For people struggling with opioid use, one recovery tool that’s been available for decades is Narcotics Anonymous (NA). This free program provides support in the form of regular group meetings and fellowship with other people with addictions. Here’s what to expect from NA.
What Is Narcotics Anonymous?
NA started in California in the 1950s as an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Today, it holds more than 70,000 regular meetings in 144 countries. The program is open to anyone who is addicted to drugs. There are no membership fees, and NA is an independent organization with no links to any treatment centers or religious groups.
Like AA, NA’s mission is complete abstinence. Members meet regularly to share their experiences and support each other to quit drugs.
What Are the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous?
NA follows the Twelve Steps principle to guide its members on the path to recovery. The 12 steps mention God, but NA stresses that this isn’t necessarily a religious figure but sort of a power outside of yourself that helps motivate you. In fact, many NA members identify as atheist or agnostic.
How Do I Get Started With Narcotics Anonymous?
The first step is to find and join a meeting. You can find a nearby meeting at na.org/meetingsearch. Virtual meetings are an option if you’re concerned about COVID. Many meetings are hybrid, so you can choose to attend in person or remotely.
What Happens at My First Narcotics Anonymous Meeting?
NA meetings may be open or closed. Anyone can drop in an open meeting, including friends and relatives, community members, and college students studying substance abuse. Closed meetings are reserved only for those with addiction issues. This often helps members feel more comfortable about opening up.
The group’s facilitator will ask at the beginning of the meeting if there are any new members in attendance. This is your chance to raise your hand and introduce yourself. There will be people at the meeting who are also new to the program. Others may have quit using for a long time.
A meeting usually runs between 60-90 minutes. In a discussion meeting, members are given opportunities to speak and share their experiences. Speaking time is usually under 5 minutes. There may also be readings or group discussions about particular topics. Speaker meetings give members a chance to talk for longer.
You’ll receive a welcome key tag on your first visit. You'll get another one after 30 days to commemorate the work you’ve put in. You'll also get key tags when you reach 60 days, 90 days, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year, 18 months, and then yearly from that point on.
The meetings aren’t meant to be group therapy sessions. The goal is to create a safe environment where people addicted to substances can connect with each other and support each other’s recovery.
NA is welcome to any person who thinks they’re addicted to substances and wants to change their life. If for any reason you walk away from your first meeting feeling like you didn’t connect with the style or the people there, you can try a different meeting to find the right fit for you.
If you want to continue with the program, NA recommends that new members go to a meeting every day for at least 90 days. From there, progress looks different for everyone. You may be nervous at your first meeting, and it may take some time for you to feel like you can stay with the program and your recovery. Soon you may start to feel a sense of belonging and even make some friends. In general, the more invested you are in the NA program, the more helpful it will be for you.
Can I Be a Member of NA if I’m on Medication Treatment for Addiction?
NA believes in an abstinence model of recovery, which means being completely drug free. But if you’re addicted to opioids, you may be taking buprenorphine maintenance therapy (BMT). You are welcome to attend meetings if you are on BMT. The group’s official position is that the only criteria for membership is a desire to stop using drugs.
If you are open about your drug replacement therapy, however, you may be asked not to speak at an NA meeting and simply listen. You’re free to chat with others during breaks or afterward. You may not get the full benefits of actively taking part in meetings. Some other members may informally try to get you to stop your BMT.
Still, researchers found that there may be some benefits in going to NA meetings for people who are taking BMT. Many experts agree that socializing with others and doing service work can be powerful tools for those recovering from addiction.