AA or NA: Which Is the Right 12 Step Meeting for You?

Addictions Content Team Info icon
Calendar icon Last Updated: 06/25/2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It may seem like a no-brainer, if you’re an alcoholic, you go to AA and if you’re addicted to a narcotic, you go to NA, but it’s not always that simple. Some communities don’t offer many, if any, regularly meeting NA groups, which others find AA in their area is filled with men over 65 who aren’t receptive to hearing about addiction, only drinking.

Here’s what you should know about both AA and NA and how to determine which 12 step meeting is right for you.

12 Steps Background

Formed in 1935 by two professional men, AA, by its very name, is designed for those with a problem with alcohol. NA, on the other hand, was founded as a program for drug addicts in 1953, but didn’t really gain any popularity until the 1960s.

During this time period, the programs, while following the same philosophies, were exclusively different. You were either an alcoholic or a drug addict, and there was no middle area.

In the beginning, AA folks tended to be the middle to upper class professionals, having too many beers after work, too many glasses of wine while the children were in school, or filling that highball glass a little too full at night in front of the fireplace.

The NA members, though, they were the junkies. Heroin addicts and pill poppers, they were rejects, criminals, and the outcasts of society. And the rooms reflected this.

12 Steps Today

Fast forward to today. The world, and the Rooms, are filled with people who struggle with both alcohol and drug addiction, and science says that addiction, regardless to what drug (remember alcohol is one of the most widely abused drugs in the world), is still addiction. When it comes to the 12 step meetings, people go to both, interchangeably. Yet that doesn’t mean what’s okay in one is okay in the other.

Here’s the breakdown:

You’re soberYou’re clean
You’re an alcoholic (even if you’re an addict)You’re an addict (even if you’re an alcoholic)
You have the Big BookYou have the Basic Text
You shake handsYou hug

And while clichés are just clichés, there are some truth to the stereotypes of what you’ll find at both AA and NA meetings. Here are some things you’re more likely to see in one rather than the other.

Older adultsAnyone from age 12 to 60
People with years and years of timePeople who are still using
Complete abstinence from all substancesLeniency towards harm reduction
Uniformity, in meetings and membersDiversity, in meetings and members
Strong, supportive communityFewer people committed to recovery

Pick One and Go with It

There’s no doubt that 12 step meetings work, they’ve been helping people get sober now for over 80 years. So if you’re ready, pick a group and go with it. Go to meetings. Get a sponsor. Work your steps. Sooner or later, you’ll see the benefits that AA and NA bring, regardless of what you’re using or which group you call home.

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