Is Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) Effective?

alcohol and drug addiction

Narcotics Anonymous is modeled on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) and the two organizations are virtually identical in beliefs and operation. The difference is that A.A. focuses on alcohol problems whereas N.A. focuses on narcotic problems.

Members of N.A. must accept the belief that they are completely powerless over narcotics and must be willing to turn their recovery over to God or a Higher Power.
Members must also accept the belief that narcotic addiction is a disease and that using any narcotic will lead to a relapse. They must accept the belief that they can never recover but must be in continuous recovery for the rest of their lives.

Narcotics Anonymous does not produce estimates of its effectiveness and acknowledges that it doesn’t work for many people. It recognizes that the religious nature of the program and its belief that addiction is a disease are both serious problems for many people.

Although N.A. has existed since the late 1940s, there is a lack of scientific evidence that the program is any more effective than doing nothing.

The program on which it is modeled, A.A., has a self-reported success rate of about 5%, which is much lower than a natural remission or “cure” rate resulting from doing nothing. This leads to the logical conclusion that those who achieve success in A.A. do so in spite of the program.

Because N.A. is modeled after A.A. and is based on the same assumptions and beliefs, there is no reason to believe that N.A. is any more likely to lead to success than doing nothing. It’s also reasonable to assume that those who achieve success in N.A. do so in spite of the program.

The good news is that there are alternatives to Narcotics Anonymous. The non-12 step, non-religious, non-profit St. Jude program has a success rate of 62% over a period of 20 years. And that rate is determined by independent research organizations based entirely on concrete evidence.

Readings on N.A.

Caldeira, T.A. The use of individual therapy as an effective adjunct treatment modality to Narcotics Anonymous for young adults. Psy.D. dissertation. California School of Professional Psychology, Los Angeles, 1996.

Crape, B. L., et al. The effects of sponsorship in 12-step treatment of injection drug users. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2002, 65(3), 291–301.

Hayes, S. C., et al. A preliminary trial of twelve-step facilitation and acceptance and commitment therapy with polysubstance-abusing methadone-maintained opiate addicts. Behavior Therapy, 2004, 35(4), 667–688.

Kelly, J. F., & Myers, M. G. Adolescents’ participation in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous: Review, implications and future directions. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 2007, 39(3), 259–269.

Michaels, L.J. The effect of the duration of voluntary abstinence on self-esteem and anxiety in recovering drug addicts attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings. M.A. thesis. San Diego State University, 2002.

Narcotics Anonymous. Narcotics Anonymous. Chatsworth, CA : Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 2008.

Narcotics Anonymous. A guide to local services in Narcotics Anonymous. Chatsworth, CA: Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 1998.

Narcotics Anonymous. Just for Today : Narcotics Anonymous. Van Nuys, CA : Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 1994.

Narcotics Anonymous. The Narcotics Anonymous step working guides. Chatsworth, CA:

Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 1998.

Narcotics Anonymous. The N.A. Way. Van Nuys, CA : Narcotics Anonymous World Services, periodical.

Narcotics Anonymous. Narcotics Anonymous White Booklet. Chatsworth, CA: Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 2007.

Narcotics Anonymous. Narcotics Anonymous, It Works: How and Why.
Van Nuys, CA : World Service Conference, Literature Committee Approved Literature for Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 1987.

Narcotics Anonymous. Narcotics Anonymous Recovery Literature: Set of Six Tapes. Van Nuys, CA : Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 1990.

Narcotics Anonymous. Staying Clean on the Outside. London, U.K. Narcotics Anonymous Service Office, 1988.

Toumbourou, J. W., et al. Narcotics Anonymous participation and changes in substance use and social support. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 2002, 23(1), 61–66.