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Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path To Recovery From Addiction

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 12, 2019

Refuge Recovery uses Buddhist teachings and beliefs to help individuals overcome addiction and get on the path to sobriety. This treatment program implements practices such as group meetings, teachings, and meditation sessions.

“To avoid all evil, and to cleanse one’s mind– this is the teaching of the Buddhas.” (Dhammapada, Verse 183) — The Buddhist Society.

Refuge Recovery

As an organization, Refuge Recovery seeks to help persons affected by addiction recover from the pain they have experienced, to understand their suffering in the context of their new mindfulness, and to find compassion for their pain. With Buddhist philosophy at the forefront of treatment, Refuge Recovery employs the use of the Buddhist Four Noble Truths to encourage “knowledge and empathy as a means for overcoming addiction and its causes.”

Through a large, all-inclusive network, Refuge Recovery offers groups, meetings, and core communities which practice the teachings of Buddhist philosophy. These teachings include meditation, and follow the implementations founded by Buddhist follower, Siddhartha Gautama, who wanted to understand his suffering, and that of others, and to find a way to free himself and others from said suffering. Refuge Recovery provides an approach to recovery that focuses not on the addiction, but instead focuses on training one’s mind and practicing compassion in everyday life.

The Buddhist Path To Recovery: What You Need To Know

Most treatment plans for addiction recovery include medical plans and behavioral plans, but few focus on the treatment of spirituality in addition to medical and behavioral recovery, according to the Northwest Dharma Association (NDA). This is in part because treatment centers either follow a Christian set of beliefs, or ignore the subject of spirituality in treatment altogether. Yet the NDA feels spirituality recovery and growth are just as important as medical and behavioral recovery from addiction. Buddhist recovery can present a number of benefits for people in recovery from addiction, and there are many treatment centers available in the northwest region with Buddhism at the forefront of treatment plans.

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The Buddhist Way

Buddhist recovery differs from recovery therapy of other philosophies in one core way: a focus on mindfulness. A typical Buddhist recovery therapy session, for example, would have participants sitting on the floor, together in quiet tranquility and concentration, being aware of the freedom afforded of recovery from addiction. So much of addiction means mental and physical symptoms such as anxiety. Meditation, the largest part of the Buddhist recovery method, helps those addicted to focus on being still and appreciating the present moment. This is in sharp contrast to the addict’s mind, which focuses on getting the next “fix” (NDA).

At the heart of Buddhist recovery is the importance of appreciating all the opportunity presented by the here and now. This is a helpful reminder that what we have is even better than anything we could seek. The NDA stresses that this is an important, powerful message for addicts in recovery, and this is why the Buddhist way can be so successful in the treatment of recovery from addiction.

The Buddhist Path To Recovery: How It Works

To be considered part of the Buddhist recovery philosophy, your treatment therapy should include the following, the NDA believes:

  • Sitting together
  • Discussing the Buddhist way, either from a spiritual or scientific standpoint
  • Practicing mindful listening

Though each Buddhist recovery group should include these basic characteristics, from there the practice of Buddhist treatment is pretty open. Each group may focus on a different asset, such as meditation or loving kindness, but one constant remains among all the groups (whether classified as Buddhist, or simply practicing principles in line with the Buddhist way): mindfulness of the present; it is this core principle which empowers the addict in recovery.

Why Is Buddhism Successful?

Addiction works in complete opposition to Buddhism. Addiction, for users, holds a grip on the mind and causes users to obsess over getting their next fix. Buddhism, in contrast, teaches addicts to control such urges. As stated better by the NDA, “The addict succumbs to physical and psychological cravings in order to achieve a sense of normalcy that the disease has taken away from them. For someone deep in the throes of addiction, avoiding suffering requires constant control… Buddhist teachings guide addicts towards freeing that urgent desire for control through mindfulness, acceptance, and loving kindness.”

Further, to truly beat addiction, Buddhist recovery requires that the addicted individual learn to practice the key component of self-love; without self-love, one cannot truly achieve recovery, Buddhist recovery treatment advocates. Essentially, recovering the Buddhist way means rearranging the addicted person’s thinking to disclude obsessive thoughts of addiction, and become more in line with mindfulness of the spirit.

Buddhist Philosophy

For those in recovery for whom the Buddhist way is successful, practicing Buddhism can become a way of life—even if not in the overall spiritual sense. For example, Buddhism as a discipline promotes health of both the mind and body, such as practicing a healthy diet, free from harming living things (which is why most Buddhists are vegetarian, though this is not a requirement), according to the Buddhist Society.

Buddhism as a discipline may appeal to addicted persons seeking a way of life for after recovery because it is a very accepting philosophy. Many controversial issues for which very rigid restrictions are in line in other disciplines are open to interpretation in Buddhism (such as the subjects of abortion, contraception, and modesty). In other words, the Buddhist way can provide an accepting discipline which promotes choice and spiritual growth while guiding participants in the path of mindfulness.

One of the founding, central ideas for Buddhism was based on the ways of Buddha, so named for the sanskrit word which means “to wake,” the Buddhist Society states. The Buddha awakens and leaves his suffering behind (like one leaves dreams behind when awakening from sleep). So, too, will those addicted to drugs or alcohol leave addiction behind when following the Buddhist way. They will awaken from their addiction and shed the binds of their addictive past in favor of a mindful future.

Seeking Treatment For Addiction: Why It’s Important

Drug and alcohol abuse is a disease that affects many all over the world and is characterized by compulsive substance seeking. Some of the worst effects of drug addiction include the following, as stated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • Brain changes which affect an addict’s self-control and ability to resist the urge to take drugs
  • Relapsing, or returning to drug use, even after treatment
  • The reward feeling that most drugs trigger in the brain, which contributes to the euphoric feeling most drugs produce, and is what causes most users to continue seeking use of drugs again and again
  • Tolerance, which is an unfortunate result of taking drugs over time, which causes many users to take higher dosages of drugs, which can eventually lead to overdose

To fight the ever-growing epidemic of substance abuse, and subsequent addiction, it is imperative that we, as a society, seek the appropriate treatment for addiction recovery.

Recovery From Addiction: Beginning The Journey

So many today are suffering from addiction—are you one of them? Or do you know someone who is suffering in silence, and needs a hand up to begin the recovery journey? If you are seeking answers for you or a loved one, you are not alone. You can get the answers you need and the help you deserve. There are options available for you and many types of treatment, and we will help you find the right one. Contact us today at RehabCenter.net to get started on the path to recovery.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Use And Addiction

Northwest Dharma Association - Addiction Recovery, The Buddha’s Way

Refuge Recovery - A Buddhist Path To Recovery From Addiction

The Buddhist Society - Buddhist Health

The Buddhist Society - Fundamental Teachings

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