NA sprang from the Alcoholics Anonymous Program of the mid-1930s, and was founded by Jimmy Kinnon. Meetings first emerged in the Los Angeles area of California, United States, in the early 1950s. The NA program, officially founded in 1953, started as a small U.S. movement that has grown into the world's largest 12 step recovery program for drug addiction.
Alcoholics Anonymous was the first 12-step program, and through it many with drug and drinking problems found sobriety. The Fourth Tradition gives each AA group the autonomy to include or exclude non-alcoholic addicts from "closed" meetings – where only those with an expressed desire to quit drinking may attend. At "open" AA meetings, non-alcoholics are welcome.
In 1944, AA's co-founder Bill Wilson discussed a separate fellowship for drug addicts.[ In 1947, NARCO (also called Addicts Anonymous) met weekly at the U.S. Public Health Service's treatment center (Federal Medical Center, Lexington) inside the Lexington, Kentucky federal prison for 20 years. In 1948, a NARCO member started a short-lived fellowship also called "Narcotics Anonymous" in the New York Prison System in New York City, New York. This version of NA did not follow the 12 Traditions of NA, which resulted in problems for the fellowship and ultimately the end of that NA in the late 1940s. Jimmy K., who is credited with starting the NA as we know it today, did contact Rae Perez, a leading member of this NA fellowship. Because that fellowship did not want to follow the 12 traditions written by AA, the two NA fellowships never united.
Early history of NA
In 1953 Narcotics Anonymous, was founded in California by Jimmy Kinnon and others. Differing from its predecessors, NA formed a fellowship of mutually supporting groups. Founding members, most of whom were from AA, debated and established the 12 Traditions of the NA fellowship. On September 14, 1953, AA authorized NA the use of AA's 12 steps and traditions on the condition that they stop using the AA name, causing the organization to call itself Narcotics Anonymous.
In 1954, the first NA publication was printed, called the "Little Brown Book". It contained the 12 steps and early drafts of several pieces that would later be included in subsequent literature.
At that time, NA was not yet recognized by society at large as a positive force. The initial group had difficulty finding places that would allow them to meet and often had to meet in people's homes. The first meetings of Narcotics Anonymous were held in the basements of churches for the members' protection because at that time an old law prohibiting convicted felons from congregating was still being upheld and churches offered their basements as a sanctuary. Addicts would have to cruise around meeting places and check for surveillance, to make sure meetings would not be busted by police. It was many years before NA became recognized as a beneficial organization, although some early press accounts were very positive.
In addition, many NA groups were not following the 12 traditions very closely (which were quite new at the time). These groups were at times accepting money from outside entities, conflating AA with NA, or even adding religious elements to the meetings. For a variety of reasons, meetings began to decline in the late 1950s, and there was a four-month period in 1959 when there were no meetings held anywhere at all. Spurred into action by this, Kinnon and others dedicated themselves to restarting NA, promising to hold to the traditions more closely.
In late 1959, meetings began to form again and grow. The NA White Booklet was written in 1962 and became the heart of NA meetings and the basis for all subsequent NA literature. NA was called a "hip pocket program" because the entire literature could fit into a person's hip pocket. This booklet was republished in 1966 as the NA White Book and included the personal stories of many addicts.
The first NA phone line started in 1960, and the first "H&I" group was formed in 1963 (H&I stands for Hospitals and Institutions, a sub-committee of Narcotics Anonymous that carries the message into hospitals and institutions where people cannot get to an outside meeting). That year a "Parent Service Board" (later renamed the World Service Board) was formed to ensure that NA stayed healthy and followed closely to the traditions. Confusingly, in 1962, the Salvation Army started a group also called "Narcotics Anonymous" that followed a different "13-step" program, but this program soon died out. The NA program grew slowly in the 1960s. Members of the program learned what was effective and what was not. Relapse rates declined over time and friction between NA groups began to decrease.
The 1970s was a period of rapid growth in NA's history. In 1970, there were only 20 regular, weekly meetings, all of them in the United States. Within two years there were 70, including meetings in Germany, Australia, and Bermuda. By 1976, there were 200 regular meetings, including 83 in California alone, and in the early 1980s in Brazil, Canada, Colombia, India, the Republic of Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. In 1980, the first London meeting opened in Millman Street, Chelsea, with around six members and a second followed months later. By 1981, there were 1,100 different meetings all over the world and in 1983 Mary Bolton founded Narcotics Anonymous in Ireland. A World Service Office was officially opened in 1977. In 1971, the first NA World Conference was held, and others have followed annually.
The development of NA literature
From the beginnings of NA, the need for official NA literature was evident. Unfortunately, the process of creating and approving official NA literature has seen some of the most contentious periods of debate within the fellowship. Although the Yellow Booklet, Little White Booklet, and Little White Book were used in the 1960s and 1970s, many people desired to have a more detailed book on recovery, paralleling the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous. Some meetings offered AA literature at meetings, while others considered writing their own books on recovery. One group even planned to print a bootlegged version of AA's Big Book with every instance of the word "alcohol" replaced with "drugs". The need for a unified text approved by the fellowship's "group conscience" was recognized, and in October 1979 the first NA World Literature Conference was held in Wichita, Kansas.
While previous literature had been written by just a few addicts (primarily by Jimmy Kinnon), the NA Basic Text was written as a massive collaboration between hundreds of people. There were a total of seven World Literature Conferences within three years, all of them open to any addict who wished to help. It was decided that the book would use the Little White Book as its outline, filling in and expanding on the subjects discussed in that text.
In November 1981, a finalized version was distributed to all of NA for approval, and the text was approved with a 2/3 majority required for passage. After passage, however, the publication was held up due to a spirited disagreement between the World Service Office and the members who wrote the book regarding a few key sentences which described the nature of the World Service Organization and other NA service entities. The book was printed in 1983 with the passages removed. A second edition that restored the passages quickly followed at the demand of the fellowship. A hasty vote which required Regional Service Representatives to respond within 60 days (even though most regions only met every 90 days) making it impossible to actually poll the NA Groups and membership again removed the sentences in a third edition.
Professional editors and writers were hired in 1986 to improve the Basic Text so that it was more consistent in tone and style. The resultant 4th edition, released in 1987, was improperly reviewed and had many problems, including 30 lines that were missing and text that was inconsistent with other NA literature. A 5th edition was released in 1988, purportedly correcting those problems.
In 2004, the WSC initiated a project to revise the Basic Text. This new edition would remove some of the personal stories from the 5th edition, and supplement the remainder of the original stories with more diverse personal stories from around the world. The first 10 chapters were to remain the same. Also, the preface would remain the same, as well as the "Symbol" page. There is a new preface but the original preface will be called "preface to the 1st edition". There were some other changes to the structure of the book, including the layout and flow of the book, while keeping the original message clear and unchanged. The task of choosing these stories was handed down from the World Service Office to regional meetings, to Area Service Committee meetings, and then to the individual home group meetings, where each member had a chance to review the new text.
When the Approval Draft came out on September 1, 2006, 7,500 copies were distributed (4,493 copies were mailed and 3,009 copies were electronic copies downloaded by members). The approximate number of input received was 350 pieces, of which 60 percent came from individuals, 17 percent came from groups, and 23 percent came from committees. More than 20 percent (161) of the personal stories submitted came from outside of the United States. Submissions were received from the following countries (although later on more personal stories were submitted and the additional statistics are unknown):
- New Zealand
- Puerto Rico
- Saudi Arabia
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
- The United States
- West Indies
The 6th edition of the NA Basic Text was approved with over forty new "personal stories" from around the world. Because of the addition of so many new stories of NA member experiences, it is larger in size than all earlier editions. After the rapid succession of five editions during the 1980s, this was the first new edition in twenty years.
On October 1, 2008, the 5th edition was replaced by the 6th edition in the Narcotics Anonymous World Services inventory at NA.org. Copies of the Basic Text are sold, or given away for free at the group's expense, at NA meetings, and are available in over 30 different languages. Millions have been sold worldwide, and have been useful to many addicts.
More recent history
The Sixth Edition Basic Text was published in 2008, and there was also a special edition released that same year known as the 25th Anniversary Commemorative (of the First Edition Basic Text) Sixth Edition Basic Text.
In 2003, NA World Services approved a new text entitled Sponsorship. This book endeavors to help people explore the concept of NA sponsorship.
In the more recent months, there has been a motion to revise the pamphlet "In Times of Illness".
A motion for a project to create a new book was put to the World Service Conference in the 2008–2010 conference cycle. The motion was carried by unanimous consent in 2010. over the next two years members of the Narcotics Anonymous fellowship took part in a collective effort to create this new book-length piece of literature. The book was to be titled Living Clean: The Journey Continues. At the 2012 World Service Conference, a motion to approve the final draft of the book was presented to the conference for approval and once again the delegates carried the motion unanimously. Living Clean: The Journey Continues was released to the public in 2012.
Most recently in 2022, Narcotics Anonymous published the Spiritual Principal A Day book often shortened to SPAD. This book consists of a short message about a different spiritual principle for each day of the year. This is similar to another book previously published by NA called Just for Today, containing a message for thought on a recovery related topic for each day of the year.