A Look at Narcotics Anonymous

There is an epidemic occurring across this nation, as well as many others, when it comes to drug use and drug addictions. No one ever plans to become in addict but the sad truth is that many end up with this effect due to drug use. Drug use occurs for multiple reasons. For some it is because of curiosity to reach a new high, but with other it may have resulted from physical injury which required pain medication, and from there an addiction had been birthed. Now, has it been handled with Narcotics Anonymous?

First, considered how government has handled the drug problem thus far. To combat addiction and street drug, a number of efforts were taken such as the War on Drugs established by Richard Nixon in 1971 (Drug Policy). This legislature passed for tougher actions against drug related criminals such as maximum sentences (Drug Policy). However, this war hasn’t been as fruitful as some would have wished, and that is why it is important to focus on treatment rather than punishment. That is why options such as Narcotics Anonymous are needed.

The question that needs to be asked is, what are narcotics? Youth On Drugs identify narcotics as drugs derived from seedpods of the opium plants. These drugs can have 2 effects: pain reduction and creating a state of well being (Youth On Drugs). Narcotics can be created naturally or synthetically. Examples of natural opiate include: opium, morphine, and Codeine; example of synthetic opiates include: methadone, meperedine, and pentazocine (Youth on Drugs).  Symptoms of drug abuse can include the following: isolation from those not using drugs, spending time with people whom do get either drunk or high, not having many and always asking to borrow some cash, arriving late to their job, not having a job due to being let go, not paying attention to hygiene, always seem to be tired, uncommonly private about their possessions, lying when asked about drinking or using other substances, and finally, often trying to sneak away to use (Rehabs).

Narcotics Anonymous is an association or recovering addicts that is community based and can be found internationally (NANJ). Considered to be one the largest and oldest, originating in 1947, recovery support groups and hold an average of 20,000 meetings per week around the world (NANJ). Inspired from Alcohol Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) began near Los Angeles, California and spread across the United States over a period of 20 years (NANJ).  The original pamphlet described the group as a fellowship of men and women who are recovering from drug addiction (NANJ).  The group is open to all drug users and no member restrictions exist. This means there is no discrimination of a member based on religion, gender, race, ethnicity nor any other characteristics. As so, it provides individuals in society that may have been rejected by other institutions a chance to belong.

The recovery program focuses on members participating in activities which have been known as the 12 Steps (NAJA).These steps include: admitting a problem, seeking help, self appraisal, confidential disclosure, amending harm done and working with other addicts seeking recovery (NAJA). A part of the 12 steps in called a “spiritual awakening” though NA is considered nonreligious, but that has been debatable (NAJA). In the meetings, the participants tell personal experiences and share ways of adjusting or coping with the recovery process (NAJA). In these meeting however, there is no therapist or professional besides the sponsor; allowing other member to the ones assisting each other in transition. This gives member the feeling of actually engaging in the group rather than have someone “preach” over them.

The sponsor main responsibility is to assistance to newer members of the group (NAJA). Depending on the person, sponsor can vary in methods; depending on the personality of the individual. Some provide a compassionate and loving style while others use sheer brutal honesty (Narcotic Anonymous World Services, 2004). Sponsors are obtained by simply asking; however some newer members lack trust in others and the idea of a sponsor is scary (Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 2004). Places to find sponsors can include: NA meetings, NA service meeting, and NA convention (Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 2004). Factors in considering a sponsor can include: mutual understanding of struggles and achievement, gender of the sponsor, and beliefs systems (Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 2004).

The mission of Narcotics Anonymous contains no hidden agenda, but to help in the recovery of members as stated above. Its entire focus is addiction recovery and avoids being involved in other topics outside its “circle” (NANJ).The issues avoided include: religious, civil, medical, social, drug legalization, criminality, law enforcement, prostitution, and HIV/AIDS infections (NANJ). These issues would only distract the member from its main concern, which is the group’s well being. This well being will allow the individual to become a “productive member of society” (Kurtz and Fisher, 2003).

As stated earlier, the meetings themselves are conducted by the members of the group. There is an identifiable structure needed for these meetings though otherwise they would get out of control very easily. Two of the structures are open and closed. An open meeting is a group where both addicts and non addicts; in other words, anyone is able to attend the meeting (NA Maine). The attendees can include judges, families and friends. A closed meeting is only intended for addicts themselves (NA Maine). There are 3 different categories of meetings which are: discussion, step-study and testimonial. Discussion are considered informal can consist of question and answer session among the members (Peyrot, 1985). The discussion allows much participation from the members. The step-study meetings are also known as literature meetings, where the members of the groups discuss one of the 12 steps and what meaning and personal impact it holds (Peyrot, 1985). Testimonial meeting have a quest speaker give a testimony based on overcoming a addiction through the use of NA, and other members are able to provide their own testimonials (Peyrot, 1985).

Statistically, narcotics present some numbers that are, simply put, terrifying.  In 2009, it was recorded that 1.6 million people over the age of 12 were addicted to cocaine (Rehab).  It was also found 23.5 million people were seeking help though AA or NA, which accounts for 9 percent of the population of people over the age of 12 (Rehab).  When accessing rehab statistics, it was shown of the people participating in rehabilitation: 17% sought help with marijuana, 40% sought help with alcohol abuse, and 20% sought help for heroin addiction (Rehab).  In regards to ER visits, 98% were the result of prescription drugs; which number more than 4 million visits (Rehab).

Of those whom are in NA, over half of that percentage is men ranging up to 57% compared to the 43% of women (NA).  The highest percentage of participants ranged between the ages of 51 and 60 years old. These make up 31 percent of NA members. Concerning the other ages, the following percentages include: 20 year olds made up 1%, 21-30 ages made up 12%, 31-40 year old made up 18%, 41-50 year olds made up 28%, and 61 years and older made up 10% (NA). Of different ethnicities, white Caucasians make up the highest percentage (76%) of members followed by African Americans (13%), which is followed by Hispanics (5%) and any others make up the final 6% (NA).  These statistics sadly show that they are no immunity to addiction and that anybody, no matter the ethnicity or gender, is accepted in to NA.

Now that the demographic statics have been shown, what about others; as in completion rate and the dropout/relapse rate. Memberships within Narcotics Anonymous reach up to 2 million people in our own nation. Of the 2 million attending, it is estimated that 95 percent of those people will drop out ( ST. Jude, 2013). These people drop out for reasons such as: program isn’t working, personal commitments, ect. Another primary reason for leaving the group is because the member simply doesn’t want to stop their drug of choice (Krentzman and  Arbor, 2010). Another popular reason is that the addict wants to recover on their own (Krentzam and Arbor, 2010).

St Jude Retreats (2013) comments saying that it isn’t expected that an addict to remain sober as they are “powerless against their drug use” unless the person is resorting to some higher power. The statistics show that a low percentage, if any, of members remaining completely clean after completing the 12 step program.  An average 11.07 years is how long an expected addict will remain clean (NA). Those remaining clean for 5 years made up the highest percentage of 33% (NA). The reasons for the apparent relapses that cause member to drop out are primarily of two: difficulty staying focused and motivated, and not seeking help and comfort from others.
As with any organization cost and funds to meet that cost play a crucial role in that organization endurance. Most people believe that NA happens to be a government organized and funded initiative which is false. Besides, why does a meeting cost? There are other costs besides the meeting that are present such as help lines, meeting lists and literature (NA History). Activities that have occurred which produced financial results included group dinners, picnics and other social events (NA History). As a result, such social events began to be a focal point for fundraising. Much time and energy of the group was spent on organizing events such as dances, campout and even conventions (NA History). This however lead to certain members relying on the events themselves as the sole contributor to the group’s cost rather than the donations from the group’s members. It is essential that members focus on helping each other when support or encouragement is needed. At the beginning of the entire recovery process it is learned as a member “we keep what we have by giving it away” and the concept is carried on financially. If the group wishes work as a traditional group it needs to focus on supporting one another with experiences, revelations and finances (NA History).

How does NA compare to other programs? Since there are similarities Alcohol Anonymous seems to be an appropriate program to compare against.  For example each have similar slogans; NA: Just for Today and AA: One Day at a Time (Neptune, 2013).  Each group is trying to reach a goal. For AA it is become sober, while NA it is to be clean (Neptune, 2013).  And obviously, each consisted of relying on a “higher power” to strengthen them over their addiction.

However, the similarities aren’t all positive as AA suffers with the same problem as members face with NA. In a study of 286 students, less than half considered the AA program to be helpful (Kurtz and Fisher, 2003). 27 percent of AA members leave the program due to a lack of motivation; only a difference of 6 percent compared to NA (Kurtz and Fisher, 2003). Disregarding the study that occurred, the success rate of AA is ranged between 5 and 10 percent (NPR Staff).  Of AA member interviewed 33% claimed to be sober over 10 years, 24% claimed to be sober for 1 to 5 years, and 31% claimed to be sober under a year (Flanagin, 2014). Over 80 percent of new comers tend to leave the group within the first month and after 90 days, only 10 percent of the newcomer are expected to remain in the group (Flanagin, 2014).

Considering the aspect of the 12 step’s ideology of relying on a higher power, can/are 12 step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcohol Anonymous court mandated. The answer is no. The first amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .” thus regards courts ordering an offender to NA as a violation of the first amendment (Markham, 2009).  There have been 3 notable federal court ruling that have done such as that.  In Kerry v. Ferry, the court ruled for an inmate to be present in NA meeting or otherwise would face the chance of violating eligibility for parole (Markham, 2009).  In Warner v. Orange County Department of Probation, the offender was required to be present at NA meeting as a condition of probation (Markham, 2009). In Inouye v. Kemna, the offender’s parole officer had forced him to attend 12 step meetings as a requirement on his parole (Markham, 2009).

Though all three of these circumstances included judges and other criminal justice professionals made decision that appeared to be best for the offenders, they were still in violation of the offenders’ rights. Here the problem isn’t that intentions were right, rather that the individual at hand had been coerced into a setting that may or may not have violated personal beliefs. It can be argued that the “higher power” mentioned in the 12 steps can be any higher source of strength to a particular person, such as one’s family. However that is debunked quickly as the 12 step program’s big book mentions that the goal of the program “to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God” (Flanagin, 2014).

In conclusion, the impact of Narcotics Anonymous can be debated and argued endlessly. There are cost issues, effectiveness issues, and First Amendment issues. That said, though these issues may be prevalent, it have provided a positive outcome for a small percentage of members. Are the results of these members to be ignored because other member didn’t make the cut? Narcotics Anonymous continues to impact the lives of recovering addicts and should remain to do so. Of those small percent that succeeded, imagine if there would’ve had such a environment for them. Would they have ever gotten clean? Instead of focusing on the negatives of NA, perhaps we should thank if for the lives that it did improve.


Works cited

Narcotics Anonymous World Service, Inc. (2004) Sponsorship, Revised. Web. Retrieved from:

Youth On Drugs. (n.d.) Narcotics. YouthOnDrugs. Web. Retreieved from:

(n.d.) A Brief History of the War on Drugs. Drug Policy. Web. Retrieved from:

(n.d.) Facts About Narcotics Anonymous. NANJ. Web. Retrieved from:

Kurtz, Linda Farris and Fisher, Michael. (2003). Participation In Community Life By AA and NA Members. EBSCO Host. Web. Retrieved from

(n.d.) Frequently Asked Questions. NAMaine. Web. Retrieved from

Peyrot, Mark. (1985). Narcotics Anonymous: Its History, Structure, and Approach. MagShare. Web. Retrieved from:,structure%20and%20approach.pdf

NA History. (n.d.) The Generation of Funds (Fundraising) and The Seventh Tradition in Narcotics Anonymous. NA History. Web. Retrieved from

Rehabs. (n.d.) 12 Step Success Rates. Rehabs. Web. Retrieved from

(n.d.) Success of Narcotics Anonymous. St. Jude Retreats. Web. Retrieved from

NPR Staff. (2014). With Sobering Science, Doctor Debunks 12-Step Recovery. NPR. Web. Retrieved from

Neptune, Jamie. (2013). AA vs. NA: What’s The Difference? The Fix. Web. Retrieved from

Markham, Jamie. (2009). Does Mandatory AA/NA Violate the First Amendment? North Carolina Criminal Law. Web. Retrieved from

Flanagin, Jake. (2014). The Surprising Failures of 12 Steps. The Atlantic. Web. Retrieved from

Krentzman, Amy R. and Arbor, Ann.  (2010). How Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Work: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives. NCBI. Web. Retrieved from