Narcotics Anonymous Meetings Can Help Drug Addictions

Group Meeting

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Narcotics Anonymous, often referred to as NA, is a 12-step program where people with drug addictions can find support in recovery. It is a group where people recovering from drug addiction can help each other pursue healthy choices. The NA literature describes it as a program "for addicts who wish to pursue and maintain a drug-free lifestyle."

There are local NA meetings available every day throughout the United States and hundreds of countries around the world. Members often find the support they need to recover from addiction. Many people say it is a safe place to turn to when you need help getting and staying sober.

This article discusses how Narcotics Anonymous works and what to expect during NA meetings. It also covers the 12 steps of the recovery program

What Is Narcotics Anonymous?

Founded in 1953, NA is a global organization of people recovering from drug addiction with 67,000 weekly, locally organized meetings in 139 countries.

It is a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and shares many of the same principles, practices, and philosophies. The goal of NA is to create a community where people with substance use issues help each other on the road to recovery. Meetings include people of every demographic and at various recovery levels, from many years to just a few days of sobriety.

Like AA's "Big Book," NA uses a primary text called the "Basic Text." Members use this book as a guide for recovery and the fellowship, experiences, and advice of other members. It is common for a new member to develop a relationship with a sponsor. A sponsor is a member who traditionally has been sober for longer and feels comfortable helping other members work the 12 steps.

What Is an NA Meeting?

NA meetings are one of the major parts of the Narcotics Anonymous recovery program. Members meet regularly at these meetings where they are able to talk about their problems and share their stories with others facing similar experiences. The meetings also allow people in recovery to give and receive support and encouragement from their peers. 

In addition to talking about the challenges of drug recovery, NA meetings are also a place for members to offer advice to others, share their success stories, and celebrate their recovery milestones.

No part of NA is compulsory or required. Meetings are either "open," for members and non-members, or "closed" (for members and prospective members only). Support people and loved ones who are not in recovery themselves are typically welcome to attend open meetings.

NA does not focus on any particular drug. Instead, the purpose of NA is to share the trials and triumphs that come with addiction and recovery. 

There are also no costs to attend a meeting, and non-members are asked not to contribute to the voluntary collection of money that keeps things running. This allows the organization to remain self-sustaining. Non-members can, however, purchase a "Basic Text" from the group.

Anonymity is key to NA's success. Members understand and agree that what is said in meetings and who they see there stays there. Therefore, they don't discuss these details publicly. This commitment to privacy creates an environment of security where everyone can feel comfortable opening up and sharing their experiences and feelings.

The only requirement for becoming a member of Narcotics Anonymous is "the desire to stop using."

Does NA Work?

For many members of NA, the program is the only thing they've found that actually worked. Anyone who has dealt with addiction knows that it is a struggle that can seem hopeless at times. Treatment centers and rehab, therapy and counseling, and going at it alone doesn't work for everyone. For some, NA is a continuance of rehab in everyday life.

The community support and 12 steps found at NA meetings seem to be the missing link for many people with substance use disorders who wish to stay sober. Of course, there is never a guarantee that you won't experience a relapse. But, as they say in NA, "we can do together what we could not do alone."

Narcotics Anonymous' 12 Steps

NA promotes recovery through a 12-step program that incorporates peer support to promote abstinence from drugs and alcohol. The 12 steps of the program are:

  • Step 1: "We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable." This step involves acknowledging the addiction and the damaging impact it has had on the individual's life. It is about admitting powerlessness in the face of addiction.
  • Step 2: "We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." NA focuses on using spirituality and faith to help guide people on their path to recovery. It is about believing in a power bigger than themselves.
  • Step 3: "We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over the care of God as we understood Him." While this step specifically references God, it notes that it is the individual's understanding of their own spiritual beliefs that will guide their recovery. It is centered on surrendering to the care of a higher power. It also stresses the importance of actively deciding to work toward recovery.
  • Step 4: "We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." This step focuses on taking stock of both individual burdens and strengths. It is centered on improving self-awareness and gaining a better understanding of the self. By taking this inventory, people can gain a better understanding of the challenges they might face and the tools they have to help them overcome those obstacles.
  • Step 5: "We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." This step encourages those in recovery to talk about their mistakes and weaknesses. The goal is to gain a sense of release of shame and guilt that can help people avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms going forward.
  • Step 6: "We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character." This step focuses on letting go of the old coping mechanisms and behaviors identified and acknowledged in the earlier step. It signifies that a person is willing to let these things go and move toward healthier behaviors that will support long-term recovery.
  • Step 7: "We humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings." This step centers on the idea that all people have shortcomings. Understanding these failings and being willing to ask for help and draw on spiritual strength is important. This step stresses that humility is essential because it prevents people from minimizing their own weaknesses when facing addiction.
  • Step 8: "We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them." This step focuses on acknowledging the harm caused by an individual's addiction. It is about assessing harm and facing feelings of guilt. In doing so, people can then feel more motivated to stick to their recovery in order to improve or restore their relationships with others.
  • Step 9: "We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others." During this step, people offer apologies, try to fix the harm they caused, or ask for forgiveness. It is important to note that this is only if it will not cause further harm to the other person and with the understanding that being forgiven is not guaranteed. 
  • Step 10: "We continued to take personal inventory and when were wrong promptly admitted it." This step of recovery involves actively monitoring behavior and being willing to admit and rectify mistakes as they happen. Imperfection and setbacks are expected, but staying accountable and honest can keep people from falling back into old habits.
  • Step 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." This step is about living with intention and continuing to check in to ensure that the individual stays focused on their values and the demands of reality.
  • Step 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." This step reinforces the lessons learned in earlier steps and encourages members to use what they have learned to help others on their path to recovery. 

What About God and Prayers?

When you're new to NA, the talk about God and the inclusion of prayers at some meetings can be surprising and even uncomfortable, particularly if you are not religious. NA is not specifically a Christian organization and it is not affiliated with any religion, government, or other organization, even if the meeting is held in a church or other religious space.

Within the 12 steps of NA, members are asked to admit they are powerless over their addiction and that their recovery relies on a "higher power." This phrase can mean a variety of things and up to personal interpretation. Some people choose God (in whatever form or belief) as theirs, and others do not. NA says that "ours is a spiritual, not a religious program."

Try not to let this aspect deter you from meetings. If you have questions, consider asking a member about it personally, and they can explain further. 

Recap

While many of the 12-steps of the NA program or focused on drawing on spiritual influences, you don't need to be religious or spiritual to attend or benefit from NA. The steps of the program can be adapted to suit your individual belief system.

What to Expect at Your First NA Meeting

Everyone is nervous about attending their first 12-step meeting. However, you can rest assured that everyone in the room has been in the same place you are now, and the majority are very welcoming to newcomers. Meetings vary a bit because the local members direct them, but you can expect a few common things.

You will hear the word "addict" often at NA meetings. This is how NA members refer to themselves. Addicts include those who use everything from heroin and cocaine to prescription drugs and a variety of other mind-altering substances.

How Does an NA Meeting Work?

Meetings typically follow one of two formats: speakers or open discussion. In a speaker meeting, one individual is allowed to speak to share their personal story. An open discussion is like a round table where anyone can share their own experiences in a limited amount of time. Often, a specific topic or a reading from the "Basic Text" serves as the foundation for discussion. 

As a newcomer, you may be asked to introduce yourself. When introducing yourself, you will use your first name only as part of the commitment to privacy and anonymity. Also, you do not have to say "I'm an addict" unless you feel comfortable doing so.

The only rules in a meeting are that drugs and drug paraphernalia are not allowed. Also, cross-talk is discouraged, and members—particularly new attendees—are encouraged to listen while others speak openly. It's also appropriate to turn off your phone and not have side conversations.

How to Find NA Meetings

When you are ready to attend your first meeting, visit the Narcotics Anonymous website to find a local meeting. Meetings occur throughout the day almost every day of the week. Depending on where you live, there should be many options to choose from. Some may even occur virtually.

There are also apps available that can help you find a local meeting or attend a virtual one. The NA Meeting Search app is available for both iOS and Android. Another app you might find useful include the NA Recovery Companion

If you attend one meeting and are not too sure about it, go to another one. Every meeting has its own atmosphere, and you might find yourself more comfortable in one group than another.

Recap

While you might feel like the outsider or the newbie at first, give yourself time to get comfortable. If you aren't ready to share, you can also benefit from simply listening and observing. 

Summary

Narcotics Anonymous is a 12-step recovery program that was developed to support people with substance use disorders through recovery. The program emphasizes spirituality, resilience, and peer support. During meetings, members of the group share their experiences, listen to others, provide and receive encouragement, and celebrate their successes on the path to recovery.

A Word From Verywell

If you are ready to work toward recovery from drugs or alcohol, treatment options are available to help. Twelve-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous can be helpful, but you should start by talking to your doctor about your first steps. If you are preparing to quit, medications are also available that can help you detox and manage your symptoms of withdrawal.

Recovery is different for everyone. NA is one option that can be useful for many people, but you might also want to consider all of your options before deciding which one will work best for you.

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7 Sources
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