Buddhist Alcoholics


Alcoholism can and does affect people from every background, level of intellect, race, occupation, culture, income group, educational level, profession, and gender.

In a word, it is clear to see that alcoholism is an equal opportunity disease and destroyer.

The fact that there are Buddhist alcoholics makes this especially clear. How is this possible you ask?

Is there really a connection between Buddhism and alcohol dependency?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is in the affirmative.

More to the point, due to the fact that the Buddhist society does not view alcoholism as a disease, it sometimes fosters denial and the unintentional enabling of addictive behavior.


Buddhist Alcoholics, The Poison Eater, and The Sarpashana Sourcebook

Perhaps the best way to address the topic of "Buddhist alcoholics" is to refer to the Sarpashana Sourcebook.

The Sarpashana Sourcebook is a diverse collection of essays about addiction from a number of vantage points, including the Buddhist, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al Anon, scientific, and the psychoanalytic.

The Sourcebook was written by the Shambhala Buddhist community, with the goal of providing a basic orientation to people who are new to Buddhism and to recovery.

The Sourcebook contains interviews with Buddhist alcoholics and with two Buddhist alcohol counselors, and essays that examine the practice of Buddhism related to addiction and recovery.

The name "Sarpashana" was given to the Buddhist Alcohol Study Group and in Sanskrit means "poison eater."

The symbol for the group is the peacock which, according to an ancient Hindu story, attained its brilliant plumage through the consumption of poison.

Poison: The Disease of Addiction

Applied to a Buddhist-oriented counseling, educational, and support network, Sarpashana means that the poison is the disease of addiction, including alcoholism.

From this perspective, addiction results in "false pride" and being "consumed with ego-arrogance."

By recognizing addiction for what it is, by accepting the cause and effect (karma) of addiction, and by educating ourselves, applying what we learn to our lives, and by acting on these insights, we transform ourselves and, in turn, discover our true nature which is symbolized by the beautiful tail of the peacock.

Then, with genuine pride in fearlessly knowing our human nature and feeling at home in the world, we can declare the ultimate reality (dharma) of what we have learned and what we have experienced to the community of thinking people who suffer from addiction in this spiritually unaware world.

Buddhist Alcoholics and Counseling

Of real interest in the Sourcebook were the two interviews with two Buddhist alcohol counselors.

One theme that was shared by both counselors was this: the Sangha (i.e., the Buddhist society) belief system, to a great extent, is naive and unaware about alcoholism as a disease and, as a result, fosters denial and the unintentional enabling of addictive behavior.

Part of this unawareness and naivete about alcoholism comes from the fact that drinking alcohol by members of the Buddhist community has been portrayed as something sacred, a kind of ritual that can be an integral part of practicing Buddhism.

Rationalization and Denial

Another theme that was expressed by both counselors was that Buddhist alcoholics have a certain arrogance about drinking behavior.

This arrogance to a great extent comes from the Buddhist practice of looking inward, truly knowing yourself, and knowing one's place in the world.

Armed with this insight, Buddhist alcoholics can become convinced that they know a lot about life and especially a lot about themselves.

Since they know the inner workings of their mind so well, they feel that they are in total control of their drinking.

Obviously, this mindset can lead to a very sophisticated form of rationalization and denial about their addiction.

Introspection and Openness to Therapy

A third theme that was shared by both counselors was that due to the Buddhist teachings that emphasize introspection, knowing thyself, and focusing on your own experiences, Buddhist alcoholics were more willing to examine their minds and, because of this, were more open to therapy.

Conclusion: Buddhist Alcoholics

Reading some of the interviews with Buddhist alcoholics from the Sarpashana Sourcebook confirmed the following point: alcoholism is a equal opportunity disease AND destroyer.

Stated differently, alcoholism negatively affects people from every race, profession, background, occupation, income group, level of intellect, gender, educational level, and culture.

The fact that there are Buddhist alcoholics and a relationship between Buddhism and alcohol dependency makes this abundantly clear.


The important point to keep in mind regarding this article, however, is the following: The more alcohol is consumed in an abusive manner, the more likely it is that the drinker will become an alcoholic.

If this describes you, then you need to be honest with yourself and admit that you have a drinking problem.

Once you have taken this step, consider making it a priority to talk with an alcohol abuse and alcoholism professional about getting alcohol treatment as soon as possible.

Having said this, if you are interested in talking with a counselor at a drug and alcohol rehab facility, please call your local drug and alcohol treatment center today.