“We do Recover”: Scientific Studies of NA


Since its founding in the mid-twentieth century, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) has emerged as a major addiction recovery support resource, with more than 71,000 weekly NA meetings in 144 countries. But what is known about the effects of NA participation from the standpoint of science? To answer that question, Marc Galanter, Keith Humphreys, John Kelly, and I authored a paper analyzing the results of 227 NA-related scientific studies. That report is now available for review and free download (click HERE).

As long-tenured researchers of addiction recovery mutual aid in the United States, the authors regularly receive questions from service professionals, policy makers, and affected individuals and families about the scientific status of 12-Step and alternative groups. It is hard to sort through the rhetorical zeal (ranging from passionate support to venomous attacks) encountered within professional and public discussions of 12-Step and alternative approaches to addiction recovery mutual aid. This just-released report summarizes research data on the following questions:

When did formal scientific studies of NA begin?

What is the international scope of NA research studies

What is the relative growth and availability of NA in the U.S. and internationally?

Who participates in NA?

How common is 12-Step co-attendance?

How do people get to NA?

What are the major obstacles to NA participation?

What is the retention/dropout rate within NA?

What are the effects of NA participation on drug use and remission / recovery from substance use disorders?

What is the average duration of continuous recovery among NA members?

What are the major risk factors for recurrence of drug use and addiction among NA members?

What are the broader effects of NA participation on health and quality of life outcomes?

What factors related to NA participation predict substance use and quality of life outcomes?

Do such positive effects differ across demographic, cultural, and clinical characteristics?

Is NA effective in improving recovery outcomes of adolescents?

Is NA safe for adolescents and other vulnerable populations?

Is NA appropriate for people with less religious or spiritual orientation? What is the role of spirituality in NA's program of recovery?

Is NA appropriate for people with co-occurring psychiatric illness?

How does concurrent participation in addiction treatment and NA affect long-term recovery outcomes?

Is NA appropriate for people in medication-assisted treatment?

What mechanisms might help explain the positive changes people experience through NA participation?

Does NA lead to isolation from mainstream community life or greater civic involvement?

What is the cost-effectiveness of NA participation?

What are the attitudes toward NA among helping professionals and addiction treatment personnel and their related referral practices?

What can treatment centers do to increase patient participation in NA?

What are the major limitations of published research on NA?

Future research will continue to illuminate questions related to the effects of NA participation on recovery outcomes. The scientific evidence we reviewed possesses both consistency and coherence. NA members and NA literature boldly assert "We do Recover." The studies reviewed in this report provide scientific confirmation and context to that assertion. It is our hope that this analysis will offer scientific grounding to future discussions of the potential role of NA in recovery initiation and enhanced quality of life in long-term addiction recovery.