Success of Narcotics Anonymous

Addiction Treatment

If you are struggling with drug dependence and have decided to seek assistance, you may consider going to a 12 step program such as Narcotics Anonymous or N.A. Before you make the decision to enter N.A., you should investigate the success rate of Narcotics Anonymous.

Perhaps you have heard that Narcotics Anonymous is a popular program that holds a worldwide membership of more than 2 million people. That is pretty impressive! If that many people are enrolled in the program, then it must be an outstanding program and have a high success rate. However, the truth is that while Narcotics Anonymous claims that they have more than 2 million members; their dropout rate is 95 percent.

Narcotics Anonymous, as a 12 step program, supports the idea that drug use is a genetic disease and that there is no cure for the disease. N.A. offers that the only viable treatment available is belief in a higher power, meetings for the rest of your life and abstinence. With regard to abstinence, N.A. teaches that everyone has a relapse and that you will not be successful in being able to abstain from drug use without resorting to a high power. They further imply that the person is powerless against their drug use. Narcotic Anonymous, as well as other 12 step programs use labels such as addict and addiction to keep their members trapped in their substance use.

At the same time, Narcotics Anonymous presents a victim mentality to their members through their teaching that since they are diseased, their drug use is not their fault. Many outsiders argue that this ideology offers a pass and prevents the drug user from accepting responsibility in their actions. During N.A. meetings, it is not unusual to find angry and bitter members venting their hostilities about their drug use and raving about how their disease is ruining their life. Further, Narcotics Anonymous does not seem to offer any tangible advice on how to overcome drug use, simply to surrender to their higher power and to drug substance itself truly believing that the substance has control over their life. For these many reasons people begin to question the true success of Narcotics Anonymous.

In reality, the drug user is not diseased. There is no evidence to support or prove that there is a drug addict or addiction gene. The truth is that people use drugs because they want to and they do not have to live the rest of their life trapped in drug use, but can stop using anytime they desire. The truth is that drug use is a learned behavior: meaning that the individual learned to use drugs and associate it with feelings, emotions or as a coping mechanism. The individual likes the way they feel when they use drugs and so it becomes a habit of behavior to use drugs, so that they feel good. It is possible to associate other activities, habits and behaviors with a “feel good” feeling.

Many people after spending some considerable time in N.A. with no results begin seeking an alternative. St. Jude Retreats is often that program that gives people hope rather than endless meetings and recovery. Our program teaches guests to develop habits and behaviors that are positive and to make decisions and choices that are productive. Our guests discover that they can have a life that is permanently free from drug use.

  • Tony Petrozza

    This all makes sense!

  • Elizabeth Tidwell

    This makes no sense at all!!! Wonder what degree the author has or how many NA meeting he/she has attended. Addiction is recognized as a brain disease. The tangible advice that NA gives on how to overcome substance abuse is to WORK THE STEPS among many other things. And the program will work for anyone who is willing to put the work into it. NA also does not say that addicts should not take responsibility for their actions. NA says the addict is responsible for their recovery and it is during their recovery and through working steps that the addicts take full responsibility for the things they’ve done and make efforts to make those things right. Maybe the author needs to further research the topic of their blog because to me this sounds like nothing more then a commercial for St. Jude. It’s a shame they have to bash what works for others to promote themselves.

  • Michelle Brown Dunbar

    Elizabeth, thank you for your comment. I did not write this blog but know that it is completely accurate. I, personally attended thousands of AA and NA meetings over an 8 year period of time. While I had a drug problem at one time I stopped going to NA meetings completely because of the easy availability of drugs at every single meeting. While I am just an experiment of 1, I personally saw no one stay in NA long term. And those that stuck around were in and out; struggling with frequent relapse. And yes, I saw people die and then get blamed by the fellowship for “not working the steps.” I did stay in AA because I saw a bit more success there, but even that success was limited and usually temporary. When I started my research into the most effective means at overcoming substance use, I started from the 12 step model because it was all that I knew, but the research was compelling. The 12 step model was actually less successful than a brief intervention. That is not my opinion but has been shown repeatedly in independent research. If NA has helped you to be successful, that is great, but please know you are in the minority. If you are really concerned about helping others I challenge you to run your own experiment as I did. Attend daily meetings for one year and keep track of everyone who enters each meeting. Then see how many are still attending meetings at the end of one year and how many of those stayed clean. There is so much information out there now regarding more effective, evidence based methods for helping people that have much less risk. In addition to its lack of efficacy due to the powerlessness/disease model, AA and NA has become a hunting ground for predators, opportunists and criminals. Perhaps it is time to really rethink how people are helped.

  • James

    do we meet people to hang out with??

  • James Rockon

    NA and AA do not track their membership and both are anonymous, hence, it’s impossible to know what the success/ drop out rate is. According to the National Institute of Health, addiction (to opiates and other drugs) is recognized as a chronic, relapsing brain disease with a wide range of serious medical consequences. Findings from brain imaging studies in humans, along with basic cellular and behavioral research in animals, have identified profound disruptions in the specific brain circuits and cells that underlie addiction.

    With that said, I know people who have successfully quit using both narcotics and alcohol, using a 12 step program, and others who have stopped on their own without any 12 step or higher power. I believe that whatever works (be it a 12 step program, will power or whatever) is a GOOD thing, and this bickering over what works better and who has a better program, is not helping anyone. It would be much easier to simply offer your service to those who want it, and calm your competitive attitude about other methods of treatment that have proven successful for many people.

  • Will

    You have no idea what you are talking about. Ask any scientist or reputable doctor, psychologist, therapist, or counselor and they will all tell you that addiction is a brain disease. No one said anything about genetics. Have you ever been a drug addict or alcoholic for years and then tried to simply “stop when you desire?” NA and AA meetings are about fellowship. People don’t go there for scientific answers or a tried-and-true step by step process for recovery. There is no step-by-step process, it’s different for everyone, and having a fellowship of like minded people are working towards the same goal can be very therapeutic and helpful in recovery. It helped me. You are doing great damage with this hair-brained post that offers up no evidence for your wild-eyed claims.

    • Rachel Pagán

      Your post made me laugh… You’re trying to support a program of recovery based around the 12 steps, but say there is no step-by-step process for recovery! I think you maybe missed all of the readings at the beginning of EVERY 12 step meeting. And yes the brain is changed with drug and alcohol use, but it’s the characteristics of a healthy brain and neuroplasticity that are responsible for the change, not the drugs themselves and not a sick or diseased brain. Healthy brains learn and respond to desire and rewards which lead to compulsion… But the behavior can be unlearned through repetition as well. Read a book.

  • ojo

    you’re spot on Mark! These people that ask, how many meetings have you been too? Well people, he and his staff have been to countless. And BRI does actual research, and wasn’t made up by one person about 60 something years ago!

  • Rebecca Basso

    This is the dumbest shit I have ever read…it’s like it was written by the guy from Malibu passages…lol…give me a break…relapse doesn’t have to be a part of your story…it hasn’t been a part of mine YET…you know why, because I go to meetings, have a sponsor, work steps, believe in service and a God of my understanding. So many people misleading addicts and looking to make a buck off of the sick and suffereing. If you are struggling with drugs, maybe you’re not sure if your an addict, maybe you are just thinking about stopping, please find a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. ..I wish I would have found the rooms before I was 33 years old. The message is hope and the promise is freedom.

  • Michael Helsing

    I am not buying any of this. I am sorry some of you claim (like the author of this article did) that you have had bad experiences in NA and AA. I disagree with your statements though.
    Relapse is NOT part of everyone’s story.
    We have local members with 25+ years of abstinence.
    The DSM defines addiction as a disease.
    There is NO data to support the claim of a 95% dropout rate.
    As they say in the program.. Keep coming back.
    Honestly, my opinion is that the author of this article is bashing NA in order to plug his version of recovery (St. Jude Retreats). I have no problem with other pathways of recovery. AS it states in NA literature ‘We are not saying that NA is the only way to stay clean. We are just saying that is the way that worked for us.’ The spiritual (not religious) principles we learn in this program teach us to treat others with love and respect. My question is… why do you have to put someone (or an orginzation) down in order to make yourself look good?

    • Sarah Brack

      All addicts who have worked the program and follow all the suggestions stay clean.. period..the problem is people think just going to meetings is suppose to keep them clean and that is not what na is all about!! Victim??? I think not!! NA taught me to be accountable for all of my wrongs!! But ypu have to actually work the program to know that!! And it says right in tge NA approved literature that relapse does not have to be a part of your story.. whoever wrote this may have attended meetings but they did not work a program or read and follow the literature or they would know just how wrong they are!!! I challenge anyone to not come in and pick amd choose what part of the program to work… instead follow all of the suggestions.. after all… ypu don’t go get half a haircut and expect to be happy with the result!!! Also..NA Only works for those that truly want it to!! If your not willing to do the work.. them you won’t be successful..

  • Nek Christopoulos

    Agreed. I have been to my fair share of NA meetings. The claim is that it has worked for so many people over the years. And yet, i hardly saw anyone in there over the age of 60. Barely anyone over the age of 70. And i asked myself. Where are all the clean people who entered NA in the 70s , 80’s, etc? If they are clean, and living the steps and attending meetings, then where are they? It was at that moment that it struck me that a lot of things were said and preached in NA, but they were not necessarily true. Secondly, spending the rest of my life going to meetings, and talking drugs.. that’s not freedom from drugs, far from it.

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  • Serg

    Keep coming back imbecile

  • Gary Mueller

    this is the biggest bunch of bull I have ever heard. NA does not state that everyone relapses or that its a requirement. Or that no one stays long term. I know plenty of people with phone numbers on deck if needed of men and woman with 20 plus years in na. I myself have over four. Maybe some one should of taken the time to actually read the basic text in its entirety, before making this. Clearly it works or it wouldn’t continue to grow since the 1950’s. If it didnt work we wouldn’t even no of na or aa because they would cease to exist. NA has grown and changed in countless ways. In many respects, the Basic Text has been instrumental in that evolution. There are more than 43,900 weekly NA meetings today; in 1982, the year the World Service Conference approved the Basic Text, there were about 2,700. Most places in the world did not offer an NA meeting every night of the week. In fact, most places didn’t offer a meeting any night of the week. Now NA is in 130 countries and we speak 65 languages. The Basic Text itself is translated into eighteen languages.1 Certainly NA’s growth cannot be attributed to the power of this book alone. But the fact is the Basic Text is one of the most effective means we have of carrying the message. Where it is published and distributed, NA grows, not just in numbers but in breadth of recovery and experience. As our members stay clean ten, twenty, thirty years and more, our fellowship has more and more experience dealing with challenges beyond “not picking up the first drug.”We have never seen a person who lives the Narcotics Anonymous Program relapse. Relapses are often fatal. We have attended funerals of loved ones who died from a relapse. They died in various ways. Often we see relapsers lost for years, living in misery. Those who make it to jail or institutions may survive and perhaps have a reintroduction to NA. In our daily lives, we are subject to emotional and spiritual lapses, causing us to become defenseless against the physical relapse of drug use. Because addiction is an incurable disease, addicts are subject to relapse. We are never forced into relapse. We are given a choice. Relapse is never an accident. Relapse is a sign that we have a reservation in our program. We begin to slight our program and leave loopholes in our daily lives. Unaware of the pitfalls ahead, we stumble blindly in the belief that we can make it on our own. Sooner or later we fall into the illusions that drugs make life easier. We believe that drugs can change us, and we forget that these changes are lethal. When we believe that drugs will solve our problems and forget what they can do to us, we are in real trouble. Unless the illusions that we can continue to use or stop using on our own are shattered, we most certainly sign our own death warrant. For some reason, not taking care of our personal affairs lowers our self-esteem and establishes a pattern that repeats itself in all areas of our lives. If we begin to avoid our new responsibilities by missing meetings, neglecting Twelfth Step work, or not getting involved, our program stops. These are the kinds of things that lead to relapse. We may sense a change coming over us. Our ability to remain open-minded disappears. We may become angry and resentful toward anyone or anything. Sure not everyone is there for the right reason but once you get a day clean you have a choice you never have to use again. I am not powerless over my actions and thoughts today. Narcotics has saved my life. And if it can work for me it can work for you. Everyone has there right to free speech and opinion. But this publication is just not truthful and very miss informing.

  • Ivett Gabriella

    OMG. This is like medieval dogma. Yes, addiction is a brain diseases; there are indications that a combination of genes are responsible for being more or less susceptible to an addiction; and no they can not just stop anytime they want to, because there are biological changes in their brain that won’t allow them. Whoever wrote this is completely ignorant about how addictions work in the brain. Please don’t believe this dogma. Go with science, research, and reasoning.

  • Gregory Kevin

    Addiction definitely has traits they can find in the brain but those neural Pathways can be changed using a couple methods. I’m going to stay unbiased here and out of this argument but from a scientific standpoint I can tell you there are other ways of reversing or reflashing receptors into better patterns of behavior. If you want to be a victim your whole life then blame the disease but if you want to live the rest of your life realize it’s just a horrible habit that needs to be broken. Keep faith and never give up! Research alternative means if 1 isn’t working for you, if it does great then stay with it but for those it doesn’t help there are other ways.

  • Robert Montgomery

    I have known many people that have gone thru NA and AA, I have gone thru NA myself. What I see and know only to well is that many in these groups do become friends and have even had them stay at their place or actually move in with them. I had been to NA meetings for 5 years, at a local VA as well as a civilian group. For the 1st few month’s I have seen the very same people going to them. Little by little those same people stayed away more often due to finding another group they liked better or they felt they were clean enough to bear this path on their own. Many were relapsed into the drug of choice. I used the step program I used it religiously, still I was wanting to go back to getting my fix or a drug to make me feel good. I realized that in order for me to actually call myself recovered, I had to get away from anything that would resemble the life style of a drug user. I had to clear my mind from everything and start as if I was a baby on reconditioning myself to live a drug free life. I wont say NA or AA are bad programs, I will say these programs were not for me. I relearned how to live away from drugs, I learned to say no, I learned that for me to stay clean I could not associate with anyone in a group or away from a group who was on drugs. I will not say it was easy. But just like when I started I took my first hit or my first needle or my first pill or my first snort. I had to take my first minute, then 2nd minute and 3rd minute away from people who were going thru drug rehab as well as thru any groups. I found an alternative to sitting in meetings and hearing people tell their story about them being on drugs and how many years they have been clean how many times they have relapsed. What I got out of the meetings was simply, I was screwed up and always will be a screw up as long as I didn’t go to meetings. But as long as I went to meetings and worked the steps then I will be clean. I am now a 25 yr recovered addict. I am 63 yrs old. I do not care if the group meetings work or not work. All I care about is you do what will work for you if you truly want to be clean. Where drug users are I once was, where I am a drug user may be. All I can say is that if you really truly want to be free from drugs then the only way to be free is to not be around it or others that could talk you into relapsing or new members who have just joined are babies in a step program. What is the best way to hide from everyone you know? Stop doing everything you are doing change all your habits what you wear what you smoke what you eat where you go what type of friends you associate with. You must change everything about your self to truly hide from people who know you. So must you do with drug use. Change your life, it will be hard. But when you can look back and say ok I traveled a path and yes I got beat up on that path but look at me today. A disease, ok to some degree but my disease was one I created not one that was in me by brain or any other manner. I had a choice and I took the wrong choice. I chose the RED pill instead of the Blue Pill.

  • Ron Freedman

    Thank God NA traditions remind members that “we have no opinion on outside enterprises”. The world would be a better place if everyone believed in, and practiced that principle.
    Opinions, especially those not based in fact can have dire consequences.
    NA never claims, nor believes, that it is the only game in town. What works for one person may not work for another.
    NA leaves their doors open so that any addict with a desire to get and stay clean can decide for themselves.
    In response to Michelle’s post, please be mindful of the fact that the person you influence by passing off your personal experience as fact, could be one of the “so called” 5% who would otherwise successfully stay clean in NA.
    Please be more responsible with what you share, since lives are at stake here.
    I’m a Daytop graduate and staff member from the 80s. I spent three years in that program, went to countless therapists, spiritual guidance, self help books etc.
    Any one of the above might work for any number of individuals, just didn’t work for me.
    After getting out of detox, I “accidentally” found my way into the rooms of NA.
    By working the program, and learning to practice spiritual (not dogmatic!) principles in my day to day life, I’ve been clean for 15 years. My sponsor, who saved my life, as well as countless others, has been clean for 55 years!
    I have many friends from the program, who have been clean for 20+ years.
    I’ve actually been in meetings where I was the member with the least clean time!
    To state that you never saw anyone stay clean, tells me that you didn’t go to many (any?) meetings in different areas.
    I have never seen drugs being offered at an NA meeting. I’m not denying that this happens, since there are thousands of meetings, from the suburbs to the belly of the beast. But why would you hold NA responsible for the actions of the sick and suffering addict? To present this as “evidence” that the program doesn’t work, is just reckless and irresponsible.
    There is nothing in this world that’s more noble and rewarding than helping the addict who’s in the grip of active addiction. This, by the way is the essence of what the 12th step is all about. Its what saved me, and continues to give my life purpose.
    Help is help, regardless of what form it takes. We’re all nothing more than facets of the same stone.