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It's well documented in psychology that the cessation of any type of addictive behaviour causes a period of withdrawal. During this period, less pleasure is experienced overall as well as mental difficulties.

Does Buddhist have any advice about such periods and way to help the recovery process?

  • What are the circumstances of the withdrawal, especially, is it voluntary ("I choose to withdraw") or involuntary (e.g. a person is imprisoned, or their opportunity for addictive behaviour is cut off, even if only temporarily)? Are you looking for advice for the patient (the addict or former addict), or their care-givers, or both? – ChrisW Mar 15 at 13:02
  • I guess I mean more specifically not the action of withdrawing but the symptoms of a withdrawal, voluntary or not: lack of pleasure, lower mood, cravings, etc. But for the current question I would say a voluntary withdrawal. – Eggman Mar 15 at 14:25
  • I gave an answer about addiction and the change process. It's of course just a tiny fraction because addiction are often not easy to undo. Setting realistic goals (SMART goals) & being commited is fundamental for change. – Val Mar 20 at 9:28
  • It seems to the practice is all about overcoming addictive behaviour, including mental behaviour. The technique would be to stand apart from mind-body and simply watch with dispassion. Sages speak of sinking the body into the mind, thus reducing it to a mental phenomenon and dealing with it as such. Buddhism is surely the right tool for the job of overcoming addiction, but putting the techniques into practice would require some existing skills or a teacher. . . , . – PeterJ Mar 20 at 10:35
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If withdrawal (especially "voluntary") is unsuccessful, then it's better to view that as a temporary failure (not permanent), and try again: resume the effort, and avoid repeating the same mistake. With practice, more experience, you become more skilled at withdrawing (and eventually succeed).

I think experience matches conventional advice, and matches what can be inferred from the suttas.

Successful withdrawal tends to happen for one or more reasons (possibly several reasons):

  • You "consider the disadvantages" of addiction (or the advantages of non-addiction) -- and so decide that you prefer withdrawal or abstinence. This "preference" (even if it's only a moral or intellectual preference) might be a sufficient substitute for "pleasure" -- it's a new form of "I want" (e.g. "I want freedom and harmlessness") which replaces the old "I want" ("I want the so-called pleasure associated with the addictive behaviour, which I now see the several disadvantages of").
  • We're social and maybe highly-motivated to conform to social behaviour. So spending time (possibly all your time) with people who don't exhibit that behaviour can help you quit -- they're good role-models, they're not bad role-models, if you successfully imitate their (not "addictive") behaviour then you too will be behaving that way -- and maybe we're really good at imitating who we're with, we've been learning how to imitate people since we were infants.
  • There are reasons for the behaviour, and/or conditions in which the behaviour occurs. If the reason disappears, and/or if the conditions change (e.g. you move to a different place or visit different people), then the old conditions no longer exist (and so the behaviour can be different too)
  • Substitute or replace the behaviour: maybe you can't just stop, and instead you need to do something else -- that something else (new behaviour) might be meditation or it might be sweeping the yard. Non-stressful activities might be best, at least initially (partly because you may be distracted by cravings); maybe some "mindful" activity though (to learn the new situation and behaviour), not an "escapist" activity.
  • Anything you do is learned behaviour, a skill which takes practice, maybe you weren't good at it to start with. If you practice (make the effort) it gets better, easier, more skilful -- maybe the hardest part is the beginning (e.g. the first day, the first few days), and the longer you do it the easier it gets.
  • You might find that being generous is rewarding (as a substitute behaviour), so consider that -- that might take your mind off your own (temporary) cravings and thus make "withdrawal" easier. Maybe beware though that addictive behaviour might be addictive because it's rewarding or because you're reward-seeking (e.g. pleasure-seeking); so maybe that (generosity) is behaviour to attempt when you're a little more stable (and maybe can enjoy it for its own sake and not just for immediate reward).

Also:

  • Cravings come and go. The craving is just a thought, "Suppose I were to now repeat that action to which I'm addicted?" It's distracting and you might need to stop (activity) and do nothing (temporarily), except breathing of course and e.g. standing still, until the craving goes away. Perhaps that's what you mean by "mental difficulties" in the OP. I think craving does go away (and come back again, and go away again).
  • If you don't reinforce the craving by repeating the habit then the craving returns less and less often and with less intensity. Eventually it doesn't even bother you, you stop thinking about it, and if you do ever think about it then you're glad it doesn't even bother you anymore
  • The addictive behaviour might be part of a thicket of views, e.g. "if I don't do this then I'll get angry, and I can't (afford to) get angry so I must do this (behaviour instead)." That's a typical "false dichotomy".
  • You might think, "I'm doing well, I can just do it (that addictive behaviour) once now." But maybe if you persuade yourself it's OK to do once, then by the same logic it's OK to do once more after that, and so on -- so once might lead to twice, and falling back -- if you do try that and that leads to failure then try again, and maybe decide that "never" is safer and more sustainable.

As for "lack of pleasure" I'd hope that you'll begin to benefit -- e.g. from freedom and non-intoxication -- to whatever extent you become unaddicted. You might want to re-evaluate what's pleasurable, what pleasure is -- or to re-evaluate your preferences (e.g. to prefer what "praised by the wise", "skilful", "blameless", and so on e.g. as detailed in the Kalama sutta or other suttas).


Maybe this too (which has parallels in the vinaya, as well as being conventional addiction-recovery advice):

  • Define a rule (about the behaviour) for yourself to follow, a rule which limits or restricts the behaviour to when it's necessary and harmless, or a rule which cuts out the behaviour completely. Make following that rule a priority, the top priority, your only priority at least initially (until it becomes a second nature).
  • Maybe choose a specific date on which to start to follow the rule: "Yesterday I didn't follow that rule, but today I will follow that rule, today I am, today I did."
  • Keep track of the success: an hour, two hours ... a whole day ... another morning ... a week, two months, the first whole year, etc.
  • Maybe confess to someone else (not only to yourself), a friend or teacher or support-group, someone who knows what you're trying to do and wants to help: confess if or when you break the rule (maybe promise the confess and then even if you break the rule take care not to lie about it as well), and discuss the problem. Maybe it's easy to confess (when there is any behaviour to confess) if you schedule a regular meeting for the purpose of confession, and to talk about problems and successes.

This last section -- e.g. rules and confession -- can be quite effective.

It's so effective that there is a view (i.e. many people say) that it may be the only way to succeed -- and that whether you succeed depends on whether you're willing to agree to participate in this method: to accept that the behaviour is a problem, to commit to following the rules and to confessing, to attend (and continue to attend) the meetings.


Seclusion can help too. Maybe the addictive behaviour requires something (a addictive substance like alcohol, an addictive thing like access to the internet, and/or another person). If that something is within easy reach -- and especially if you wilfully keep that thing within easy reach -- then "back-sliding" is easier.

So part of success might be to deliberately (in whatever moments of sanity you may have) do something to make your access to that thing more difficult: e.g. remove the substance or the thing from your home (or e.g. leave home to go on a retreat). Then when the craving happens it would require a longer and more deliberate effort to re-acquire that thing.

Addictive behaviour might be something you can do easily and without thinking about it much, it might be successful to replace that with a situation which requires some intentional effort, for example, "Craving: suppose I were to have that thing as usual?", answered by, "No the situation is different now, I'm following a different rule. And the thing isn't here, it isn't available to me. I could make the effort to get up and walk out and go and get it -- but I don't want to do that and I don't have to, I will not do that, I am not going to do that, that would be a wrong effort, instead I'll simply do nothing and stay relaxed until another, different (wholesome, acceptable) thought occurs to me instead of this (temporary) craving."

That may change the equation, the balance:

  • Instead of being a behaviour that happens automatically, without thinking (or even instead of thinking), almost by accident (except that it happens again and again and again), and which only takes a (thoughtless) moment, it becomes a behaviour which you'd have to think about, to do deliberately, something which requires some sustained effort (over several minutes at a minimum), something that you'd have to be conscious of doing (and which you can therefore decide not to do, not to "enable")
  • Your new situation makes it easier to follow the rule than to continue the addictive behaviour. The situation is seclusion or isolation from whatever "thing" the behaviour involves -- also seclusion from any other "trigger" that might be associated (e.g. if addiction to X is to escape from Y which makes you angry, then the seclusion from X is also a way to escape from Y).

There are maybe specifically-Buddhist techniques as well -- e.g. non-identification, guarding the senses, mindfulness (remembering), calm (peacefulness), even virtues -- and maybe you know something about those already. But I think all the above (including friendship and mentoring) are Buddhist and also overlap with non-Buddhist addiction-recovery advice and methods.

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Sure, the way to have clarity of perception is with sati sampajana and the way to have pleasure is to go beyond sati sampajana, ie, with samadhi. nobody can have ''withdrawal'' without being ''happy''. happiness stems form withdrawal and clarity of perception.

So it is minduflness and turning minduflness into samadhi, as usual, like so

Whomsoever it may be, Ananda, bhikkhu or bhikkhunī, living, having got by heart the four settings-up of memory — of such a progressively more excellently refined self-awareness is to be expected."

Of what do these four consist?

Here Ananda, a beggar living in body oversees body ardent, self-aware, recollected, disciplining worldly covetousness and depression.

In such a one, living in body overseeing body, promted by body or arising from body, passions[3] of the heart or sluggish externals destract the heart.

Then, Ananda, that beggar should set his heart on the track of some happy state.

In the heart set on the track of some happy state joy is born.

With enjoyment entheusiasm is born.

Entheusiastic in mind the body becomes impassive.

Impassive in body happiness is experienced.

Happy at heart one is serene.

He then determines:

'Such as was the attainment of heart to which I aspired, such attaiment has been produced in me.

In that case, it is now time to withdraw!'

And thus he withdraws and does not think and does not ponder.

Understanding:

'Without thinking, without pondering, internally recollected, I am happy.'

http://obo.genaud.net/dhamma-vinaya/bd/sn/05_mv/sn05.47.010.olds.bd.htm#p1

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Another repeating of the same question and here the altenative to paint a green point on the forhead:

Re-ligion, being a disciple, means to agree voluntary to an imprisoning to get ride of a harmful habit.

The only outwardly help in this period, and that is the same in psychology, is to associated with the teacher (more advanced), and get "isolated" from lower, using equal "just" for dayly needs: i.e. concentration&working camp (monastery), or if such is not found "walking alone", but not recommended if possible to find.

As the Buddha told, it is impossible to get support from one not beyond a matter that one tries to solve.

Again here: admirable friend and withdraw from equal and lower till insight and path is reached.

Since for this kind of training a social network is required, the re-ligion, the Sangha of monks has been established, especially for those not having reached the stream but confidence, since it would be hardly possible living an common life.

The practice ot Thudongas is highly supportive, not at least by shrinking ways of wrong association and activities.

Mindfulness is of course the key, but the defilments would have and ease if the governing principles are weak, i.e. no outwardly support and guidance and to less preasure, to much space for cheat you self.

(not given for trade, exchange, stakes and to use for bounds in the world, but to bind toward liberation)

  • What is "Thudongas"? The only other place on the internet where that word is found (according to Google) is here. Perhaps it's a mis-spelling, or an unusual word? – ChrisW Mar 15 at 17:16
  • Also, please add a reference to this statement: "As the Buddha told, it is impossible to get support from one not beyond a matter that one tries to solve.". – Lanka Mar 15 at 18:19
  • google what ever you search for, and may it solve your problem. Sure, for those without refuge, killing, deleting and pysical force seems to be fine and without effects for at least short release. – Samana Johann Mar 15 at 23:37
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I've never heard that there is a Buddhist schedule for withdrawal from substance abuse. For serious addiction a 3 stage process is recommended, first (1) hospitalization (to control dangerous side-effects of withdrawal), then outpatient (2) rehabilitation for a certain number of weeks, until the patient is healthy enough for a residential (3) recovery program of several weeks.

Hospitalization is suggested for some alcoholics because withdrawal can trigger heart attacks. All these services are usually done by specialists. In a case of mild alcoholism or drug addiction 90 days should see them physically stable, but they need ongoing support groups and might not ever be able to return to their former way of life. The vast majority of alcoholics and drug addicts never survive their disease, but it might take a long time before they die or become institutionalized safely.

"40 to 60 percent of drug addicts will relapse from their plan of treatment" National Institute on Drug Abuse

"In the midst of a serious addiction crisis, in which 72,000 people died from overdoses in 2017, it can be easy to forget that recovery is not only possible but is the reality for nearly 10 percent of U.S. adults." https://www.statnews.com/2018/08/30/measure-addiction-recovery-rates/

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It's not enough to set goals, it's equally important to elicit commitment to change.

Conduct a Cost-Benefit-Analysis, where you oppose two options, i.e., Giving into alcohol vs Being free from it, and write down every short & long term advantage & disadvantage you can come up with for YOURSELF & FOR OTHERS. These points have to be believable to you!

Here it's important to distinguish between real & perceived costs & benefits, which is why I suggest to seek help from a professional or someone you trust to question perceived benefits of your addiction because people with addictions have strong biases.

If necessary, question also the perceived disadvantages for changing.

Focus on the disadvantage of the addiction and not just merely parrot them, but also be honest with yourself and realize that you got something from your addiction, otherwise you wouldn't have engaged in it.

Acknowledge that you won't get certain benefits anymore, but you can look forward to other - more short term based - benefits.

This cost-benefit-analysis is also not a do once exercise. Throughout the changing process you might gain more insights & add more advantages & disadvantages to each side.

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