Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) is a twelve-step program designed to treat drug addiction, modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. It describes itself as "a nonprofit fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem", and it is the second-largest 12-step organization in existence. The program is group-oriented, and is based on the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions, adapted from A.A.
The Narcotics Anonymous program
The only requirement for membership is "a desire to stop using," and members "meet regularly to help each other stay clean," where "clean" is defined as complete abstinence from all mood and mind altering substances (including alcohol). Membership in N.A. is free, and there are no dues or fees. The foundation of the Narcotics Anonymous program is the twelve steps and twelve traditions, reprinted here.
Narcotics Anonymous "has no opinion on outside issues," including those of politics, science, or medicine, and does not endorse any outside organization or institution. The fellowship does not promote itself, but rather attracts new members through public information and outreach. N.A. groups and areas supply outside organizations with factual information regarding the N.A. program, and individual members may carry the N.A. message to hospitals and institutions, such as treatment centers and jails.
The nature of addiction
N.A. describes addiction as a progressive disease with no known cure, which affects every area of an addict's life: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. N.A. suggests that the disease of addiction can be arrested, and recovery is possible through the N.A. twelve-step program. The steps never mention drugs or drug use, rather they refer only to addiction, to indicate that addicts have a disease of which drug use is one symptom. Other symptoms include obsession, compulsion, and self-centered fear.
Addicts often first enter N.A. after reaching a "bottom" in their life, a point at which life feels completely unmanageable, characterized by "unemployability, dereliction and destruction," with the bitter ends of jails, institutions, and death. Every N.A. member reaches a different bottom, which can be wherever the addict chooses to stop using. In practice, it is drug use and the extreme consequences associated with its abuse that bring most addicts to their bottom and their hopeful "moment of clarity" which can point the way toward a new life.
Regular meetings, hosted by N.A. groups, are the basic unit of the N.A. Fellowship. Anyone is welcome to attend an "open" meeting, while "closed" meetings are limited to addicts and to people who think they may have a problem with drugs. Meetings are held in a variety of places such as church meeting rooms, community centers, parks, or any place that can accommodate a meeting.
Members who attend the same meeting on a regular basis to establish a recovery network and reliable routine understand this to be their "Home Group". Group members are able to participate in the group's business, and play an important role in deciding how the group's meetings should be conducted. Groups also make decisions about issues that affect Narcotics Anonymous as a whole and are able to send their concerns to the service bodies that support them--Areas, Regions, Zones, and World Services.
Meeting formats vary, but in general tend to include time devoted to the reading of N.A. literature–literature that was written by and for members of N.A. regarding the issues involved in living life clean. Meetings also tend to include "open" sharing, where anyone attending who identifies as an addict has the opportunity to share. There is no direct feedback or "cross-talk" during the sharing, thus only one person ever speaks at any given time during the sharing portion of the meeting. Some groups choose to host a single speaker (such meetings are usually denoted "speaker meetings") to share for the majority of the meeting time.
Other meeting formats include round robin (sharing goes around in a circle or each speaker picks the next person to share). Some meetings focus on a particular piece of literature, such as "Just For Today" or the "Step Working Guides." Some meetings are "common needs" (special interest) meetings and support a particular group of people based on gender, sexual identity, age, language or other characteristic to identify and recover. These meetings are not exclusionary, as any addict is welcome at any N.A. meeting.
During the meeting, time is often allocated for N.A.-related announcements, and many meetings set aside time to recognize "anniversaries" or "birthdays" of clean time. Individuals who have reached certain lengths of continuous clean time (30, 60, 90 days, 6, 9, 12, 18 months, and multiple years of recovery) are encouraged to announce their clean time to the group. In some meetings, and for certain anniversaries, keytags, medallions, or "chips" which denote an amount of continuous clean time are distributed to those who have achieved those milestones.
The primary purpose of every N.A. group is "to carry the message to the addict who still suffers" (Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text). Therefore, the newcomer is considered to be the most important person in any meeting. The message of Narcotics Anonymous is hope: that there is another way to live. The one promise of N.A. is that "an addict, any addict, can stop using, lose the desire to use, and learn a new way of life" (Basic Text). According to the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, the "Twelve Steps" are the source of this hope and freedom when worked to the best of one's ability.
Narcotics Anonymous currently has several book length pieces of "Fellowship-approved" literature. These include the following bound books:
· The Basic Text is divided into two books. Book one discusses the basics of the N.A. program and the twelve steps and traditions. Book two is comprised of many personal stories.
· It Works: How and Why offers detailed discussion of the twelve steps and traditions.
· The Step Working Guides is a workbook with questions on each step.
· Just For Today is a book of daily meditations with quotes from the Basic Text
· Sponsorship is an in-depth discussion of the role of sponsorship in N.A., including the personal experiences of members.
N.A. has also produced dozens of "Informational Pamphlets" of varying length, that cover a wide range of recovery related topics including questionnaires for those who think they may have a drug problem, and information for those addicts trying to stay clean whilst still inside hospitals or institutions.