Recovery Circles Go Where Political Leaders Fear to Tread

One of the most amazing things about the 12 Step movement today, regardless of what your personal opinion is, and something which people scarcely believe when they hear it, is the fact that Narcotics Anonymous has become so successful in Iran.

This might have something to do with the size of the problem. In 2014 an estimated 2.2% of Iranians were addicted to illicit drugs, some 60% of those to opiates (which continue to flood in from neighbouring Afghanistan). Methamphetamine is also increasingly being used by Iranian heroin addicts, in the time honoured tradition of the ‘speedball’ (mixing a stimulant with an opiate).

This has resulted in the curious fact that in Iran today, there are more NA meetings than in the rest of the world combined (excluding the United States). Crazier still, is the fact that the Iranian government considers NA to be the most important NGO operating in the country.

Founded in 1990, the fellowship in Iran is host to approximately 16,000 of the worlds 60,000 meetings (the USA has approximately 27,000). But despite being somewhat smaller, it seems that the Iranian fellowship is even more active than its American counterpart.

By 2008, the Iranian fellowship was responsible for approximately a quarter of all the basic texts (NA’s equivalent of AA’s ‘big book’) which were distributed globally. More amazing still is the fact that more than forty thousand one-year medallions (which denote a year of ‘clean’ time) had been handed out, slightly more than in the United States suggesting that once people entered the fellowship in Iran they were more likely to stay.

In a sense this is not particularly surprising. Despite numerous other problems including a large amount of relative poverty, Iranian people are arguably better integrated into their society (in psychosocial terms) than their western counterparts due to the persistence of traditional cultural and religious norms that serve as a binding agent. In plain English, religious observance amongst Iranians has rendered them more able to readily absorb the ‘spiritual programme’ of NA than their western counterparts, and regardless of what fundamentalist atheists may have to say about the matter — it stops people sticking needles in their arms.

Sometime in 2017 a post which demonstrated the power of the fellowship of NA in Iran started going viral on social media. It had originated from a 2006 letter which had appeared in the monthly newsletter of Narcotics Anonymous, ‘The NA Way’. It was penned by a recovering addict known only as ‘Habib’. It was a very short letter;

“My name is Habib and I am an addict. Greetings to all the addicts at the central prison of Qazvin, and to all NA groups around the world. I am writing this letter as I pass the final moments of my life. I am very close to death. I wish to send a message to all fellow members: I got clean through a narcotics anonymous meeting in jail, and through attending these meetings, I stopped using drugs. I have become very close to God. I feel good, and I am at peace with myself and the world. I have accepted the will of God. I’d like to ask you fellows to stay clean and be of service. Try to help other addicts stay clean, physically, mentally and spiritually. Please continue this path to save other addicts. I have nothing else to say. My name is Habib and by dawn my life will end. I will be hanged for the crimes I committed, but I have been clean for eighty-four days beside you. I wish success for all addicts…members and non-members. God bless.”

Perhaps, and most especially at this time, it is worth remembering the commonality of human experience. Addiction is a great leveller. It is an equal opportunities destroyer. But it is also an equal opportunities transformer. It has the power to achieve things that political leaders are incapable of, namely – bridging the gap of human misunderstanding.