By Lauren Smith
Last updated: 24 February 2023
Nar-Anon is a mutual aid society and 12-step program for people impacted by someone else’s drug addiction. Separate from but complementary to Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Nar-Anon provides the family and friends of loved ones with understanding, solidarity, hope, and a path to their own recovery from the family disease of addiction.
Nar-Anon recognizes the pain experienced by those in close proximity to substance abuse. Loved ones are exposed to the chaos of the addict’s life, often making excuses for them and taking over their responsibilities.
Members are then commonly asked to share personal experiences with a loved one’s addiction. Sometimes the chairperson will ask for contributions on a particular topic, while in others you are free to share what’s in your heart and mind.
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What is Nar-Anon?
Nar-Anon is a fellowship of the family and friends of addicts, grounded in free, confidential meetings, held in local communities, and a 12-step path to recovery.
Nar-Anon recognizes the pain experienced by those in close proximity to substance abuse. Loved ones are exposed to the chaos of the addict’s life, often making excuses for them and taking over their responsibilities. They attempt to control the addict’s behavior and internalize guilt and shame and lose self-esteem when they fail to make them stop using. They experience worry, denial, embarrassment, anger, and hurt. But they're accustomed to minimizing their own needs and feelings and often fail to recognize that they’re also ill, with the family disease of addiction, and in need of help.
At Nar-Anon meetings, family and friends of addicts will find people who have been and still are in their shoes and are ready to share their experience, strength, and hope. Through Nar-Anon, they learn to understand addiction, deal with the tough emotions and toxic family dynamics it causes, and stop internalizing guilt that should belong to the addict.
Nar-Anon doesn’t teach you how to make the addict quit drugs. In fact, the 12-step journey begins with an acceptance that you are ultimately powerless over the addict. But you do have power over your own attitudes and choices. By changing yourself and improving the family environment, you may help the addict recognize their problem and find the strength to move toward their recovery. But the focus of Nar-Anon is on you.
Who is Nar-Anon for?
Nar-Anon is for anyone affected by someone else’s drug addiction. That includes the spouses, partners, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, and other family members of addicts, as well as their friends and colleagues.
Nar-Anon publishes a list of 20 questions to help you identify if the program is right for you. They include:
Do you find yourself making excuses, lying, or covering up for someone?
Do you lie awake worrying about this person?
Are you asking yourself, “What’s wrong?” and “Is it my fault?”
Are normal family disagreements becoming hostile and violent?
Are your suspicions turning you into a detective and are you afraid of what you may find?
If you answer yes to four or more of the 20 questions, Nar-Anon may help you.
Young people can attend meetings of Nar-Anon’s youth branch, Narateen.
Addicts themselves shouldn’t attend Nar-Anon meetings but are rather to Narcotics Anonymous.
If your loved one is an alcoholic, you should seek out Al-Anon, a comparable organization for the relatives of problem drinkers.
What happens at a Nar-Anon meeting?
Nar-Anon meetings are very welcoming to newcomers but knowing what to expect in advance can put you at ease.
As with similar 12-step programs, Nar-Anon meetings commonly begin with attendees reciting the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
You may encounter references to God during the meeting and in Nar-Anon literature. Nar-Anon describes itself as spiritual, not religious, and many members replace “God” with another or unspecified higher power.
The chairperson of the meeting will ask attendees to introduce themselves, using first names only. This anonymity will continue throughout your time in Nar-Anon. Meetings are also confidential.
Usually, members read aloud selections from Nar-Anon literature, including the 12 steps. The steps begin with accepting your powerlessness over the addict and continue with a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of yourself and direct amends to people you’ve harmed.
Members are then commonly asked to share personal experiences with a loved one’s addiction. Sometimes the chairperson will ask for contributions on a particular topic, while in others you are free to share what’s in your heart and mind. “Crosstalk”—or response to other people’s accounts—is discouraged and reserved for after the meeting.
There are different formats of meetings. In some, you may explore a specific step in the 12-step journey or look in depth at a reading from Nar-Anon literature. In speaker meetings, a member of Nar-Anon or sometimes Narcotics Anonymous will share their experiences at length and accept questions.
What support does Nar-Anon provide?
Nar-Anon offers the loved ones of addicts solidarity, understanding, education about the disease of addiction, and hope.
Often people close to addicts feel isolated, caught up in the addict’s worries, and too ashamed or embarrassed to share them. Through Nar-Anon meetings, they can meet, learn from, and come to lean on others in similar situations.
Meanwhile, the 12-step program provides a path out of the toxic dynamics and despair so often experienced by people living adjacent to addiction. It allows Nar-Anon members to focus on improving themselves rather than on trying to control the addict’s choices.
Where can I find Nar-Anon meetings?
Nar-Anon meetings are held around the world every day of the week and virtually. To find one near you, use Nar-Anon’s meeting locator.
To explore other addiction treatment options in your area, click here.