AA vs. NA: Similarities and Differences

Drug rehab treatment takes many forms, from inpatient to residential to outpatient care. Throughout this continuum, support groups serve an important role for people trying to manage the effects of addiction in their day-to-day lives.

AA and NA exist as the most often sought-out support group models. As the very first group approach of its kind, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) developed the 12 Step program approach, which set the standard for the other groups that followed.

NA (Narcotics Anonymous), an offshoot of AA, employs many of the same traditions and principles as AA. If you’re considering joining a support group, understanding the similarities and differences between AA vs. NA can help in deciding which group will work best for you.

Call our toll-free helpline at 800-839-1686Who Answers? to ask about 12 Step program treatment options.

How Do AA and NA Groups Fit Into Addiction Recovery?

AA vs. NA

Both AA and NA focus on spiritual growth and development.

While formal drug treatment plays an essential role in helping addicts break free from addiction’s effects, groups like AA vs. NA actually complement and extend the effects of professional drug treatment, according to the Journal of Social Work in Public Health. AA and NA work in much the same way as a group therapy-type environment, where recovering addicts can get ongoing social support while learning ways to maintain a drug-free lifestyle.

Similarities and Differences Between AA vs. NA


12 Step Program Approach

Both AA and NA groups follow the 12 Step program, which acts as a roadmap for managing effects of addiction in daily life. According to the journal of Recent Developments in Alcoholism, the 12 Step model emphasizes the importance of:

  • Spiritual growth and development
  • Routing out addiction-based thinking and behavior from one’s character and daily interactions
  • Working through difficult emotions
  • Learning healthy ways of coping with daily life pressures

Group Therapy Treatment Model

The group therapy treatment model offers a range of benefits in terms of how it helps people facing the same sets of challenges draw hope, strength and guidance from one another. As the group therapy model forms the basis for the support group approach, AA and NA can actually pick up where formal drug treatment programs leave off in terms of helping a person maintain continued abstinence on a day-to-day basis.

The Many Types of Twelve Step Meetings: Something for Everyone


As far AA vs. NA goes, the main difference between the two has to do with the types of substances that are identified as “the problem.” Whereas AA focuses on alcohol, NA deals with any type of addictive substance, including alcohol.

This difference also affects the specific wording that makes up Step 1 of the 12 Step plan.

For AA, Step 1 goes “we admitted that we were powerless over alcohol ….” For NA, the word “alcohol” is replaced with “addiction.” A similar difference in wording can also be found in Step 12 of the 12 Step plan.

In effect, this difference changes the overall emphasis for NA groups in terms of their focusing more on addiction itself than the actual substance that caused the addiction.

If you or someone you know is considering AA vs. NA support groups and needs help finding a program that meets your needs, call our toll-free helpline at 800-839-1686Who Answers?.

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