Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a Twelve Step fellowship that is devoted to helping people escape drug addiction. It is a completely non-profit organization that relies on members to provide services for free. There is no fee associated with joining NA, and the only requirement for membership is the desire to quit drugs.
Narcotics Anonymous is based on the Alcoholics Anonymous program which was developed during the mid 1930s by two alcoholics; Bill W and Dr Bob. This method for combating addiction was highly influenced by the Oxford Group. This was a Christian evangelical movement. The early members of AA retained the spiritual aspects of Oxford Group philosophy, but make their program non-religious.
The Big Book was published in 1939 and this described the AA program in detail. A lot of positive media attention led to the increased popularity of the movement. This encouraged new groups to spring up right around the globe. It also prompted other types of addict to consider if the program would be able to benefit them too.
Narcotics Anonymous came into existence in 1953 when it was founded by Jimmy Kinnon. Originally Kinnon attended AA meetings, but eventually got together with other drug addicts to form a group that would be focused more specifically on their type of addiction. The group continued to use the 12 steps and 12 traditions, but developed their own literature and bylaws.
The 12 steps of NA are almost identical to the original program. The only change is in step 1 when the wording is changed to, powerlessness over our addiction. The steps can be reduced to 6 actions that the addict needs to take:
* Accepting that they are powerless to beat their addiction alone
* Believing that with the strength of a higher power they will be able to beat their addiction
* Taking a moral inventory and admitting these wrongs to another person
* Making appropriate amends for previous bad behavior
* Living ethically in the future
* Helping other people escape their addiction
Although the 12 Step program was inspired by a Christian movement it is not affiliated with any religious group. The individual is asked to develop a notion of some higher power as this fits in with their own beliefs. Those people who struggle with anything connected to spirituality can even use the power of the group as their higher power. The main thing is that the individual accepts that there is something out there more powerful than them, and that this can help them escape addiction.
Sponsorship plays an important part in the NA program. This is where a more experienced member of the group will offer their advice and support on a one-to-one basis. Such an arrangement is not only believed to help the newer member, but it also allows the sponsor to strengthen their recovery. This relationship involves a lot of trust because there will usually be a sharing of private information. It is often advised that heterosexuals avoid choosing an opposite sex sponsor; the opposite is true for homosexuals. This is to discourage any type of sexual tension getting in the way of the therapeutic nature of the relationship.
Anonymity is an important part of NA. Members usually share a lot of personal information at the meetings. If this information were to get into the wrong hands it could lead to embarrassment or potentially even legal problems. In the early days of NA members had to sneak into meetings in case the authorities were monitoring the gathering. At each meeting the importance of anonymity is stressed. Most members will respect this, but it is impossible to completely ensure that people won’t repeat what they’ve heard inside the rooms. Most people will only give their first names so as to protect their anonymity as best they can.
Because of the anonymity it can be difficult to fully assess the effectiveness of any 12 Step program. There is no attendance record kept, and members tend to move between the different meetings. One study of 500 cocaine users found that NA type counseling tended to produce similar success rates of other types of treatment. It was noted though that there tended to be a higher dropout rate with the NA approach.
The criticisms leveled at NA are similar to those aimed at twelve step groups as a whole. Not everyone agrees with the idea that addiction is a disease that can only be treated by this approach. The fact that many individuals escape addiction without the help of NA indicates that the 12 steps are not always required. Other criticisms of NA include:
* Many individuals feel uncomfortable with the spiritual focus of these groups. Accepting that a higher power is the only way to escape addiction can be difficult for a lot of people to accept.
* Some people claim that 12 step groups share some similarities to cults. It is like members replace one addiction with another one.
* Anonymity cannot to guaranteed in these meetings and sensitive personal information does get disclosed
* Sponsors can take advantage of the trust of the sponsee.
* If a sponsor relapses it can encourage their sponsee to do the same
* Members can be made to feel guilty about things not going well in their life. The kneejerk reaction is to blame any mishaps on not following the program correctly.
* There is a history of power struggles within the NA movement
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