Refuge Recovery, a Non-theistic Approach to Ending Addiction

For many who are trying to overcome their addictions, 12-step programs are a fitting path to the community support that proves integral in finding lasting sobriety. However, because the 12-step approach has its foundation in believing in a higher power, it may not be for everyone. This is why some look at other options such as Refuge Recovery.

Today, there’s a nontheistic option that gives you critical support without the religious pinnings. More and more individuals who have tried 12-step programs but are looking for a fresh way to approach and potentially re-energize their recovery are looking into Refuge Recovery.

Refuge Recovery

Our Boulder-area Refuge Recovery is a relatively new support organization that is based on Buddhist practice and more specifically, the teachings of a radical psychologist from India named Siddharta Gautama. Buddhism practices advocate greater self-awareness to ultimately reduce risk-taking behaviors, making it particularly useful in helping those who struggle with addiction.

Rather than focusing on the idea of addiction as a disease and the need to believe in a higher power, Refuge Recovery espouses a treatment path that emphasizes mindfulness as the route to overcoming addiction. A spiritual practice — albeit a nontheistic one — Refuge Recovery asks participants to trust the recovery process and do the necessary hard work associated with rediscovering sobriety.

This recovery approach promotes the idea that recovery begins with abstinence, and that the path to sobriety is not linear but made up of factors that the individual in recovery will need to understand and apply concurrently on the path to spiritual awakening. Examples of these factors include intention, communication, service, action, and mindfulness.

Four Noble Truths

The “belief system” associated with Refuge Recovery refers to the Four Noble Truths, which include:

  • Addiction creates suffering.
  • The cause of addiction is repetitive craving.
  • Recovery is possible.
  • The path to recovery is available.

Those who pursue the Buddhist Refuge Recovery path in Boulder are asked to acknowledge that 1) their actions have consequences and 2) they must take responsibility for their personal experience. This is accomplished by developing mindfulness to understand their relationship with both pleasant and negative experiences, and how those relationships impact cravings and then ultimately lead to attachment.

The Refuge Recovery process is designed to identify a route to awakening and recovering from the addictions that have resulted in so much suffering in the addict’s life as well as that of their friends and family.

Similarities to Alcoholics Anonymous

Like 12-step programs, our Boulder Buddhist Refuge Recovery is open to anyone (and any type of addiction) and created to also offer the integral community-based support that is so critical to overcoming feelings of isolation and the numerous other challenges associated with addiction recovery.

Intended to complement therapeutic programs and medical interventions and support, Refuge Recovery often includes treatments such as cognitive behavior therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), family therapy, and yoga as well as other therapies rooted in mindfulness. The approach also generally features group meetings and provides a number of guidelines that participants can adhere to when working toward recovery.

Also similar to Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, Refuge Recovery embraces the idea that addiction is no one’s “fault” and that participants need to show themselves compassion and forgiveness as well. The program espouses the practice of mindfulness to help individuals understand their feelings toward positive and negative experiences, how this drives them to crave certain substances, and ultimately how it leads these individuals to cling to their addictions.

However, Refuge Recovery places a much larger emphasis on meditation and mindfulness, integrating them into meetings and encouraging daily practice to help those working to abstain from substance use. The basis for the recovery program is outlined in greater detail in “Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction.”

Written by Noah Levine, the book offers scientific, nontheistic, and psychological insight to show how mindfulness can help alleviate the cravings that lead to addiction and ease each individual’s suffering. Chapters describe daily meditation practices, exercises to help explore the causes and conditions of addiction, and personal recovery stories.

If you have questions about readdiction recovery, contact Choice House 720-577-4422 or

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