NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS: ITS HISTORY AND CULTURE

NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS: ITS HISTORY AND CULTURE

William White, Chris Budnick, and Boyd Pickard

Posted in: William L. White Publications
Addiction recovery mutual aid societies rise within unique historical contexts that can exert profound and prolonged effects on their character. Just as the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is best understood in the context of the repeal of Prohibition and the challenges of the Great Depression, the history of Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is best understood in the cultural context of the 1950s. It was in this decade that the notion of “good” drugs and “bad” drugs became fully crystallized. Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine achieved the status of culturally celebrated drugs as an exploding pharmaceutical industry poured out millions of over-the-counter and prescription psychoactive drugs. H eroin and cannabis became increasingly demonized in the wake of a post-World War II opiate addiction epidemic. Social panic triggered harsh new anti-drug laws. Known addicts were arrested for “internal possession” and prohibited from associating via “loitering addict” laws. A ny gathering of recovering addicts for mutual support was subjected to regular police surveillance. Mid-century treatments for addiction included electroconvulsive therapy (“shock treatment”), psychosurgery (prefrontal lobotomies), and prolonged institutionalization. This is the inhospitable soil in which NA grew.