I. The Basics of Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous, or NA, is a 12-step program based on the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous. The program is a spiritual one, although not based on any particular religion. It seeks to help addicts overcome their addiction to drugs through introspection and by treating the underlying emotional damages that led to self-medication with illicit or prescription drugs. It’s important to note that NA views alcohol as a drug as well, so if you attend meetings, you’re expected to abstain from drinking too.

NA isn’t a traditional rehabilitation program like an inpatient or outpatient clinic. It doesn’t provide medication to ease the symptoms of withdrawal, such as Suboxone for opiates, or provide the necessary medical oversight that someone detoxing from benzos requires. The program consists of individuals attending meetings and gaining a support network of others like them. As its name implies, the program is anonymous, and everyone is on a first-name basis only. All are welcome, no matter where they are on their journey to sobriety.

“Most of us do not have to think twice about this question. WE KNOW! Our whole life and thinking were centered on drugs in one form or another — the getting and using and finding ways and means to get more. We lived to use and used to live. Very simply, an addict is a man or woman whose life is controlled by drugs. We are people in the grip of a continuing and progressive illness whose ends are always the same: jails, institutions, and death,” Narcotics Anonymous, “Basic Text.

Narcotics Anonymous isn’t a licensed rehab facility; it’s a program of addicts helping each other and a network of accountability and support. Entering NA is simple — all you need is a desire to stop using drugs. You begin by attending meetings, which typically last about an hour, in your community or online. Regular meetings are open to anyone and are where most people start.

II. Steps of Rehabilitation in NA

The 12 steps of recovery from Narcotics Anonymous come from their Basic Textbook, which expands on the steps and offers a workbook-like program to help members work through each step.

Here are the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous:

1. We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction; that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
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.
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.

Although the steps reference God, there isn’t a particular religion associated with NA. Many people choose to use God as their higher power, although the higher power can be anything greater than yourself that can help when you’re feeling weak. The act of trusting in a higher power helps addicts live a life of sanity after living in the insanity of addiction for so long. For those who are agnostic or atheist, the program itself can be the higher power.

Many of those in NA break up the 12 steps into clusters of three groups of four. The first three help addicts come face-to-face with the reality of addiction, as the work to recovery can’t start until an addict admits that they have a substance abuse problem and desire to get help with their addiction. Steps 1-3 help users face the reality of what drug abuse has done to their lives and relationships. By honestly admitting their addiction and powerlessness over drugs, the new NA member can start living authentically, looking at themselves honestly, and become ready to make healthy choices to heal.

The next cluster deals with introspection, looking at some of the aspects of the addict’s personality, past trauma, and wrongs they’ve done others that may have contributed to their desire to use. Taking an inventory of themselves can help addicts to alleviate the guilt and shame of their behavior when they were using. Journaling may assist many at this point and can help when the urge to use is strong. There’s a term called “playing out the tape” where an addict stops before they pick up the drug and honestly imagine what comes after. Often, knowing where that first hit of the drug or first pill will lead can help addicts consciously make better choices for themselves and avoid using.

The third cluster deals with overcoming the wrongs that the addict has done to themselves and others. Many times, addictive behavior ends up hurting those around the addict, such as lashing out while high, missing out on important milestones with their family, or isolating themselves from relationships. Many addicts may also steal or commit crimes for money to get their drug of choice. Part of making amends means forgiving themselves for their addict behavior and giving them a picture of what they want their sober life to look like. The other part of making amends deals with fixing failed relationships, compensating people that were wronged when the addict was using, and making honest apologies to those who deserve them.

The final three steps of NA deal with the future and give the addict hope moving forward with their sobriety. These steps help reinforce living authentically and being honest with themselves and in relationships and working through hurts or stresses to live in a healthy way instead of numbing with drugs or drinking.

When the addict and their sponsor feel that they’ve completed the 12 steps, the individual is encouraged to continue attending meetings and develop sober friendships. After at least a year of sobriety, NA members may, in turn, become a sponsor themselves. Many sponsors feel that this helps them be more accountable about their temptations.

III. Is NA a Good Fit for Me?

Narcotics Anonymous is a free program, which may mean the difference between treatment and no treatment for many. However, it relies on you remaining in your current situation as you work through the steps instead of in the security of an inpatient facility. Also, NA sponsors and those who run meetings aren’t licensed medical professionals; they’re simply others who have been successful in the program. Depending on the strength of your addiction, NA may work for you, or, after speaking with a professional, you may feel that you need something more structured.

NA is a good fit for those who have completed more formal treatment and are looking for a community of support.

Note: This guide is not intended to take the place of advice from your doctor or an addiction counselor. Some drugs, like benzodiazepines, can be deadly to detox from without skilled medical oversight. Consult with your doctor before beginning any drug treatment plan.

IV. How to Get Help and Additional Resources

V. FAQs About NA

Is there a program for family and friends of those in Narcotics Anonymous?

Yes! Learning how to forgive and support the addict in your life is important, and addiction affects everyone around the person working through NA. These programs are called Nar-Anon Family Groups, and they can help you find peace after living with an addict

What does “Just For Today” mean, and why do I hear NA members saying it?

The philosophy behind NA and AA programs is to take sobriety one day at a time, relieving much of the stress about future failures. The “Just For Today” mantra can help those in recovery focus on mindfulness and living in the moment. “Just for today, my thoughts will be on my recovery, living, and enjoying life without the use of drugs.”

Is the NA program free? Who pays for it?

The Narcotics Anonymous program is funded entirely through donations from the members. Most of the money stays within each chapter and helps pay for meeting space or small celebrations for sober anniversaries. NA members also receive “chips” when they achieve certain milestones in sobriety, and the donations go to pay for these, as well.

How does NA help me fight cravings?

Having a sponsor is key to successfully fighting the cravings for drugs. As your brain and body heal from addiction, the cravings become less and easier to manage. However, in early sobriety, having someone to talk to while the craving comes on and then passes can make the difference between using and not.

What are NA meetings like?

There are two types of meetings. The open meetings are for anyone in the program and are a network of people sharing their stories and supporting one another. It’s a way for you to meet and befriend others like you in a safe, anonymous environment. Other meetings are called Step Meetings and deal with each of the 12 steps. Here, you work with others on the same step as you, as well as your sponsor, and explore what each step means and how to complete it. You can share your experiences here too, but these meetings are closed to the general public.

Does NA provide dual-diagnosis treatment?

No. Unlike some inpatient and intensive outpatient programs, NA believes only in the disease of addiction. NA is simply a network of those who have found support in staying clean in the program and are not licensed mental health counselors

What is a sponsor, and how do I get one?

A sponsor is a veteran of NA who has had a prolonged, constant period of sobriety and successfully completed the 12 steps. In the open meetings, you’ll hear many people share their stories. If you find someone whose experience resonates with you, or you meet someone you connect and feel comfortable with, you may ask them to sponsor you through the program. A sponsor is your mentor and a trusted confidant who will be there for you when you feel tempted or overwhelmed with staying sober.