abstract buddha statues

Applying Buddhism in Addiction Recovery

Last Updated: Tue, January 23, 2024

Craving. It’s the one word that can sum up the debilitating condition known as addiction. Regardless of the myriad of reasons people may put up to explain their unhealthy obsession, the root cause always lies in an inordinate need—an excessive desire for something they think can make them happy or fill up an empty void in their lives.

In the case of substance abuse, the focal point of a person’s addiction is usually drugs, alcohol, and the like.

Addiction is destructive. It does not fulfill lives, it ruins them instead.

Buddhism in Addiction Recovery

While typical treatment of drug and alcohol addiction is often largely secular in nature, there are also those which are largely anchored on faith. These faith-based drug rehabilitation programs can either cater to a specific religious group, or they can be non-denominational in nature (a good example would be 12-Step Programs). Notwithstanding slight variations, these programs all espouse a similar concept: that people can cure their addiction with the assistance of a higher power.

This brings us now to Buddhism. Call it a religion, a philosophy, a way of life, or whatever, but it cannot be denied that its teachings translate very well insofar as knowing the origin of, and treating addiction.

Also known as the Middle Way, Buddhism teaches the virtue of moderation—that a truly happy life is one that is lived midway between excessive indulgence and extreme asceticism.

For people who want to curb their addiction for good, you’re not required to be a Buddhist to practice and benefit from its teachings. Just knowing and following the main principles—especially the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path—can definitely help you in your road towards an addiction-free life.

The Four Noble Truths of Suffering (and its Cure)

The central tenet of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, can be basically summed up thus:

  1. Suffering exists;

  2. The cause of suffering is selfish and ignorant desire;

  3. There is a way to end that suffering; and

  4. Following the Noble Eightfold Path can bring an end to the suffering.

According to the Buddha, a person who does not overcome his worldly desires is doomed to repeat his unhappy existence through an endless cycle of death and rebirth—a condition known as samsara.

However, once that person reaches enlightenment—that is, he truly knows the cause of his suffering and sweeps away all material attachments—he ends his cycle and attains nirvana, which is the state of enlightenment and true happiness.

For people suffering from an addiction, the simple truth that can be gleaned from the Buddha’s teaching is this: Unless they put an end to their desire for alcohol or drugs, they will continue their own cycle of suffering towards destruction.

The Noble Eightfold Path: A Cure to Suffering

Sharing his secret to enlightenment with his followers, the Buddha emphasized eight steps a person should follow and practice if he wishes to attain nirvana. Known as the Noble Eightfold Path, this collective set of teachings can help those who want to free themselves from the endless cycle of suffering, death, and rebirth.

The 8 steps can be basically summarized as:

  • Right understanding

  • Right thought

  • Right speech

  • Right conduct or

  • Right livelihood

  • Right effort

  • Right mindfulness

  • Right focus

Steps One and Two build up wisdom.

Steps Three, Four, and Five improve mental conduct, virtue, and morality.

Steps Six, Seven, and Eight help develop mental discipline.

Put together, these steps help create a mentally strong, upright, and disciplined individual.

Relevance of the Eight Steps to Addiction Treatment

For a person suffering from an addiction, the steps can serve as helpful tools in his treatment and rehabilitation.

Through Steps 1 and 2, the person can begin to fully understand the cause of his addiction and commit to healing himself.

Through Steps 3, 4, and 5, the person can make the needed adjustments to his lifestyle and activities.

Through Steps 6, 7, and 8, person is able to know the dangers of relapsing and conscientiously chooses not to stray from the right path anymore.


Again, you are not required to be a Buddhist to apply the Eightfold Path to your treatment. So long as it (and the other teachings of Buddhism) can help you, then by all means practice them constantly.

According to Buddhist lore, the Buddha often emphasized that the end of suffering begins when one admits his imperfections and takes the necessary steps to rectify them.

Hence, admitting you have a problem is a bold first step towards recovery. While the journey may be long and harsh, so long as you keep going and never give up, then you’re already halfway towards your goal. Once you totally free your body and mind from addiction forever, then you will definitely have attained your nirvana.

Dale Vernor

Dale is a writer and researcher in the fields of addiction, mental health and culture. After earning his B.A. in Professional Communication, Dale has decided to dedicate his career to helping reduce the stigma of both addiction and mental health in our society. When not working you can find Dale at your local basketball court.

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