James Patrick Kinnon, known as “Jimmy K.”, is commonly credited with founding Narcotics Anonymous (NA) in 1953 in Los Angeles, California, for the purpose of helping its members stop using addictive substances.
At the time, Alcoholics Anonymous had been in existence for almost 20 years, gaining international recognition for helping its members stop using alcohol. However, AA focused only on alcohol and not drug use. Kinnon recognized the benefits of the AA 12-step program and how a 12-step model could also help those with drug use problems.
NA’s earliest literature, the White Booklet, describes the program as “a nonproﬁt fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem.” NA welcomes members with either a drug or alcohol problem or both.
NA membership is free. The only requirement to be a member is the desire to stop using drugs or alcohol.
Growth of NA
Before the publication of NA’s Basic Text in 1983, membership in the organization was low. In the 20 years between its founding and publication of the Basic Text, however, word gradually spread, and meetings began to spring up in several large North American cities. NA also began to receive some international attention.
By the early 1970s, NA had moved into Australia, officially becoming an international organization. Soon after this, NA meetings began to form in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, and Great Britain.
Once they published the Basic Text, NA grew rapidly. By the end of 1983, NA had expanded into more than a dozen countries, offering almost 3,000 meetings worldwide.
How Does NA Differ from AA?
AA was designed solely to help those with a desire to stop drinking alcohol. NA was founded to support anyone with a substance abuse problem, including illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol, in their desire to live a sober life.
The NA approach mirrors the AA 12-step model in most ways, with a few exceptions. One major difference is in the wording of the first step. In AA, the first step states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol,” while the NA first step states, “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction.”
While the 12 steps of both NA and AA discuss God or a “higher power,” NA strongly encourages members to individually determine what that means to them. NA promotes a strong focus on such spiritual principles as “honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness.”
Both programs encourage members to recognize the pain they’ve caused themselves and others, to make amends to those they’ve hurt, to work to heal damaged relationships, and to help others to overcome their addiction. Peer support is an integral part of both programs, and the therapeutic value of members working with other members has been supported by multiple studies.
A survey of almost 23,000 NA members provides important demographic and quality of life information regarding member make-up and the value of the program. Findings were released at the 2015 World Convention of NA in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and supported the fact that all ethnic and religious backgrounds are represented among NA members.
Quality of life survey results found 92% of members reported “enriched family relationships,” and 88% of respondents reported improved “social connectedness” as a result of their program involvement.
Today, NA offers over 70,000 weekly meetings in 144 countries worldwide and is known as one of the world’s oldest and largest international organizations of its type.
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