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How to Choose Between Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous 

If you’ve made the decision to turn your life around by getting sober – it’s time to find resources. Deciding to leave booze or pills behind is the first step in getting your life back, but there are many steps that follow that decision, like 12 step meetings. 

12-step meetings have been a cornerstone of addiction treatment for decades and you’ll be hard-pressed to get sober without the help of your peers that have gone through the same thing. When it’s time to choose a 12 step meeting your two main options are Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – but which one is right for you? 

We’ll explore the differences, similarities, and subtleties of NA vs AA to help you pick the right one to stay on the path of lifelong recovery. 

Brief History of Alcoholics Anonymous 

AA was founded in Akron, Ohio in 1935 by New York stockbroker Bill W. and Akron surgeon Dr. Bob. Bill realized the only way he could get sober was by helping other alcoholics but found himself stuck in Akron with no one to talk to. Fearing for his sobriety Bill W called churches and hospitals before connecting to Dr. Bob, an Ohio surgeon who had tried to stop drinking several times with no success.  

The two immediately clicked, sharing stories and discussing their problems. After the conversation, Dr. Bob would have one more beer then never drink again. The two brought their unusual ‘drunk talk’ therapy to other alcoholics in Akron hospitals with immediate success. After the pair helped another patient get sober the foundation of AA was set. 

The early group published the basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939 and the program has since grown to thousands of groups and meetings across the globe and the most popular addiction treatment program. 

Brief History of Narcotics Anonymous 

While the story of AA is about acceptance, NA was more about rebellion against AA. NA was founded in 1953 in California by Jimmy K as an alternative to AA but spiritually the same. Up until NA’s founding many drug addicts had taken part in AA for recovery but noted the indifference they received from others who thought AA should only be for alcoholics. 

NA found troubles establishing itself outside of California until the 1980s when the crack and cocaine epidemic caused a surge in membership. NA bases its 12 steps and 12 traditions on AA’s program and has a basic text known as Narcotics Anonymous. NA now operates thousands of daily meetings worldwide. 

The Old Divide 

Deciding to go to AA or NA used to be simple. If you’re an alcoholic, you go to AA and if you’re addicted to other drugs you go to NA. Many in AA regarded drug addicts at meetings with disdain and many in NA were envious of AA’s resources but that’s no longer the case. Though the divide of alcoholic vs addict remains, AA and NA are now more open to different types of attendees and won’t shut the door to a drug addict at an AA meeting and vice versa. You’re more likely to see alcoholics in NA meetings compared to drug addicts in AA meetings but there are no official rules.

Comfort Levels 

The best way to choose between AA and NA is deciding which meeting you like best and does the most to help you in your path to lifelong sobriety. For most alcoholics this is AA and for most drug addicts this NA, but you don’t have to choose. 

You can attend AA, NA, or any other meetings you’re comfortable with regardless if you’re an alcoholic or are addicted to other drugs. Though there’s small differences, both NA and AA use the 12-step program that will help any type of addiction. You can attend an NA meeting on Tuesday and an AA meeting on Thursday – whichever helps you the most. 

Narcotics Anonymous

Generally, alcoholics are more comfortable in AA because most in the room have a problem with alcohol and understand the subtleties and unique problems that come with alcohol addiction. Drug addicts are normally more comfortable in NA for the same reason. It can be tough for an alcoholic to give advice and feedback for something they don’t understand like opioid addiction for example. 

The goal of 12 step meetings is not to divide through rejection or dismiss due to misunderstanding but teach the 12 steps to help an addict or alcoholic achieve happiness and sobriety. If someone won’t help you because you’re ‘not the right type of addict’- you don’t want their help. 

 Multiple Addictions 

What if you’re an alcoholic but are also addicted to cocaine? What if you can’t say no to both heroin and the sauce? Those with multiple addictions should simply choose the 12-step meeting they’re most comfortable with. Any drug addict can get help in AA and any alcoholic can get help in NA – it’s all about what you think will work best for you. Again, no one said you can’t attend both. 

Finding Local Meetings 

There’s a good chance there’s an AA or NA meeting happening near right you now. Even small towns tend to have at least one daily AA or NA meeting, but you must find them. You can use the AA Resource Guide or the NA Find-a-Meeting Guide to find a 12 step meeting near you.  

You Don’t Have to Choose AA or NA 

Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous follow the same format, have similar guidelines, and believe in the same tools to help those struggling with addiction. 

While AA is traditionally reserved for alcoholics and NA for drug addicts, those lines have mostly been erased with both types of addicts going to both types of meetings. Whether it’s AA or NA, find a meeting that you’re comfortable attending and that you believe will help you progress. That’s the only true way to choose AA or NA. 


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