Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~

Why It Works12 Traditions


"Each group should be autonomous, except in matters 
affecting other groups or NA as a whole."

For the purpose of this tradition, "autonomy" can be thought of as a groupís right to independence and self-government - with respect to its own affairs. Just as there is no human authority to govern our membership, neither is there a bureaucracy to supervise our groups. Group autonomy is an extension of the freedoms offered us in NA. The Twelve Steps help us gain freedom from the horrors of our addiction, the perils of our past, and the defects of our character. Autonomy, united with other traditions, helps us maintain our freedoms of membership and expression, collective diversity, and spiritual independence.

So long as we continue to rely on the power of a loving God to influence our decisions and their outcomes, we need not establish any codes of conduct for either our groups or our members. This is where the spiritual conscience of a group becomes indispensable. Group conscience authenticates true autonomy, and autonomy works most efficiently when this principle is inclusive to the spirit of our collective Steps and Traditions. Experience has shown us that when adversity strikes a group, and our focus is placed on the solution of our Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the problems solve themselves. In this way, we express our faith in NA as a self-correcting program.

Though group autonomy does not justify a disregard for other traditions, neither does it justify retaliation, if perceived that the group has deviated. In this instance, it is imperative that we understand this important concept - complimenting each groupsí autonomy, is each groupsí right to be wrong. If our traditions were enforceable, they would no longer say we "ought," they would say you "must." There are no musts in NA, in any absolute sense of the word. Even our Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are only suggestions that neither the individual nor the group must strictly adhere too.

Many have argued that this philosophy may spell disaster for both the group and even NA as a whole, but they are later astonished when this was not the case. Though some groups have strayed from NA tradition over time, once it begins to affect their membersí personal recovery or NA as a whole, either the group will wither and die, or group opinion will snap it back in line. Even in such a case, a groupsí autonomy is held inviolate.

"So then," you might ask, "can a group decide to do absolutely anything they please?" The answer is, restrictively, "Yes, as long as it is in respect to its own affairs." There is only one exception to the near unlimited liberty afforded a group through our tradition of autonomy. The exception is, that their liberty may not be exercised at the expense of severe consequences to any other groups or NA as a whole. It is for this reason that we have developed a service structure encompassing the principle of consultation. Such consultation will often consist of a discussion encompassing all involved, in order to solicit other opinions and reach a fellowship conscience, a conscience which supports both our unity and our primary purpose.

The spirit of consultation is not meant to undermine the principle of autonomy, but to be a safeguard against its misuse. If we invite the guidance of a greater consciousness, check to ensure our motives are inventoried, and strive to maintain open-mindedness as both autonomous groups and consulted service bodies, we believe we can then place our trust in the process as we seek viable solutions. Consultation is a method by which we cultivate new thoughts and ideas which can compliment our enthusiasm for helping others.

Questions have arisen with respect to how far the principle of autonomy can be exercised in our fellowship. The answer is simple, it is expressed in the wording of this tradition; the freedom of autonomy is limited only to the groups. Our groups, however, have organized service boards and committees to facilitate tasks, which intern frees them to carry the message directly to the addict. These service boards and committees are not NA, as such. They exist solely to serve the groups and neither do they derive authority from their service, nor do they inherit the sovereignty of the groupsí autonomy.

In the end, so long as the autonomy of our groups is focused on carrying the message of hope and freedom found in Narcotics Anonymous and our efforts are exercised within the boundaries of our Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the spirit of this tradition will always ring true. As our groups grow and find new and effective ways of helping others, our diversity is then strengthened, broadening our base, and raising our point of our freedom.


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Reprinted from the 
Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life, 
Traditions War: a pathway to peace,
The Spirit of NA 
or NA Twenty Plus

being edited on this site.

Copyright © December 1998
Victor Hugo Sewell, Jr.

NA Foundation Group
6685 Bobby John Road Atlanta, GA 30349 USA


All rights reserved. This draft may be copied by members of Narcotics Anonymous for the purpose of writing input for future drafts, enhancing the recovery of NA members and for the general welfare of the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship as a whole. The use of an individual name is simply a registration requirement of the Library of Congress and not a departure from the spirit or letter of the Pledge, Preface or Introduction of this book. Any reproduction by individuals or organizations outside the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous is prohibited. Any reproduction of this document for personal or corporate monetary gain is prohibited.