Buddhism and Addiction: A Buddhist’s Guide to Sobriety

The clear teaching of Buddhism is total abstinence from alcohol and drugs. However, like any religion, those who practice Buddhism are not immune from falling prey to substance abuse. Therefore, Buddhists need help to recover and return to a sober and rewarding life just as much as their fellow human beings who practice other religions or no religion. The principles in the 12 Steps can help anyone willing to take the first steps toward recovery. Find out about Buddhism and addiction below.

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What Do Buddhists Believe?

The ancient religion of Buddhism originated in India two and a half millennia ago. A significant tenet of Buddhist beliefs is that humans will suffer in their lifetime. However, enlightenment or perfection can be obtained through meditation, labor (physical and spiritual), and following the rules of good behavior. The five precepts that guide moral conduct involve prohibitions against:

  1. Killing. The emphasis is on causing no harm and abstaining from all forms of violence.
  2. Stealing. This exceeds the standard to include not taking anything unless you are sure it is intended for you.
  3. Lying. Behaviors such as gossiping, deceiving, name-calling, or non-edifying speech should be avoided.
  4. Sexual misconduct. This precept covers any overindulgence, such as overeating or other sensual pleasures.
  5. Alcohol and drugs. The teaching is to abstain from any intoxicant that clouds the mind.

Buddhism and Addiction

It is only natural that Buddhism would be concerned with addiction, since its teachings focus so heavily on the mind. Although the Buddha taught thousands of years ago that followers should avoid any addictive behavior, he seems to have also alluded to teachings that would help modify addictive behavior. Mindfulness is as much a part of early Buddhism as it is today used in addiction recovery. The four noble truths, for example, provide a framework for mindfulness that encourages one to contemplate their own experience. These four teachings could certainly aid anyone in their journey toward sobriety. The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths are:

  • The truth of suffering. Some Buddhist scholars replace the common translation of “life is suffering” with “life is stressful.” The truth can help free the addict from the illusion that everything is rosy in life, and if it isn’t, you need a drink or drug.
  • The truth of the cause of suffering. This truth teaches the addict the result of their “thirst” or “craving.” Here, the addict learns to look inward rather than outward to find happiness.
  • The truth of the end of suffering. Here, the addict finds hope. The Buddha taught that cravings only end through arduous work.
  • The truth of the path that frees us from suffering. The Buddha emphasized the importance of living the truth and walking in its path instead of only believing in a doctrine.

Buddhist View of Recovery

There are several points of contact between Buddhism and the 12 Steps. Most notable among these is meditation, a cornerstone of Buddhism. The eleventh step also encourages mediation combined with prayer. Additionally, the first two steps overlap the first noble truth, and the fourth and fifth steps are related to the third through the fifth of the eightfold path. Finally, optimism, hope, and the belief that all things are possible greatly assist Buddhists in recovery.

Sanctuary Recovery Foundation

The Sanctuary Foundation helps people of all faiths and religions regain the confidence to live a sober and fulfilling life. Contact us and discover how we can support you on your journey.