The True History of Narcotics Anonymous


Since its establishment in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous and its famous 12 steps have become ubiquitous with addiction treatment and recovery. It marked the tide of a new model of addiction. No longer was drug use and abuse a moral failing of the individuals afflicted, but a medical condition that was rooted in science and required treatment–not punishment–to fix. Despite this important shift in attitude, there was still a lingering stigma against drug users, especially those of the illegal or “hard” variety. Thus, Narcotics Anonymous was born.      

What Is Narcotics Anonymous and Why Was It Created?

Peer-based recovery groups offer support, advice, and a judgment-free space for addicted persons to overcome their addictions. Since Alcoholics Anonymous’ creation, it’s inspired dozens of other similar groups dedicated to other specific types of addictions such as gambling or eating. One of the most well-known, however, is another support group dedicated to substance addiction: Narcotics Anonymous. While it bears a number of similarities to its predecessor, NA was created with a specific intent for a very specific group of addicted persons, with modified literature to better meet the needs of those addicted to substances aside from alcohol.

The Origins of Narcotics Anonymous

In 1939 in Lexington, Kentucky, there was a doctor named Tom who struggled with alcohol addiction and later, a morphine addiction. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous, he found great success with the group for both addictions, and was one of the first instances where a person overcame a drug addiction through AA. Word spread quickly, and the influx of interest from other drug addicted persons made Tom realize the need for an approach that was specialized for other types of drug users, not just alcohol. 

Early NA Formation and Expansion

In 1947, with the permission and support of Alcoholics Anonymous, Tom and a handful of other Alcoholics Anonymous members who had other types of drug addiction established a new group called Addicts Anonymous. The group’s member base and reputation was rapidly expanding. By 1949, a second Addicts Anonymous chapter was created in New York City. It was with the creation of this second group where the name Narcotics Anonymous arose, in order to differentiate itself from the already well established AA of Alcoholics Anonymous. However, The formation of the chapter in California in 1953 is credited with being the year that Narcotics Anonymous was founded.

The Break

Why is it that the organization wasn’t considered to be founded until its Los Angeles group was created? In short, there was a splintering between the two organizations, namely because of the two different types of addictions. Alcohol addicts often opposed the presence and participation of drug addicts, and the leaders of AA took issue with the changes and lack of emphasis on alcohol in the new group’s modification of the traditions and steps. In 1953, Alcoholics Anonymous cemented the group’s unaligned interests by publishing their decision that AA was not a place for “narcotic or barbiturate” addicts.  

Without a shadow of a doubt that Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous were no longer bound under the same entity, Jimmy K., one of the founders of the first Narcotics Anonymous group in Los Angeles, was named as president of the now independent organization. A new purpose was issued, as well as the modified Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. These changes led to one of the most distinctive differences between the two organizations. Whereas Alcoholics Anonymous was focused on specific substances (namely alcohol), Narcotics Anonymous’ identity was based around the overcoming of addiction itself–which was a term that was rarely used in AA. 

NA Logo Meaning & Symbolism

The Narcotics Anonymous logo is a square within a circle, sometimes with the letters “NA” featured boldly in the center. The outer circle is meant to represent a comprehensive and “total” program that can fully encompass the needs of a recovering person. The square, which is tilted on a point, represents the goodwill that serves as the base of the organization. 

It also takes a literal meaning within NA’s symbolism as the square also acts as the base of a 3D pyramid of which each side of the square has a meaning: Self, Society, Service, and God. These segments join at the top to create the pinnacle of the pyramid which represents freedom. If you’re curious and want to learn more about Narcotics Anonymous, find an NA group meeting near you, today. 


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