New Hope For Addicts

This article was distributed by the World Service Office in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a part of its “PI Resource” package for newly registered PI Subcommittees. It was published in the PI News and is un-attributed as to the source, It is presented here as a historical document.

New Hope For Addicts

Drug addiction has been much in the public eye lately. It seems at nearly every turn we hear about yet another major bust, or another professional sport under investigation, or another company’s policy of drug testing. We are told that the arteries of supply and distribution are shifting from one coast to the other. We hear of the parade of public figures who check into treatment centers for addiction. Here in Southern California there are reports of a sharp increase in the numbers of babies born addicted to narcotics. It hardly seems like there is any room for good news about drug addiction. The picture looks so bleak. The news all sounds bad.

There is plenty good news, though, and it’s time we talked about it. Recovery from even the most “hopeless” forms of drug addiction is sharply on the rise. Not too many years ago, the number of addicts who had found recovery and reentry into the mainstream of society was negligible. Drug addiction took its toll in families, in the work place, in society as a whole; and it seemed like recovery was so rare as to provide little basis for hope. In the last several years, though, the program of Narcotics Anonymous has experienced phenomenal growth, and all over the world addicts are getting clean and staying clean. A new basis for hope for the addict (and the family members, lovers, employers and others close to the addict) has taken firm root as NA has begun to flourish.

Narcotics Anonymous is a recovery program for drug addicts of any and every description. Its members are people who became addicted to any drug or any combination of drugs–marijuana, cocaine, heroin, prescription medication, and alcohol–any drug at all. It costs nothing to belong, and NA has no outside affiliations. It is a voluntary program of addicts helping addicts. It is now commonplace for a “hopeless junkie” to have several years of continuous abstinence from all drugs, to have rebuilt broken relationships, to have made amends for past wrongs, and to be a fully functioning member of society. Stories of this nature number in the thousands today in NA And these addicts are recovering successfully in the same Fellowship as the “pot-heads” who have regained their motivation and their self respect, the housewife recovering from Valium addiction, the once “spaced-out” hallucinogen addict, and all the rest.

There is a certain sense of history repeating itself here. Prior to 1935, recovery from alcoholism was so rare that alcoholics who had reached a certain stage were presumed hopeless, and committed to asylums. A great deal of energy was going into addressing the problem (perhaps most notably the “great experiment” of prohibition) with painful and disappointing results. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous came along in 1935, and eventually changed the picture forever. It is now generally accepted that alcoholism is a disease, and that recovery from that disease is possible–a concept pioneered by AA in the Thirties. It took some time for the professional community to take notice that here was a nonprofessional approach that was working. Once they did take notice, however, and began to design their treatment programs as introductory programs to the Twelve Step Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, recovery from that disease became commonplace. Alcoholics Anonymous estimates now that well over a million alcoholics is in a state of recovery from a condition once assumed hopeless.

History played one of its cruel jokes on the recovery movement, however, as the Sixties and Seventies came around. The Twelve Step/Twelve Tradition model of AA was written, developed and refined in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, so the whole program revolves around alcohol and alcoholism. The following decades saw the emergence of the drug subculture that introduced numerous types of drugs to a much larger cross section of society. As addiction flourished among these new users, and many of them sought a way out, they looked to the proven method which was stressed by almost the entire professional treatment community–Alcoholics Anonymous. A closer look at AA’s Steps and Traditions reveal that the program is not designed to include addicts who are not alcoholics. The General Service Conference of AA consistently took this position when these issues arose, and the Fellowship’s literature reflected this position–AA is a recovery program for alcoholics. An immense internal problem began to develop in AA over this issue.

Meanwhile, much of the professional community (with whom AA has always had a relationship of “cooperation, but not affiliation”) continued to do what worked for them in the past–refer their clients to AA. Unfortunately their clients were, in increasingly larger numbers, drug addicts rather than alcoholics, and therefore inappropriate referrals to AA The confusion and controversy mounted in a movement which had made one of the most significant contributions to our culture in modern times–an understanding of and successful treatment for alcoholism.

Alcoholics Anonymous had adopted a position as far back as the Fifties which was to eventually become the true solution to this dilemma. They stated that although drug addicts could not, in keeping with AA’s time-honored principles, become members of AA, they could freely adapt the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions to their needs. AA’s integrity as a movement has always been protected by the fact that they only involve themselves in one activity–helping alcoholics recover. This solution sought to maintain that integrity by retaining clarity in their atmosphere of identification for the alcoholic, while at the same time offering these principles of recovery to the drug addict.

On that basis, the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous was founded in Sun Valley, California as far back as 1953. For the first twenty years of its life, the NA Fellowship was a very small organization composed mostly of a few groups in Southern California and a smattering of isolated groups in other places. The dilemma described above had not yet become obvious enough to force the Fellowship to become a viable, worldwide movement. Addicts were being referred to Alcoholics Anonymous by well meaning professionals, and AA was struggling with how to lovingly and effectively handle them without leaving them to die from the disease, and without compromising its own atmosphere of identification for the alcoholic.

Because of this great and growing need for a solution to the problem of providing a totally accepting atmosphere for the recovering addict, Narcotics Anonymous began to flourish. Many addicts turned their attention to this small, developing Fellowship, and began to build into it the kinds of internal supports necessary to sustain addicts in long-term recovery. Together they wrote a Basic Text and several pamphlets, and put together the organizational structure necessary to sustain a worldwide network of autonomous recovery groups–a model similar in most respects to that of Alcoholics Anonymous. This effort has resulted in a period of booming growth of every kind for the NA Fellowship, which continues full steam to this day.

In 1983, the NA Fellowship consisted of approximately 2,000 meetings in fifteen or twenty countries. In the three years since then it has more than tripled in size, and is now in some forty countries. That growth spurt shows no signs of slowing. All indications are, in fact, that it will soon accelerate. Narcotics Anonymous is not exactly a household name at present, even among many in the professional community who haven’t become aware of its rapid development over the past few years. As this awareness grows, and as it becomes more obvious to all that the solution is at hand to the long perplexing problem of “what to do with these drug addicts,” the Fellowship is expected to boom at an even greater pace. Based upon its current growth figures, NA fully expects to be ten times its current size–perhaps 65 or 70 thousand recovery groups–in the next six to eight years.

To avoid repeating the problem of blurring the atmosphere of identification among all types of drug addicts, NA has made one very significant change in the Twelve Step model. Rather than describing the problem of addiction as powerlessness over a drug or drugs, NA has worded the steps to state the problem as powerlessness over the disease of addiction itself. It does not matter what the drug or drugs involved are, the problem is addiction. This simple concept has laid the groundwork for clear identification among a very diverse cross section of addicts, and it is working.

An interesting benefit of the emergence of a strong, viable Fellowship for all types of drug addicts is that AA is now in a position to be freed up to do what it has always done with great effectiveness and integrity–to focus squarely on helping alcoholics find recovery. The two Fellowships, which are in no way affiliated with one another, are each focusing on their respective “primary purpose,” and society is benefiting from this balanced approach to the tremendous problem of drug addiction.

The last time such an historic development occurred among a seemingly hopeless segment of the addicted population (the birth of AA in 1935), the professional community eventually adapted to the nonprofessional Fellowships’ solution. This phenomenon is occurring once again, and must continue. More and more addiction treatment programs are realizing the importance of targeting their referrals to the appropriate Twelve Step Fellowship. As this trend continues, the likelihood increases that each addict who is referred anywhere for recovery will find a solution with which he or she can identify. As this happens (and it is happening right now with staggering speed), the good news about the disease of addiction will continue to find its way into the public consciousness.

That good news is that recovery is now possible for any addict who wants it, regardless of “drug of choice.” The good news is that each one of these addicts who finds recovery in Narcotics Anonymous is one more “hopeless” person who found hope and is now a contributing member of society. There is great joy and camaraderie among these thousands of recovering addicts over this good news. In Australia, in Europe, in Japan, in Canada and the U.S.–all over the world–NA communities are forming and developing very rapidly. The Sixteenth Annual World Convention of Narcotics Anonymous, an event that used to be a gathering of a few hundred recovering addicts, is being held in London, England this year. This is the first time such a convention has been held outside of the United States. Last year in Washington D.C. that event drew over 3,000 recovering addicts from all over the world.

Recovery from drug addiction is more readily available for those who want it today than at any time in history. Amid all the news stories which tell of the rising tide of this tragic disease, we ought to hear more about this rising tide of recovery. We are just now entering into entering a new era of hope for those who are seeking recovery.