Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a mutual help society for anyone seeking to overcome drug addiction. Founded in 1953, following the model of Alcoholics Anonymous, the NA program is organized around confidential community meetings—more than 70,000 are held around the world each week—and a 12-step journey to recovery.

What is Narcotics Anonymous (NA)?

Narcotics Anonymous is a global network of support groups for “men and women for whom drugs have become a major problem.” NA is guided by a belief in the “therapeutic value of one addict helping another.”[2] Members help each other reach and maintain abstinence from drugs by providing practical advice, emotional support, accountability, and a listening, non-judgmental ear.

Narcotic Anonymous meetings are open to anyone with “a desire to stop using” substances of abuse and are free of charge. NA isn’t affiliated with any organization or religion. Although the literature refers to a God or higher power and meetings may end with a prayer, Narcotics Anonymous is open to people of any faith or none.

Narcotics Anonymous and the similar Alcoholics Anonymous claim to have helped thousands of people reach and maintain abstinence. Rigorous scientific research into the success of the 12-step programs has been scant, due partly to the reluctance of anonymous members to participate in studies, and contradictory. A 2020 review found that AA is as effective as active treatment approaches, including CBT, at reducing drinking intensity and addiction severity.[3] However, dropout rates from 12-step groups are high: around 40% in the first year.[4]

Rehabilitation programs frequently encourage patients to participate in self-help support groups like NA alongside and after formal treatment. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that these groups can offer important community-level social support to help people maintain sobriety in the long term. However, NA shouldn’t be a replacement for therapy and more formal treatment pathways, particularly for the four in ten addicts with co-occurring mental illnesses and for others with complex histories and polydrug abuse.[5]

Get help during covid-19

Get help during Covid-19

At Recovered, we recognize the impact COVID-19 has had and the continued challenges it poses to getting advice and treatment for substance use disorders. SAMHSA has a wealth of information and resources to assist providers, individuals, communities, and states during this difficult time and is ready to help in any way possible.

Speak to SAMSHA

The 12-steps of Narcotics Anonymous

The 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous outline a path to self-knowledge, atonement, service, and surrender to a higher power, which NA holds are the foundations of long-term abstinence. The NA steps are closely adapted from the 12 steps from Alcoholics Anonymous.

1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.

Many people are in denial about their addiction and its impact on their life. Recovery first requires an honest confrontation with the control addiction has over you and its consequences on, for example, your relationships, career, health, etc.

2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

This higher power isn’t necessarily God. For some people it’s abstract concepts like love and community are also acceptable. Others read God in the 12 steps as an acronym for “Good Orderly Direction.”

3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Accepting this higher power can help you let go of guilt and shame, forgive yourself, and feel less alone as you undertake your journey to recovery.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Through this self-reflection, you can identify the shortcomings and negative feelings, thoughts, and experiences that have contributed to your drug use and sustained your addiction.

These may include anger, fear, resentment, and self-pity. This moral inventory unpicks narratives you may have told yourself, blaming others for your substance abuse. It also requires the honesty and humility that are the groundwork for recovery.

5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

It may seem daunting and painful to confess your wrongs, but it can also be cathartic. When you confess, you find relief. Guilt and shame melt away and you can move forward, unburdened by your past.

The fifth step also leads you to self-recognition, including of the flaws, negative feelings, and wounds that enabled these harmful behaviors and your addiction.

6. We were entirely ready to have God [or another Higher Power] remove all these defects of character.

Now that you have confronted your flaws and destructive behaviors including those that are coping mechanisms, are you ready to give them up and change your way of living? Failing to address these deep-seated issues makes you vulnerable to relapse and, even if you stay sober, will leave you unhappy.

7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

This step requires you to be humble—before God or whatever higher power you see fit.

8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Identify the people harmed by your drug use. Family and friends are often top of the list but as your recovery continues the list may expand to include colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances.

9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Making amends is distinct from offering an apology. An apology is words, while amends is an action, addressing a past wrong and also demonstrating that you have made a real lifestyle change. By making amends, you may repair relationships that will sustain you in your recovery.

10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

As you move forward, you must watch for emotional turbulence that would have previously sent you to drugs and can still trigger a relapse. Instead of letting these mistakes fester, you now admit and address them.

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.

In this part of the journey, you cultivate a spiritual, meditative, or otherwise meaningful practice that can provide you insight and relief. In times of stress and confusion, this practice can provide clarity and calm.

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.

By helping other addicts on their journey, you’re reminded of your own progress, stay accountable, and avoid becoming complacent in your recovery.

What does an NA meeting look like?

NA meetings aren’t conducted as classes, group therapy sessions, or conversations. Instead, members share their personal experiences of addiction and recovery while others listen. 

Meetings are formatted either as discussion meetings, during which members take turns sharing or as speaker meetings, featuring one or more members speaking for extended periods. There’s no requirement for newcomers to speak but they will be asked to introduce themselves.

Members don’t directly respond to others’ accounts. Conversations are reserved for before and after meetings. 

NA meetings are held in community centers, churches, libraries, treatment facilities, and virtually, online, and over the phone. NA meetings are free to attend, although donations are accepted.

All NA meetings are conducted anonymously and confidentially. People usually identify themselves by their first name only and are barred from sharing the personal accounts they hear.[6]

Can anyone attend NA?

There are two types of NA meetings:

  • Open meetings may be attended by anyone, including people who don’t identify as addicts and want to learn about the program, such as the family members and friends of addicts, social workers, and therapists. However, only NA members may verbally participate.

  • Closed meetings are reserved for people who identify as addicts or who are uncertain and think they may have a substance abuse issue. 

Some meetings are geared toward a particular group: a gender, an age group, or speakers of a certain language. But these meetings aren’t exclusionary. Any addict is welcome at any NA meeting. 

What happens if I relapse during the 12 steps of NA?

Members of NA know that relapses occur on the path to recovery. The personal experiences they share during meetings commonly include times they faltered and used again.

Relapsing doesn’t prevent you from attending NA meetings: the only prerequisite is a desire to stop using. You’re simply discouraged from sharing unless you have at least 24 hours clean.

But relapsing will reset your progress through the 12 steps. The 12 steps are structured as a journey and you may have to go through some stages again, accounting for your relapse.

What is an NA sponsor?

Addicts are supported in their journey through the NA steps by a sponsor who has tread that path before. Members who have been in recovery for an extended period, usually a year or more, can serve as a newcomer’s sponsor. 

A sponsor helps the sponsee navigate NA’s 12 steps, serves as a confidant for things they aren’t comfortable sharing at a meeting, shares their own experience, answers questions, and provides accountability. Some may suggest reading or reflective writing assignments.

No sponsorship looks the same. Some people describe their sponsor as first and foremost compassionate, while others appreciate more honesty and tough lough.[7]

Can I attend NA meetings online?

NA has always offered virtual meetings for people who aren’t able to attend in-person meetings for whatever reason, including distance and disability. These meetings have become more prevalent since the coronavirus pandemic and can be attended by Zoom, web chat, or phone.

Find Narcotics Anonymous meetings near me

NA meetings are held in 144 countries. To find one near you, use NA’s meeting locator

NA meetings are often offered as part of a comprehensive program of rehabilitation. To explore other treatment options for drug addiction near you, click here.