Do I Need NA or AA?

12 Step programs have come a long way since their inception more than 80 years ago. When the original 12 Step program was invented, it only applied to the group called Alcoholics Anonymous, and anybody who wanted to participate in the 12 Steps with a group had to attend AA meetings. Today in 2019, many groups make use of the 12 Steps and adapt them for different purposes. In fact, many rehab centers use a shortened and modified version of the 12 steps in their recovery programs. One of the groups that uses the 12 Steps is called Narcotics Anonymous (NA). If you’re choosing between AA and NA, more information may help you make the right choice.

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Some History about Alcoholics Anonymous

In the mid-1930s, two men in Ohio, Bill Wilson and Doctor Robert Holbrook Smith, realized that they had no control over their addictions to alcohol. Together, they developed the organization called Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, including the famous 12 Steps that the group still uses today. While some changes have taken place over the years, the basic principles remain the same.

In 2010, AA had over 2 million members around the world.

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Narcotics Anonymous developed because of a need for a broader focus. AA meetings, of course, focused on recovering alcoholics. Some participants, however, struggled with drugs other than alcohol, and these participants didn’t feel like their needs were being understood or met in AA meetings. That group splintered off to develop their own group. Thus, Narcotics Anonymous was born.

The 12 Step Program

The biggest similarity between the two groups is the fact that both use the original 12 Step program invented by Wilson and Smith. Narcotics Anonymous does alter the language a bit to fit its own needs, but otherwise, the Steps look identical to those used in AA.


The 12 Steps are a list of 12 actions that guide an alcoholic or an addict into a life of recovery. They begin with an acknowledgment of the problem, move into a spiritual lifestyle, and lead the alcoholic or the addict into making amends for past hurts. Both organizations have books that lay out the 12 Steps and give participants a guide for moving through them.

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Other Similarities

AA meetings and NA meetings look alike in a lot of ways. Neither group requires membership fees, dues, or any other financial obligation for people to participate. Both groups welcome people of all religions, races, ages, and other demographics. However, some meetings are tailored specifically to certain demographics. One might find a women-only meeting in both organizations, for example.


Both organizations offer casual, non-judgemental settings for people to interact with others who have experienced similar struggles. Though they do stress personal responsibility, these organizations maintain that addiction is a disease, not a choice. In fact, AA and similar groups have helped to shape public perception of substance abuse. In both AA and NA meetings, you’ll find the following:


  • Snacks and/or coffee
  • Recovery literature and resources
  • A listening, understanding group

Alcoholics vs Addicts

The biggest difference between Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous is that AA members identify as alcoholics while NA members identify as addicts.

While AA still orients its meetings toward those who struggle with alcohol addictions, NA meetings are available for those who struggle with any drug addiction. People with substance use disorders that don’t include alcohol will find the most like-minded community within NA. However, people with alcohol addictions have more of a choice between the two.


Narcotics Anonymous welcomes people with alcohol addictions. In fact, NA doesn’t distinguish between “alcohol” and “drugs,” maintaining that alcohol is a type of drug and therefore falls under the narcotic umbrella. Alcohol users, just like anybody else in NA meetings, identify as addicts. If you’re recovering from alcohol abuse, and if the wording makes a difference for you, consider whether you’d be more comfortable identifying as an alcoholic or as an addict.

AA and NA Differences

Aside from the major difference in the wording, you’ll find some small AA and NA differences. Since AA has existed for a longer period than NA, it may have a stronger presence in your community. You can easily find meetings for both groups, but you may have more location options if you’re looking for an AA meeting. AA meetings have a bit more standardization as well. For instance, the length of an NA meeting might vary.


To learn more about AA and NA meetings or to speak to a compassionate counselor at any time, please call us at 800-492-7848. We want to help you or a loved one today.

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Do you want more information about the differences between Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous? Do you want to stop using drugs but are unsure about where to start? Rehab Info can provide the information and advice that you need to start a clean and sober life. Help is available.
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