Dealing with addiction isn't a straightforward process. Apart from dealing with several mild to severe withdrawal effects, it also requires a network of supportive individuals. The impact or influence of support in successful addiction treatment cannot be overstated. People undergoing addiction treatment will need lots of support to help them get started and make it to the finish line of therapy.
There are several addiction support groups worldwide, but two of the most common support groups for people undergoing addiction treatment are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). But what exactly is AA, how is it different from NA, and where can you find the best organization closest to you?
AA is a fellowship that is committed to utilizing its 12-step program to offer abstinence-based recovery from alcoholism. It is a group of recovering users who share their stories, hopes, and strengths to solve their common problems and help others recover from alcoholism.
AA membership is open to anyone who wants help in recovering from their drinking problem. No education or age requirement is needed, and there are no fees. AA groups are self-supporting, non-professional, apolitical, and multiracial. AA aims only to achieve sobriety for its members and has recorded success so far. 1
The most widespread misconception about AA is that it's an overtly religious organization. Most people confront the "spiritual" means that AA groups use for recovery from alcoholism and interpret it as "religious.” AA is not a religious group, nor is it associated with any religious organization. It is open to new and potential members from all spheres of religion, creating room for people with all kinds of beliefs and non-belief, such as atheists and agnostics.
However, AA’s founders were Christian, and God will be mentioned within the group’s 12-step model and other literature. Members who believe in one form of divinity or higher power might find it beneficial to integrate the program into their beliefs. This is simply by choice, and no requirement is needed to do so, meaning those who are not Christian don’t have to follow the religious teachings outlined in the steps.
Although members’ sources of strength may differ, they all have in common that they want the program to help them find the inner strength to overcome alcoholism.
There's no requirement to join AA except for the desire to stop alcoholism.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a support group where people dealing with substance abuse issues from drugs can get support in recovery. It's a program where people in recovery from substance abuse disorder can assist each other in making healthy decisions and living a drug-free lifestyle. Members share their experiences and help guide each other in order to support each other to stop their addiction.
NA is a free program without any membership requirements and is open to anyone that needs assistance recovering from a substance abuse disorder. Narcotics Anonymous is not associated with any religious body or institution. This program aims to achieve complete abstinence. This program works very similarly to how AA is run, as it is also a multi-step recovery program where support from other recovering users is utilized to help people create a life that is not dependent on the usage of drugs or other illicit substances. 2
Although AA meetings and NA meetings more or less operate in the same way, there are some key differences between them. AA tends to focus more specifically on alcohol, whereas NA contains a broader scope of substances – including illicit ones – that members are recovering from.
Also, there are a few differences in how the organizations are set up. Since AA was created by Christian founders, some of that religious ideology is present in the documents. NA doesn’t have this to the same degree. 3
There are two types of AA and NA meetings. They consist of open and closed meetings.
Open AA group sessions are group therapy sessions designed to reach people dealing with alcohol abuse or those who are currently undergoing alcohol addiction treatment. In this meeting type, a third party individual or group such as nurses, doctors, social workers, teachers, or even police might come and weigh in on or listen to members during the meetings. These people are those that come in contact with suffering alcoholics daily, so they more or less understand what members are going through and are in the best position to offer and provide help to them whenever needed. 4
Open NA meetings are also very similar to open AA meetings. There is, however, one significant difference. Although open NA meetings are open to third-party professionals, it is only open to them on a strict “observation-only” premise. This means that while these individuals can attend the meetings, they are only allowed to observe and not speak alongside the other members. 5
These open meetings are beneficial for people who currently struggle with alcohol abuse or other substance abuse disorder. They will be able to observe and realize that they are not alone in whatever they are currently going through. Listening to members share how NA or AA meetings have helped them become better persons may just give them the required strength to take a step forward and register as a member.
Unlike open meetings, however, closed AA and NA meetings are only available to members of the support group.
The atmosphere for closed meetings is usually private and intimate. It is one major factor or feature that helps members, especially new group members, identify with and grow closer to each other. These meetings are usually known as “sharing meetings,” where members talk about their experiences and share their feelings, progress, challenges, and setbacks with other group members. Most closed AA and NA meetings are often structured around a particular topic, and the theme of discussion is generally displayed using some letters. For example, “BB” stands for Big Book, and “S” refers to the 12-step recovery program. 6
AA and NA meetings have different meeting formats, so the particular way proceedings were conducted in the previous session may not be the same way the next one will be conducted. Standard AA and NA meeting formats include some of the following practices.
The discussion meeting format usually looks like round table discussions where every member takes turns sharing their stories or experiences with the group. Each person or speaker is allowed a specific amount of time to share their experiences, so anyone who wants to say something can have an opportunity to say or share whatever they want to share with the group. Apart from sharing personal experiences with the group, the discussion meeting format may also involve basing the discussion for the meeting on a particular topic or passage from the Big Book.
Speaker meetings are very different from discussion meetings. In speaker meetings, only one person is allowed to speak or share their experience so far with the entire group. The speaker usually has enough time to piece together thoughts and say all they want to say in the meeting. The theme or topic for speaker meetings may also be chosen from the basic text or Big Book, and the speaker can share along that particular line.
Beginners, also known as new members, in AA or NA meetings are usually asked to introduce themselves during these meetings. It should be noted that because one of the strengths of these meetings is the anonymity protection they offer, introductions should only include first names. New members are also usually encouraged to listen and observe meeting procedures for a while to understand how the meetings work and know what is expected of them. While there aren’t many “rules” in the meetings, crosstalk is strongly discouraged, and members are expected to focus and not get distracted by their mobile devices while the meeting is going on.
The 12-steps and traditions, also known as “the twelve and twelve,” are a very large part of AA and NA meetings. They contain the fundamental concepts of each support group’s beliefs and an explanation of how to live by these concepts. Each chapter focuses on a particular step and tradition and interprets these concepts in terms of personal healing and group structure. 7
The Big Book in AA refers to a book containing the entire story of AA, including how it was formed, how it operates, what “problems” it aims to solve in society, and how it plans to solve those problems. The big book equivalent of NA is called the basic text.
There are two kinds of AA and NA meetings based on the location. They can either be in-person meetings or virtual (online) meetings.
These meetings usually involve members meeting physically in specific locations at a specified time for group meetings. These in-person meetings can be held in several different places, such as:
Many AA meetings historically have taken place at churches, but yet again – AA meetings are open to all of those looking to recover from an alcohol substance abuse disorder, and the group does not require members to be Christian or believe in God in any way.
AA and NA also hold some meetings online for logistics and convenience reasons. These meetings may take place on online “conferencing” apps or sites like Zoom and Google Meet. These online meetings are usually cheaper and more convenient also, since members don't have to make their way down to specific meeting locations. They can just easily join online.
Although AA groups and NA meetings more or less follow the same pattern, there are some differences between them. Here is what usually happens so you or your loved ones are prepared for your first meeting.
The chair, or moderator, typically starts the meeting by reading the AA Preamble and giving a short speech. Some people may request a moment of quiet, which is usually followed by the Serenity Prayer's recitation. After this, the chair will usually inquire whether there are any newcomers who would be open to introducing themselves. Again, please note that introducing yourself is not compulsory; however, it may be beneficial if this is your first meeting.
Many meetings start with a reading from the Big Book, usually from the “How It Works" chapter or the “More About Alcoholism" section. If there are new members present in the group meeting, it is very likely the chair will make a statement about the importance of anonymity in AA. The meetings usually end with a minute of silence or by reciting another AA text. 8
NA meetings are an essential aspect of the recovery program. Members attend these sessions regularly to discuss their concerns and share their thoughts and experiences with others going through similar things. Although members are usually encouraged to attend meetings, there is no aspect of NA that is mandatory or obligatory.
As earlier discussed, NA meetings are either open or closed, so the number of people you meet and interact with will vary depending on what kind of meeting it is. Attending a meeting is also free, although members contribute voluntarily to cover all the group’s expenses such as refreshments and rent for the meeting place. Non-members are always urged not to contribute to the voluntary collection of funds, as this may affect the organization’s ability to be self-sufficient. They are, however, allowed to purchase a basic text from the organization.
Another critical aspect of NA meetings is anonymity. Members know and acknowledge that everything said and the identities of whoever they meet at these meetings remains have to remain private. As a result, they don't disclose this information in public. This dedication to privacy fosters a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable opening up and expressing their thoughts and feelings. 9
After the meeting, people mingle and interact, and there is a social atmosphere in the room. Some may approach you and offer their assistance or share their sobriety journey. While many members value this time after the meeting, it is entirely up to you whether or not you choose to stay and mingle.
Now before doing an “AA and NA meetings near me” or a “AA meetings near me” search, one thing you will want to consider is the effectiveness of these support groups on addiction treatment.
It is pretty challenging to find an accurate effectiveness rating for AA. Several studies looking into AA meetings claim the effectiveness can range anywhere from 8% to about 75% depending on the individual. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that addiction treatment with AA is better than solely employing psychotherapy. According to research carried out at Stanford School of Medicine, AA had better addiction recovery results when compared with psychotherapy in almost every case. 10
Just like with AA, the inclusion of NA in addiction treatment has also recorded several successes. However, it is essential to note that relapses also occur in both cases, so they are not “fool-proof” addiction solutions. There is also the fact that these 12-step meetings do not work for everyone. While both meeting styles are beneficial for many people, it’s imperative to research all the options to get the support you or a loved one might need.
If you have made up your mind and are certain that you want to join a support group as you proceed on your treatment and recovery journey, the next thing to do is search for AA services or a NA meeting near you.
Finding the best AA and NA meeting for you may be as simple as carrying out a “AA near me” or “NA near me” Google search. However, suppose you would rather search online for meeting options. In that case, you could ask for recommendations from your family, doctor, or other medical care providers. Your therapist is also a perfect person to ask all “AA near me” or “NA near me” questions.
One other treatment option for alcohol addiction and drug addiction you should consider is registering at a treatment center.
Genesis Recovery is a treatment center in California specializing in treating and managing alcohol and drug addiction. Genesis Recovery employs a unique faith-based 12-step program to help people with alcohol or drug addiction beat it and fully recover. Their long-term, well-structured addiction recovery program ensures that patients enjoy healing for both mind and body.