If you are looking into alcohol treatment options in general or alcohol treatment in Florida, one interesting decision that people must make is whether to seek out meetings with AA or NA groups. These groups are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. They might sound like they do very different things, but the first thing I should say here is that the two groups share founding principles, the 12 step architecture for staying sober, and neither AA nor NA caters to only people addicted to those specific substances. You will find many loyal NA members who have been sober from alcohol for decades, and you will find AA members all over the country who have never had a problem with alcohol, in particular. I will share with you some common conceptions of the two organizations that many people have shared with me. One basic fact is that AA is the older organization and the foundation of the entire 12 step field. In that way, NA will always feel like a not-so-distant relative of the original group started by Dr. Bill W. If the story of the founding of AA is interesting to you, I will try and revisit that topic someday soon. The “anonymous” in both names come from the tradition in AA and NA of not disclosing who you see or what is said at a meeting. The tradition reads as follows in the AA and NA text,
“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” (12th Tradition, Basic Text)
Maybe, more importantly, is what AA and NA have to say about the disease of addiction. It is probably important to note, in this section, that AA and NA have discussed addiction as a disease for the entire history of the organizations, even when many people in the public sphere, and some in the medical field, did not think addiction was technically a disease. We now know that it is, and that is something I will certainly discuss in a future blog. Both AA and NA require membership only a “desire to stop drinking” and a “desire to stop using”, respectively. Both groups have the general unit of “group or meeting”, which refers to the place you go and discuss the issues of the day. Both AA and NA members often refer to the specific meeting they go to most as a “home group.”
Once you get to the point of looking for meetings near you, you may see the phrases “Open meeting” or “Closed meeting.” In both organizations, an open meeting can be attended by anyone, and the closed meeting is only intended for those suffering from addiction or practicing sobriety from addiction. Remember that phrase, “a desire to stop…”, because that is the ticket to attendance at a closed meeting. A student journalist or a family member of an addict might attend an open meeting, and often those meetings might have a single main speaker who has been invited. The closed meetings are more likely to be smaller gatherings where each individual is given the chance to speak. The classic movie depiction of 10 or so alcoholics sitting in a circle of chairs, is a closed meeting, although many times in those movie depictions a “leader” is present, and in reality, these meetings are often run without a leader, with different people each week being chosen to read different materials the group has chosen.
Notice in the quote from above about anonymity, the word “spiritual” is used. Both AA and NA consider themselves a “spiritual” program of recovery. The only advice the two programs give on a “higher power”, however, is something “greater than yourself, that you can believe in.” Members from both groups seem to balk at the classic “doorknob” example, where a person simply uses an inanimate object as a higher power. In general terms, both groups are “non-religious” as any higher power a person wants to refer to is enough to complete the steps, it does not have to be a god. Therefore, spiritual is the definition the groups have chosen, rather than any concrete religious connotation.
The main difference in the two groups, in my opinion, is simply in the name itself. The 6th edition of the NA book, Narcotics Anonymous, states that in NA all drugs are equal, and alcohol is a drug. That simple distinction is the biggest difference because in AA meetings alcohol will be specifically referenced early and often at every meeting. In NA, drugs will be referred to in general. That is the defining difference between the groups. If that makes a difference for you, simply remember that fact when looking for good treatment options in Florida, or wherever you might be located.
By Tim Cannon
Narcotics Anonymous (2008). Narcotics Anonymous 6th edition (PDF). Chatsworth, California: Narcotics Anonymous World Services. p. 20.