Buddha and the 12-Steps of Alcoholic Recovery

Mike Mather


How removed is the Buddhist concept of non-attachment/renunciation and abstinence from alcohol? Not too much, I say.

Attachment to worldly pleasures is a serious obstacle to pure spiritual practice. Renunciation, or the mind of letting go of these attachments, is necessary for liberation from contaminated rebirth. Samsara is the name we give to this uncontrollable rebirth into lives of suffering.

In essence, the goal of my spiritual life is predicated on renunciation and my sobriety on abstinence. So what can we learn from Buddha's teachings that will assist in sobriety?


The stance of the 12-step model is that long-term sobriety, i.e. recovery, can only start with abstinence. Anyone who suffers an addiction knows about the endless cycle of reliving the same old suffering. This is akin to Samsara. Again and again, we promise, "Never again!".

AA suggests that only through 'admitting we are powerless over alcohol' and avowing to 'not pick up the first drink' can the recovery begin.

This human life is a valuable opportunity to develop renunciation and compassion, and one can increase their renunciation through contemplation of past lives and the inevitability of suffering. Through practising renunciation, one can control one's attachment and solve many of our daily problems. Without renunciation, it is impossible to even enter the path to liberation and supreme happiness.

The wheels of dharma taken from close up and long view

Photo by Ayabeshu Bhardwaj on Unsplash

Worldly Pleasures

I cannot overemphasise the importance of non-attachment and renunciation in Buddhist spirituality. Attachment to worldly pleasures, such as material possessions, relationships, and experiences, can hold us back from making progress on the spiritual path. This is because attachment leads to craving and clinging.

This concept is so familiar to the struggling alcoholic.

Additionally, the realisation of renunciation should be a priority, as time is of the essence. We should start practising renunciation now, before our death, to reduce our attachment to worldly pleasures and to experience the ultimate happiness of liberation.

It is important to note that the practice of renunciation is not about denial or rejection of the world around us, but rather it is about transforming our relationship with it. The goal is to understand that worldly pleasures are deceptive and cannot bring real satisfaction, and that by reducing attachment to them, we can experience true peace and happiness.

There is great power in contemplation and prayer to increase our renunciation. By repeatedly reflecting on the cycle of rebirth and the inevitability of suffering, we can develop a deep understanding of the impermanence of worldly things and the importance of letting go of attachment.

Step 11

Similarly, alcoholics practise Step 11 through prayer and meditation.

There is a compelling argument for the practice of non-attachment and renunciation in spirituality. Likewise, an alcoholic in recovery puts aside the drink one day at a time, and leads a more spiritual life that involves service to others.

By letting go of attachment and embracing the mind of renunciation, we can enter the spiritual path to liberation and experience true peace and happiness. By letting go of drinking and renouncing our previous self-centredness we find a life of joy and freedom.

These two principles live in harmony for the previously addicted Buddhist.

About the Author Mike Mather

Mike was born in 1963 which technically makes him one of the youngest of the Baby Boomers. An Australian with Indigenous and European heritage, he has been an avid and required student of Buddhism and alcoholism since 2008.

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