Refuge Recovery

If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that there’s no “one-size fits all” approach to the war against addiction. Counseling, detox, inpatient rehabilitation services, outpatient services, religion, abstinence, harm reduction, medically assisted treatment (MAT), traditional 12-Step programs, and non-12 Step support programs are just a few of the many ways people aim to get a grip on addiction. Above all, most seem to find success through a combination of the treatment options that works best for them. In fact, that’s the most important takeaway you might get from this post. Being mindful to the importance of tailoring your own program specifically towards your needs. This blog takes an in-depth look at Refuge Recovery and how it can be of benefit for you or someone you love dealing with addiction.

Refuge Recovery: Origins


Founded in 2014 by Buddhist guru and celebrated counselor Noah Levine. This makes Refuge Recovery relatively new to the treatment scene. Levine has both lived experience (having personally struggled with addiction) and a Master’s in Counseling Psychology. He established Refuge Recovery based on traditional Buddhist teachings, along with science, and created the program’s text as a guide to the practice. 

The central belief to “Refuge Recovery” is in the program’s name. Most people struggling with addiction use their vice as a refuge, an escape from trouble or stress, in their daily lives. “Refuge Recovery uses Buddhist teachings and beliefs to help individuals overcome addiction and get on the path to sobriety. This treatment program implements practices such as group meetings, teachings, and meditation sessions (rehabcenter.net).”

Refuge Recovery Explained

Structurally speaking, Refuge Recovery has similarities to traditional support groups and 12-Step programs. For instance, Refuge Recovery offers a no cost path (program) consisting of group meetings and lifestyle principles followers can use to overcome their addictions. However, unlike traditional 12-Step programs; Refuge Recovery is non-theistic, making it ideal for anyone struggling with the concepts of God or a Higher Power. 

The absence of god isn’t the only way in which Refuge Recovery differs from traditional 12-Step programs. As was mentioned above, the program’s built out of numerous Buddhist teachings including: mindfulness, meditation, empathy, personal awareness, and intentional living. A key tenet to Refuge Recovery is addressing the source behind substance abuse rather than simply focusing on addiction. A significant number of people find this broader approach more appealing.

Core Beliefs: The Four Noble Truths

Above all, Buddha’s principles provide the foundation for the Refuge Recovery program. This becomes apparent with the Buddhist teaching of the Four Noble Truths. For instance, the Four Noble Truths, there meaning in traditional Buddhist teachings, and there meaning in regard to Refuge Recovery (parenthesize) break down as follows:

  1. Dukkha: The Truth of suffering (Addiction creates suffering)
  2. Samudāya: The Truth of the origin of suffering (The cause of addiction is repetitive craving)
  3. Nirodha: The Truth of the end of suffering (Recovery is possible)
  4. Magga: The Truth of the path to the end of suffering (The Path to Recovery is available)

Core Beliefs: The Eightfold Path to Recovery

The Fourth Noble Truth (mentioned above) makes up the second set of core beliefs in Refuge Recovery, the “Eightfold Path to Recovery”.  

  1. Understanding
  2. Intention
  3. Communication/Community (Speech)
  4. Action/Engagement
  5. Livelihood/Service
  6. Effort/Energy
  7. Mindfulness/Meditations
  8. Concentration/Meditations

In addition, abstinence is at the center of the philosophy to the Eightfold Path to Recovery. Above all, the recovery process begins with abstinence according to their beliefs. Important to note: these elements are not steps, nor should they be implemented numerically, but rather each element should be practiced at all times. Practitioners must learn and implement these eight elements concurrently. After that, the eight elements to the path are intended to be practiced, expanded, and maintained.


The principle of understanding teaches us that our recovery starts with renunciation and abstinence from all substances, as well as all other forms of addictive behaviors. Furthermore, recognizing your need for help and the necessity of community support. Accepting the reality of your situation and coming to terms with the realization. By developing in this stage along the path we shift from a mentality where life happens to us (reactive), to expanding our awareness allowing us to counter the ups and downs life throws our way (proactive).


The principle of intention marks a shift in our intent towards creating a healthy lifestyle centered around compassion, unattached appreciation, and a commitment to not cause harm.


This principle teaches of the importance to taking refuge in our recovery community as a safe space to develop enlightened connections and help others on their journey. In this factor of the path we practice openness, humility, and honesty. Furthermore, we learn to ask for, and accept, help from our community. 


This principle is the actual application of our practices, that is practicing abstinence from all substances or behaviors that could bring suffering into our life. Additionally, this principle guides us to show forgiveness towards anyone who’s caused us harm, or that we’ve harmed, as well as forgiving ourselves. We accomplish this both through meditation and making direct amends. All the while keeping in mind that the guiding principles at play here are: non-attached appreciation, compassion, honesty, and service.


Through this principle we make the right effort to be of service to others when possible with our money, time, and resources in order to bring about positive change. After that, we assess our career to ensure our livelihood/income does not cause harm. Additionally, we examine the personal value we place on money.


Committing to put forth the effort to develop a daily practice of exercise, yoga, meditation, forgiveness, compassion, and appreciation. Through this principle we find the discipline and willingness needed to stick with developing the proper skills, even in the face of mistakes.


Through this element we commit to develop wisdom and awareness through the daily practice of mindfulness. By developing our mindfulness practices we clearly see the root and conditions that brought about our suffering and addiction. After that, we become capable of taking refuge in the present moment.


Developing the capacity to focus the mind on the desirable characteristics we want on display. Additionally, we use concentration meditations during moments of craving or temptation in order to maintain our abstinence.

Meetings & the Importance of Meditation

Refuge Recovery meetings are quite similar to the ones in Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous. For example, a speaker or facilitator guides the group through a series of discussions and topics consisting of this sort of structure:

  1. Speaker opens with reading the introduction & preamble
  2.  Period of meditation
  3. Weekly reading (Typically something out of the Refuge Recovery text)
  4. Speaker shares
  5. Group opens to share
  6. Donations are collected
  7. Speaker makes any related announcements, then closes with another short reading and a reminder of anonymity

However, one significant difference is that meditation and mindfulness are key components to the Refuge Recovery Path. So much so that it incorporates meditation and mindfulness practices in its group meetings. Members meditate as a group to develop awareness of the present moment, understand the origins of their addictions (along with the sufferings they bring), and display forgiveness and compassion. For participants in Refuge Recover the objective is to reach the Four Mindfulness Foundations:

  • Body/Breath Mindfulness
  • Feelings Mindfulness
  • Mind States Mindfulness
  • Truth Mindfulness

Practitioners reach these foundations through daily practices of meditation and mindfulness. For example, guided meditations are one aspect to your standard Refuge Recovery meeting. Other similarities between Refuge Recovery and traditional 12-Step groups include a commitment to recognizing the suffering active addiction brings to yourself and those around you. The first two elements of the Eightfold Path include an “inventory” where practitioners examine the suffering addiction brings as well as the causes behind it. After that, members share their experiences with a mentor, much like members of AA do with a sponsor.

Final Thoughts & Finding Refuge Recovery Meetings

Disclaimer: Although I’ve never actively been involved with the program, I am admittedly biased towards Refuge Recovery given my newfound love of Buddhism. Nonetheless, it can provide an excellent community for someone struggling with addiction. Refuge Recovery is an international organization with meetings based out of Los Angeles, California.  Meeting listings along with additional information can be found on their website.


Refuge Recovery certainly seems like an excellent place for someone to find community, organization, and support to help with their recovery. For anyone dealing with addiction who has an interest in meditation, as well as those with a tough time getting behind the Higher Power concept in traditional 12-Step programs, Refuge Recovery is most definitely worth taking a look.

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