Should you go to Narcotics Anonymous?
Throughout history, there have been periods where an illness could be readily diagnosed but there was no adequate medical treatment. Whenever this has been the case, society has done the best it can to protect the sick and those around them. In fact, when it comes to addiction, at this point in time, there is little that the medical community can provide in the way of treatment. That is, for most forms of addiction. There is psychotherapy and rehab. Yet, there is little in the way of effective medical therapy with the exception of opioid addiction treatment.
The Twelve Steps.
Alcohol is a drug. Early in the 20th century, a fellowship was formed to help save people from alcoholism. It is the spiritual 12-step program known as Alcoholics Anonymous. The steps provide a spiritual path to recovery from addiction. Narcotics Anonymous was founded in 1953, based on Alcoholics Anonymous, it is a distinct program that addresses addiction in general rather than just alcoholism.
What if there was medical treatment?
These spiritual programs use group meetings and individual sponsorship to help members work through the 12 steps and stay clean. It is a great solution for an illness that has few medical therapies available. However, what if there was good medical treatment for one particular form of addiction? In fact, there is highly effective medical treatment for opioid and opiate addiction and dependence. Doctors refer to it as Medication Assisted Treatment for opioid use disorder. It has a much higher rate of success compared to psychotherapy and 12-step programs alone. Medication works for opioid addiction.
Can medical treatment work with the 12-steps?
There is no reason why you cannot engage in medical treatment for opioid use disorder and also go to a 12-step fellowship. Getting to know people who are also recovering is very helpful. You can build a network of support. When times are difficult, you have new friends who understand what you have been through.
So, what is the problem with taking medication and going to Narcotics Anonymous?
While there should be no problem at all, there is an issue with how NA defines abstinence or being clean from all drugs. The program of NA has an official position that people who take medications such as methadone or Suboxone are not yet clean. They do not accept what addiction experts call, “the new recovery”, in which patients who take medication for addiction treatment can be considered to be clean from drugs.
Will you be welcome at an NA meeting if you take a medication such as Suboxone?
Please, understand that you are welcome at meetings. Anyone with a desire to get clean and stay clean is welcome. However, if you take medication, you may be asked not to share in the meeting. Sharing is when people in the group take turns speaking. Yet, things are changing. NA says that the rule about sharing on medication is up to each individual group now. Hopefully, further progress will be made to encourage and allow people on medication to get more involved. Working the 12 steps, in addition to medical therapy, can be very helpful in maintaining a state of recovery.
Further recommended reading and listening.
I highly recommend reading the following articles by author and speaker, David Hecht: Recovery Does Not Just Happen To Us, The Problems of Getting and Staying Clean, Always Be Clean, Always Be Conscious, Solutions for Recovery from Addiction, and Re-engaging with Life and Choosing to Change. You can also find an interview with David on The Rehab Podcast. In these articles and in the podcast interview, David discusses issues with active addiction and early recovery. While medication works very well for those who are addicted to opioids and opiates, psychotherapy and building a recovery network is important to make further progress.