What Does Buddhism Have to Say About Addiction?

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Religion and recovery have a very well-established link. Spiritual addicts are more likely to recover, and long-sober addicts are more likely to be spiritual. When addicts are introduced to the spirituality of recovery in the 12 steps, they are encouraged to engage in spiritual practices of their choosing. Many choose to seek spirituality in the religion of their upbringing. Christian addiction treatment is a popular model for drug rehab. However, what about other forms of spirituality such as Buddhism?

Buddhism & Recovery from Addiction

Addiction and recovery fit quite nicely with Buddhism. According to Buddhists, all suffering (for addicts and non-addicts) is caused by craving. Craving for Buddhists is any desire for anything, and its Sanskrit word is “dukkha”. This means something close to “holding onto something that’s not there anymore”.

Does this sound familiar? It should for those affected by addiction. As addicts, we hold on to very extreme cravings, which are a core part of addiction. We crave the joy and satisfaction that we get from drugs and alcohol, which were once there but aren’t anymore.

How Does Buddhism Relieve Craving?

The core concept in Buddhist practice is the “Eightfold Path”, which is said to relieve craving and the suffering that results from it. The Eightfold Path is:

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, the leader of the Tibetan branch of Buddhism, also emphasizes compassion. Together with the eightfold path, these principles complement the 12 steps and other spiritual methods of recovery. They relieve human craving the same way they can relieve drug craving.

How Buddhism Can Apply to Recovery

  • Meditation: Meditation is a main Buddhist practice in attaining mindfulness and concentration. It is also the 11th step in the 12-step program. The connection between meditation and mental health has long been established, but recent research suggests a specific link between meditation and addiction. For example, it has been shown to aid in quitting nicotine addiction.
  • Compassion: Buddhists believe that all living things suffer together, so all are also equal to one another. Therefore, they emphasize compassion in all our daily affairs. This echoes the 12th step with regard to service and practicing spiritual principles “in all our affairs”. For, it is only by living spiritual lives that we recover.
  • Balance: Finally, Buddhism is all about balance. This is key for addicts, who tend to swing from one extreme to another. We can’t have one beer, we need twenty. Even when we get sober, we overwork, overeat, etc. Balance is always key to not only a healthy life, but a happy life in recovery.

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