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Vol 4 No 5 (2017)

The program is perfect: Narcotics Anonymous and the managing of the American addict

  • Paul Christensen
September 12, 2015
December 15, 2017


This article examines Narcotics Anonymous (NA) membership in two ways: how blame for failure is displaced from the ‘perfect’ organizational program and onto the individual addict working to remain sober and how this displacement is accompanied by notions of individual responsibility and work. These discourses illustrate the influence of a neoliberal outlook on the life course among ‘clean’ NA members, particularly as the social safety net in the United States has been systematically reduced and replaced by a system that focuses attention on personal responsibility. I show how NA’s ideological approach blinds group members and the larger public to the complexity of addiction, turning addicts who struggle with recovery into failures, through internalized ideological trajectories that root responsibility in the self while discounting context.

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