If we examinate the teaching of the Buddha, the problem of ‚addiction‘ leads directly to most basic problematic behaviour pattern of our mind: Either we stick to sensations we experience in one moment and we want to experience them forever (what we cannot) or we hate those sensations we experience and crave for others. This, we do also forever. In sum, we are seldom master of our mind and we are not equanimous with what really is – i.e. with our reality we really experience on the level of sensations.

At first there is no necessity to analyze separately the various types of addiction (drugs and alcohol, power, sports, sexuality, etc.) to understand the phenomenon in general. At this stage, it is sufficient to just understand the pattern of ‚craving‘ and ‚aversion‘ that was introduced above. Thus, it is more than interesting that not only people who are addicted are not master of their life. Many people cannot stay calm with their sensual experiences and they do things they know exactly that are not beneficial for them and for others. But how are ‚ordinary‘ and ’normal‘ people different from heavy addicts? Are we master of our mind, are we always equanimous and can we accept what happens in our life without the slightest resistance? I don’t think so. The barrier between us and people who seem to be much more miserable than us is a small one, a very small one. The same goes for people who are in prison because they performed actions that were far from being beneficial. However, of course there are differences between people who are addicted and who are not (or people who committed crimes and those who did not) – it seems that some chose to do so and others chose otherwise. But the point here is to mention the fact that the underlying pattern of our mind is not that different. This becomes more clear if we start to observe the general pattern of our mind, how we feel, how we react, and what intentions we are carrying through our daily life.

Although there are a lot of scientific theories from psychology, sociology, neurobiology, etc. about the causes and consequences of addiction, there is no clear technique how to overcome it. This does not mean that therapeutic arrangements are useless, no – far away, they are important – but they do not allow to reach the depth of the mind to really clear every cause of addiction from the root level. Psychotherapy is bound to the realm of speech, pictures and images, suggestions, etc. From the perspective of meditation in the tradition of Theravada, psychotherapy still works on the surface of the mind. In addiction therapy, this is always the starting point – the surface of the mind and (social) interaction with the rest of the world. So that’s no problem at all, because it is the starting point. But on the long run we should help people do really understand what is going on in the depth of the mind and why they are addicted and how can this overcome. This leads to Vipassana, the meditation technique the Buddha actually taught.

The Buddha taught a technique to learn not to react with craving or aversion to one’s own sensual experiences – normal ordinary bodily physical sensations. But most addicts (and many non-addicts!) are not fit enough to meditate according to the teaching of the Buddha to come out of craving. Their previous life style did too much harm and in most cases they are too confused and not in the proper condition to directly start a 10-day course in Vipassana. But Vipassana is only taught in 10-day courses. Therefor, a different solution is necessary.

Another point is that addicts are so isolated within themselves and within their environments so that they are really ‚anti-’social in a way that they lost most of their personal relationships. Therefor they have to learn (again) to live in groups and within society – and not just with their craving. So all these elements have to be combined: therapy, the peer approach (i.e. living with other people), learning to care for oneself and for others, and the meditation. This is tried within the approach of ‚in-depth systemics‘ which was developed in the drug therapy center ‚start again‚ in Zürich during the 90’s of the 20th century by G. Scholz and S. Mantovani. It started with the work of Scholz (1992) and was further developed in Studer (1998). The latter is an evaluation study of the ’start again‘ between 1992-1998 and was financially supported by the Suisse Government (Department of Justice/ Bundesamt für Justiz). From the early 2000 on the scope of in-depth systemics was broadened towards non-pathological fields. These are organizational consulting services, talent promotion, and various areas of our health system (case management, operational health management, etc.). All this work was done within the consulting service company ‚mensch und organisation‚ (m&o) in Winterthur (CH). The results showed that what was developed together with heavy addicts could be transfered with success to various application areas of our society. Due to intensive exchange with other professionals from various fields (e.g. football), the approach was further developed to a level so that it can be transfered to other fields of interest.

As a result of this work to help addicts to live a better life an article called ‚Achtsamkeit und Weisheit in der Suchttherapie‚ (‚mindfulness and wisdom in the therapy of addiction‘) was published in a German book on ‚mindfulness‘ (Gürtler/ Studer/ Scholz) in 2007 (edited by Anderssen-Reuster). At the moment, the same authors are finishing a comprehensive book on the ‚in-depth systemics therapy of addiction‘. The content of the book can be downloaded here. It is written in German. The book will be available in near future.

References:

Gürtler, L.; Studer, U.M. & Scholz, G. (2007). Achtsamkeit und Weisheit in der Suchttherapie — zur tiefensystemischen Bearbeitung von somato-mentalen Modellen. In: Anderssen-Reuster, Ulrike (Ed.). Achtsamkeit in Psychotherapie und Psychosomatik. Haltung und Methode, p.113–135. Stuttgart, New York: Schattauer.

Scholz, G. (1992). Vipassana Meditation und Drogensucht. Eine Studie über den Ausstieg aus der Herrschaft der Attraktion Droge. Zürich.

Studer, U.M. (1998). Verlangen, Süchtigkeit und Tiefensystemik. Fallstudie des Suchttherapiezentrums für Drogenabhängige start again in Männedorf und Zürich im Zeitraum von 1992 bis 1998. Subventioniert durch das Eidgenössische Justiz- und Polizeidepartement, Bern; Bericht an das Bundesamt. Zürich. URL: http://www.ofj.admin.ch/themen/stgb-smv/ber-mv/37.pdf.