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A New Way To Live


A New Way to Live

In this article, Gillian Kelly outlines the Narcotics Anonymous process and its role in our society

What is Narcotics Anonymous?

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a non-profit fellowship of men and women with drug dependency problems.  NA members are recovering addicts who regularly meet and share their stories and problems with each other in order to stay clean.  The only requirement for the program is to abstain from using drugs.  Anyone may join irrespective of age, race, sexual identity, creed, religion or lack of religion.  Anonymity is an important factor in NA. Anonymity is an important part of NA. Members usually share a lot of personal information at the meetings. At each meeting the importance of anonymity is stressed. An NA sponsor is a member of Narcotics Anonymous, living the program of recovery, who is willing to build a special, supportive, one-on-one relationship with another member. 

NA from an Atheists perspective

Narcotics Anonymous is one program that has made an effort to encourage atheistic members to modify the program’s principles in order to fit in. While most atheists find the basic premises of disease and powerlessness flawed, and indeed the spiritual element, many still feel they need the program in order to live a normal life.

While Alcoholics Anonymous only accepts those addicted to alcohol, NA considers alcohol just another drug. Unlike the AA literature, which encourages atheists to abandon their godless ideas, NA’s literature, has made it clear that atheism is welcome.

The Origins of Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous is based on the Alcoholics Anonymous program which was developed during the mid 1930s by two alcoholics; Bill W and Dr Bob. This method for combating addiction was highly influenced by the Oxford Group. This was a Christian evangelical movement. The early members of AA retained the spiritual aspects of Oxford Group philosophy, but make their program non-religious.

The Big Book was published in 1939 and this described the AA program in detail. A lot of positive media attention led to the increased popularity of the movement. This encouraged new groups to spring up right around the globe. It also prompted other types of addict to consider if the program would be able to benefit them too.

Narcotics Anonymous came into existence in 1953 when it was founded by Jimmy Kinnon. Originally Kinnon attended AA meetings, but eventually got together with other drug addicts to form a group that would be focused more specifically on their type of addiction. The group continued to use the 12 steps and 12 traditions, but developed their own literature and bylaws

The Twelve Steps

The 12 steps of NA are almost identical to the original program. The only change is in step 1 when the wording is changed to, (powerlessness over our addiction.)

* Accepting that they are powerless to beat their addiction alone
* Believing that with the strength of a higher power they will be able to beat their addiction
* Taking a moral inventory and admitting these wrongs to another person
* Making appropriate amends for previous bad behavior
* Living ethically in the future
* Helping other people escape their addiction

Higher Power Defined

Although the 12 Step program was inspired by a Christian movement it is not associated with any religious group.  Those people who struggle with anything connected to spirituality can even use the power of the group as their higher power. The main thing is that the individual accepts that there is something out there more powerful than them, and that this can help them escape addiction.

Effectiveness of NA

Because of the anonymity it can be difficult to fully assess the effectiveness of any 12 Step program. 

There is no attendance record kept, and members tend to move between the different meetings. One study of 500 cocaine users found that NA type counseling tended to produce similar success rates of other types of treatment.

Case study 1 – Jane (NA member)

“My goal in life wasn’t to be successful, it was to get high.  I just wanted to party, have fun and not claim any responsibility for my reckless actions.  I started off snorting a line of coke at a party in my friend’s house.  They were all doing it so I thought why not?  From then on I was hooked on it.  I had always been a shy, nervous person but when I took cocaine, well that person disappeared and an outgoing person emerged.  I was the life and soul of the party.  However it all got out of control quickly.  Over time I had to increase the amount I used in order to get the desired effect.  My moods became mercurial one minute and despondent the next.”

“I became moody and depressed after the come down and I began snapping at my colleagues, family members and friends.  I was on a rollercoaster and going so fast I couldn’t collect my thoughts or balance my emotions. I felt myself falling into a bottomless pit with no way of getting out.  The euphoria and confidence disappeared and I was left with a constant feeling of emptiness. Eventually I lost my job and I had to move in with my brother.  He convinced me to go to Narcotics Anonymous.  I started to share my experience with the other members and this has helped me to stay clean.  I have a sponsor now and I phone her any time I feel like using.  I don’t feel alone anymore thanks to NA.”

Case Study 2 – John (NA member)

“I became addicted to painkillers after my GP prescribed them for me for my back pain. Eventually I felt I couldn’t function without them.  After confiding in a friend he suggested that I go to NA for help. I went to NA and I have worked the program. I discovered myself and what beliefs I hold. 

I have come to the realisation that my Higher Power is the power of the program. I do not believe in any kind of God.  I am an Atheist.   I still focus on my recovery, because if I am well, then I can be of value to others, but if I am using and unwell, then I am of no use to anyone, not even to myself. Being an atheist has not stopped me from working the program.”

Case Study 3 – Rachel (NA member)

“When I came to Narcotics Anonymous and began working the 1st Step, something shifted inside of me and I began to feel alive again.  I had changed for the better, and for that I am forever grateful to the program of Narcotics Anonymous.  Before coming to NA, I lied to everyone; I was constantly angry and I felt so hopeless.  I felt separated from my true form, and I knew that I had to stop my destructive lifestyle before it killed me. In the 1st Step I admitted been powerless over my disease, and that my life had become unmanageable.  I felt such a sense of relief after realising this.  I realised that I had to be very honest with myself and others in order to maintain sobriety.  I had to surrender my will and self centeredness and practice applying the spiritual principles suggested by NA.

By applying these spiritual principles I found serenity and freedom.   I am eternally grateful for the loving Fellowship of NA.  I recognised that other members were living happy, healthy lives and I thought if they could do it, I could to.   Thanks to NA I now have strength necessary to continually move forward in my recovery.”


What is LifeRing?

LifeRing is a non religious self-help group for people managing their addictions whatever they may be, including alcohol and illegal or prescription drugs.  LifeRing was started in California ten years ago by a group of recovering addicts including Martin Nicolaus, author of ‘Empowering your Sober Self’ and the addiction recovery workbook ‘Recovery by Choice’.

The LifeRing approach to addiction management uses proven therapeutic therapies such as CBT and Reality Therapy, among others, LifeRing has also evolved out of the experiences of former addicts themselves.  At the heart of LifeRing is the addicted person.  The person takes charge of his/her own recovery in a mutually supportive and positive way. 

We accept that recovery is a matter of personal choice and responsibility. The core aim of LifeRing is to empower the sober self. It is a strengths-based approach. The cornerstones of LifeRing are the ‘three Ss’: Sobriety (meaning abstinence), Secularity (meaning religion is not involved) and Self-help.


What happens at LifeRing meetings?

At most LifeRing meetings, people sit in a circle. The meeting is small enough so that everyone can participate – ideally between eight and fifteen people. After a short opening statement, the meeting facilitator (we call them “convenors”) asks “How was your week?” People take turns talking about what has been going on in their re­coveries since the last meeting, and what lies ahead for them in the coming week.


Case Study 4 – Lorraine (LifeRing member)

“I am not a religious person so I was delighted to find the support group (LifeRing) which holds non religious principles. LifeRing has really helped me to stay clean. I am almost a year sober/clean now. During this year I have been through a divorce and the death of my father.  I will always remember the kindness and the support of the other members during this difficult time.  I wouldn’t have been able to cope on my own. Thanks to LifeRing I am now living a healthy and happy life.”


Case study 5 – Martin (LifeRing member)

I have been sober for three years now thanks to the support of LifeRing.  LifeRing has encouraged me to think positively about myself and to live a productive and healthy life. The support of LifeRing has motivated me to get well and to remain clean.  Life can be hard at times, and I feel grateful that I have a close network of people to share my troubles with, and that they in turn, can share their troubles with me.



In my own personal opinion I think that both NA and LifeRing groups are beneficial for people with drug addiction problems.  I think that people can choose to adopt the God/Higher Power belief for recovery if they so wish.  Alternatively if people don’t wish to adopt this belief I think they will find their ‘Higher Power’ within the support of the group.  To me a Higher Power doesn’t necessarily mean ‘God’ I feel it means believing in something more enlightening and powerful than mankind.  I think it is very important for the person to be open minded and to explore different methods of finding and maintaining sobriety.  Both NA and LifeRing offer the same principle and that is ‘to remain clean and sober by working a program based on the support of a group fellow members’.  I think that without the support of other recovering addicts, the person will ultimately relapse if he tries to do it alone.


Contact NA Ireland                                                  Contact LifeRing

Narcotics Anonymous Ireland                   

Service Office

29 Bride Street,

Dublin 8


Phone: 01-672 8000 (information line only)

Mobile: 086 862 9308



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