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AA or NA - Which One is Right for You

AA or NA: Which One is Right for You?

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are the two oldest and largest 12-step programs out there. Two alcoholics formed AA in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. The founders created it to help those who have developed an unhealthy dependence on alcohol. It remained the only 12-step program in existence until Narcotics Anonymous was founded in California 18 years later.

The two deal with a similar problem, namely the debilitating effect of substance addiction. However, the two organizations deal with distinct forms of dependence. AA focuses on alcohol, while NA is an organization dealing with controlled substances we commonly refer to as ‘drugs.’

What is the Difference between Alcohol and Drugs?

In the minds of most people, the difference between the two is massive. Society as a whole views alcohol with a certain degree of mistrust. However, drugs can be utterly disqualifying and put a person outside of acceptable circles, especially when hard drugs are concerned. While an individual can go to an office party and have too many martinis, it is unthinkable to attend that same party and use heroin. The social stigma surrounding illicit substances is incomparable.

The social stigma is not justified. Research into the social and individual harm wrought by different substances shows that alcohol causes tremendous damage. When researchers calculated all of the consequences for the user and society were tabulated together, they found that alcohol causes far more than most forms of illicit drugs.

On a score of 1-100, researchers ranked alcohol 72. The closes illegal drugs were crack and heroin, both of which scored in the 50s. According to this study, alcohol is no less than three times as harmful as cocaine. The main problem with alcohol is that it has an outsized negative influence on society, which other drugs do not match. It has caused 88,000 deaths per year and had a wide-ranging negative impact throughout society through car accidents and various forms of violence.

Alcohol does tremendous harm to the body of the user. Physicians have linked excessive alcohol use to over 60 diseases. However, some drugs cause more damage to the user. The study determined that heroin, crack, and crystal meth does the most damage to the individual. Still, it is ironic that the least socially stigmatized drug causes the most damage to society.

AA Versus NA

NA and AA do have some differences, and we will discuss them. However, what is more, important are the similarities between the two. Both organizations base their approach on the 12-step system, which places a premium on spiritual growth as a recovery factor. NA and AA similarly stress the importance of the group and the sponsor in helping individuals on the road to a happier and more fulfilling existence.

Both 12-step programs also stress the importance of coming to terms with the wreckage addiction has wrought in the lives of the addict and others’ lives.

As we have seen, alcohol is just as damaging as most types of illegal drugs. It appears to cause considerably more damage than most. They are also highly addictive. The main difference between the two is social.

Are There Differences Between the Two?

Despite the many similarities between AA and NA, there are also a few differences. AA tends to stress the importance of help from a Higher Power to a greater extent than NA.

Therefore, there are some subtle differences in the steps the fellowships use. A good example is the first step. In AA, that initial step is “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” Meanwhile, the first NA step is “we admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

The different phrasing is a substantial difference. The AA approach indicates an addiction stemming from an external source, which is the alcohol itself.  Meanwhile, in NA literature, powerlessness stems from the addiction.

This difference also influences the means of pursuing recovery. Since addiction is internal for NA members, they tend to look at their addiction and recovery responsibility. Meanwhile, AA members stress the importance of allowing a Higher Power to remove destructive impulses.

Which One Is Right for You?

There may be an obvious choice for many people. Since the two organizations deal with different forms of dependencies, individuals suffering from an addiction to one rather than the other should refer to the logical organization. In other words, if you are consuming alcohol rather than drugs, consider going to AA meetings. However, if you cannot control your use of illicit substances rather than liquor, NA may provide better answers for your problems.

The issue is more complicated for individuals suffering from the overuse of both alcohol and drugs simultaneously. One way to choose is by focusing on the role of religion. Individuals who are less comfortable with stressing a Higher Power role in recovery may prefer to try NA. Meanwhile, addicts looking to establish a more vital spiritual component to their lives may select AA.

Since the differences are not that major, perhaps the best way to choose is to attend a few meetings. Regardless of whether the group is under NA or AA’s auspices, you may find you have a better connection with people in one group rather than another.

Either way, do not let uncertainty over which fellowship may be right for you stop you from getting the help you need. 12-step programs work, and both NA and AA are likely to greatly benefit your life and assist you in your journey towards recovery.

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