countries. NA provides a peer group atmosphere and offers an ongoing support network for addicts who wish to pursue and maintain a drug-free lifestyle. NA doesn’t distinguish between drugs or alcohol, anyone wishing to get clean and sober is welcome to become a member. Membership is free and they have no affiliation with any outside organizations including governments, religions, law enforcement groups, or medical and psychiatric associations.

The History of NA

Because of the stigma of drugs in the 1950s and the draconian Rockefeller drugs laws of New York, NA meetings and any gathering of recovering addicts was subject to regular police surveillance. These laws made it a crime for drug addicts to congregate for any reason. Mid-century was also the same time that treatments for addiction included electroconvulsive therapy (“shock treatment”) , psychosurgery (prefrontal lobotomies), and prolonged institutionalization. It was in this inhospitable environment that NA was formed. Despite positive publicity that would feature in a number prominent newspapers and magazines of the time, this early version of NA would eventually founder out of existence. It would take years before NA would be recognized as a beneficial organization.

Things went better in California. Meetings were held in Southern California beginning in 1953. Things would evolve and grow and by 1978 there were 200 groups in 3 countries. By 2007 there were over 25,065 groups holding over 43,900 meetings in 127 countries.

What Happens at a NA Meeting

NA meetings are very similar to AA meetings: A group of peers gather to discuss their recovery and the challenges they face on their way. Attendees will meet people who’ve been clean for various lengths of time and hear how they’ve managed to maintain their sobriety. Among the people gathered there is a mutual respect and compassion. As you attend more meetings you will come to better understand the process. The program of NA is comprised of spiritual principles that have been found to help addicts remain clean. There will be nothing demanded of you, your peers may offer you suggestions. The fellowship and support offered by NA have been shown in studies to have a positive effect on keeping people abstinent from drugs.

NA meetings are not like classes or group therapy sessions. They do not teach lessons or provide counseling. What goes on is simply a sharing of personal experiences with addiction and recovery. Meetings are not concerned with the types or amounts of drugs used, instead they focus on the ways addiction and recovery affects lives. Meetings are often held in churches, treatment centers, or other facilities because these locations tend to affordable, accessible, and convenient. As maintaining the anonymity of the members is of high importance to NA, people who attend meetings are asked not to talk about other members’ identities or what they share in the meetings. While the objective of NA is achieving total abstinence from drugs and alcohol, you do not have be fully abstinent to attend meetings. Whatever your situation, whether you are still using drugs, detoxing from drugs, or on drug replacement therapy, you are still welcome at NA meetings. Since there are no membership fees or dues, members may make voluntary contributions at meetings to support the group and other efforts to carry the message.

Meetings can vary widely in size and style – some can be small and intimate, others can be large and loud. The methods and terminology used in meetings can vary widely as well. What is most important is to provide a space to share experience, strength, and hope. The goal is recovery.

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