Narcotics Anonymous is a worldwide fellowship of addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean. The program is based on a twelve-step model of recovery and members can maintain unity of purpose by applying twelve traditions to their groups. There are tens of thousands of groups who meet regularly and facilitate regularly scheduled meetings worldwide. Members believe that is principle to their success as a fellowship to focus on the primary purpose; “Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry the message of recovery to the addict who still suffers.” Which is quoted from numerous sources in the literature available.
For centuries, society has had to deal with issues related to the abuse of various forms of substances. Many attempts have been made to resolve the issues related to addiction, addictive behaviors and the resulting effects it has on the lives of addicts or their families. For many years it was believed that addiction was simply a choice; people decide of their own volition to use a substance. Scientist and researchers are finding that a portion of the population is prone to addiction and that can be triggered by trauma or by other causes that remain unknown. Addiction is thought to have a genetic component for some. While members of NA may find the program because of issues with drug abuse, they learn that using drugs was just a symptom of the disease and not the underlying cause.
Multiple forms of drug abuse
What constitutes an addictive substance is difficult to predict. Some substances affect the brain in a particular fashion, like opioids and the opioid sensors of the brain. Other substances modify the brain with repeated use causing individuals to become dependent on the drug. Many drugs affect brain function and use of them can trigger obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Alcoholism was classified a disease in the 1950’s by the American Medical Association (AMA). Addiction classified as a disease came later in 1987 by the AMA. Society today is looking at hoarding, self-harm and compulsive sexual behaviors as examples of the disease. Some people see the need to control others or accumulate wealth and power as addictive.
Narcotics Anonymous and the past; the early years
In the 1930’s, there were a group of individuals known as the Oxford Group who believed that a spiritual solution existed for alcoholics. They enjoyed some success and inspired a man known as Bill Wilson to seek a solution to his own issues with alcoholism. Bill Wilson is widely credited with establishing the twelve-step process of recovery from alcoholism and recognized as one of the founders of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement. AA was well established by the 1950’s and growing in popularity for its success with helping alcoholics achieve sobriety. Some addicts attended AA meetings and found some success as well. In 1953 a group of addicts met and an established Narcotics Anonymous as it exists today, with a single group holding regular meetings in Southern California. A founding member, Jimmy Kinnon, received permission around September 1953 to adapt the twelve steps and twelve traditions from the Alcoholics Anonymous head office for this new group. The birth of Narcotics Anonymous has been recorded as October 5, 1953.
A long program of recovery; Any addict can stay clean
Addicts attended those early meetings and word soon spread that members were staying clean. Buoyed by the early successes of the group, other groups soon formed, and regular meetings started to happen. Two critical facts seemed to aid in the growth; Addicts meeting regularly to help each other stay clean, and the focus on a primary purpose of carrying a message to other suffering addicts. Over the years, groups have spread and found success in many parts of the world. The twelfth NA Group formed in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and other groups followed as well in other countries. In the 1990’s a small group of Iranian addicts returned to Iran from California and established what could be the largest Fellowship outside of North America, with over two thousand groups holding eighteen thousand weekly meetings (as of 2012).
The Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions
Minor changes to Alcoholic Anonymous ‘s twelve steps and twelve traditions resulted in Narcotics Anonymous being a much different program than AA. Step one prescribes that ‘we are powerless over our addiction’ and takes the focus away from substances. Tradition three dictates that members must have a ‘desire to stop using’, indicating the incurable nature of the disease and helping members remain vigilant in their recovery.
NA grows higher and wider
By the 1970’s, Narcotics Anonymous was an estimated 200 meetings worldwide in 3 countries. By the 1980’s, the number of groups was over a thousand with many meetings offered weekly. A considerable amount of literature was available, including the publication of a primary book about NA, called ‘The Basic Text’. By the 1990’s, groups were estimated at over ten thousand. Many of those groups were establishing service structures to assign tasks to in order to better carry the message to more and more addicts.
A Fellowship who cares
Narcotics Anonymous has established itself as the leading 12-step organization worldwide for supporting drug addicts in their recovery. There are numerous references in the literature which states that ‘The therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel’ so members benefit by meeting regularly to support each other.
Narcotics Anonymous makes numerous references to a higher power. The nature of this power is entirely dependent on the individual beliefs of the member. Some members use the idea of “Good Orderly Direction” for God, or the group themselves as a power greater than themselves. Some members attest to being agnostic or atheists but anyone who attends can find some understanding of a power greater than themselves.
Early resources from those who care
While the meetings themselves were proving to be beneficial, some members also wanted to work with other groups in carrying a message. Early services revolved around;
- The production of literature
- Meeting list and poster distribution
- Events and conventions
- Public information
- Presentations to hospitals, prisons and other institutions
One of the tools that addicts learn in Narcotics Anonymous is the application of spiritual principles. Working with other addicts, talking about what is working for themselves, and practicing principles in all aspects of their lives, addicts can gain experience, strength and hope.
Meeting – A view from the center and helping others
Addicts who participate in a home group will try and create a safe space in regularly scheduled meetings. Newcomers to the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous are told they are most important person. By putting new addicts at the center of the group, by giving addicts a safe place to experience feelings and share their triumphs and tragedies then it is believed to help.
The emergence of services
Narcotics Anonymous has grown quite large in many geographical areas. Some fellowships have well established service structures with a wide variety of offerings to the public, institutions, groups and individuals.
The Narcotics Anonymous World Service Corporation in California offers considerable information about NA on it’s website www.na.org. Many service bodies and groups provide websites, informational pamphlets, presentations and use a wide array of media sources to carry a message about NA.
Multiple levels of service
Originally it was presented that groups would come together to form area service committees to aid the groups for a particular geographical area. Larger service bodies called Regions were made up of representatives of the areas that created these bodies. Many regions try and support areas and groups with services to beyond the scope of what a local service body can provide. Zonal Forums are also starting to emerge that focus on specific areas of the world, like the Asian Pacific Zonal which helps NA communities in Asia and surrounding geographical areas.
Hospitals and Institutions
NA works closely with various hospitals and Institutions (prisons, jails) in some parts of the world. The ability and range of services depends on the support of local groups in terms of financial and time committed. For instance, in Iran, the main prison outside of Tehran has an active fellowship of groups providing meetings inside the facility with a third of the inmates attending regularly.
Detox facilities are good locations to list local meetings and many local service structures or groups will work closely with them. Regional, Zonal and Global service structures are working to provide information on the success of Narcotics Anonymous and build critical relationships with larger organizations and health centers.
Treatment centers are similar to detox facilities. Other services are providing panels to clients of the facility and also to the staff. These services can be done by groups and service committees.
Rehabs are sometimes closely associated with individuals who have found recovery. They often provide a lower cost or free service using any available funding. These facilities are treated much the same way as treatment centers for Narcotics Anonymous groups and service bodies.
A global Narcotics Anonymous and world services
As the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous groups have grown from a thousand meetings on three continents in the early 1980’s to today, the need for communications and the ability to work together has increased. Many service structures are involved in the creation and translation of literature and sharing that with other groups. Technology like websites, social media are allowing groups to carry a message to a wider and wider circle of addicts seeking a solution to their problem. Mainstream public media campaigns on buses, bill boards, television, radio and newsprint have become integral to some service structures desire to carry a message for the groups they serve.
The importance of meetings
Regular meeting attendance is the heart of the program. By consistently attending meetings, addicts can experience other addicts learning a new way to live, while working with others to carry a message to the still suffering addicts. There are many formats and special interest meetings that serve a diverse fellowship.
Multiple levels of recovery
Membership in Narcotics Anonymous is based on Tradition three which states that ‘The only requirement is a desire to stop using’. Members may continue to use drugs while they attend. Some members struggle for years to find a solution. Some members evolve into new manners of living that present all the dangers of active addiction in other ways. When the traditions are followed, the membership of NA thrives and grows. That early Fellowship faltered and almost ended in 1959 with some blaming the lack of attention to the traditions.
Clean; “We can only keep what we have by giving it away”
Complete abstinence is the goal of members in Narcotics Anonymous. As a Fellowship they believe this can be attained by any member if they have a desire to stop using. The world has become much more complicated as the options for addicts have expanded to include other forms of treatment with different ideas about recovery. Narcotics Anonymous remains focused on complete abstinence and the idea of members working together to carry a message to the still suffering addict. It is often repeated by members that ‘We can only keep what we have by giving it away’.
“Court listened to AMA on defining alcoholism as a disease, not a crime”, AUG 16, 2019, Tanya Albert Henry, Contributing News Writer, American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/
“My Years with Narcotics Anonymous” by Bob Stone, Originally published and copyrighted in 1997 by Hulon Pendleton Publishing L.L.C. 0-9654591-0-1, Page 18-19. Download is available for free from Narcotics Anonymous Upper Cumberland Area
Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous
- We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction; that our lives had become unmanageable.
When you see the disasters your addiction has caused and acknowledge your real need for help, you face reality with humility and open the door for a changed life.
- We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
You learn that your life can turn from hopeless to hopeful – because there is a stronger Power outside of yourself that is able to piece your life back together and renew you. You have the personal choice to decide what or who that Higher Power is for you.
- We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Your heart, mind and will take action by surrendering to this Higher Power. You trust that this Higher Power will guide your behaviors with better wisdom and care than you can do by yourself.
- We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
As you gently try to peel away the many layers of your being and better understand your depths, you allow yourself to experience a much fuller healing, restoration and freedom.
- We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Now that you’ve more closely examined yourself, you gather your courage and confess – to yourself, to others and to your Higher Power – the darkness that you find inside yourself. By admitting what you’ve been previously hiding, you can better accept yourself and make changes in your relationships.
- We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
By working through your fears and uncertainties about becoming a better person and making the changes you need to make in your life, you prepare yourself to invite your Higher Power to change you.
- We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
As you ask your Higher Power to remove your character flaws, you also take actions that give your Higher Power greater ability to work changes into your life.
- We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Here, you assess all the ways you could have possibly caused harm to others and also to yourself. You then make yourself ready to restore these relationships through both words and actions.
- We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
First, you need to face your fears and expectations in making these amends; you try to forgive anyone who needs your forgiveness and you sensitively evaluate where making amends would do more harm than good. You then take the risk of feeling vulnerable and make amends to these individuals.
- We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
You make it a habit to reassess yourself for any future wrongs you may commit as you strive towards better behavior, and you confess your wrongs as soon as you become aware of them.
- 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 step, you continue to increase your reliance on your Higher Power as your source of guidance and as your strength to walk according to this guidance.
- 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 this point in the Narcotics Anonymous 12 steps, you have renewed yourself through your unique spiritual pathway, having found genuine hope in being able to stay clean and recover. You aim to both continue this pathway, yourself, and also share your journey and hope with others.