Releasing Yourself from Addictions

Based on a talk given at Hokkien Cemetery Pavilion, Taiping

Is there something that you are addicted to? Do you want to be free from it? Yes? Maybe? Maybe not?

Your answer will depend on how strong the craving is versus how much you understand the matter in terms of “gratification, disadvantage, and escape.” (AN 3:101-102) Although these words were used by the Buddha to speak of the ultimate escape from our addiction to samsara, I think they apply just the same to escapes from relatively gross addictions.

The word ‘addiction’ is more commonly associated with addictive substances, like drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or even coffee. But are there other kinds? Of course; like gambling, TV, work, gossiping, shopping, computer games, pornography, sports, etc. As you can see, addictions can be of various kinds, including those that are purely mental addictions.

Some of these things, such as work, per se are not harmful, but the addiction to them is. For such addictions, it may be impractical to be free from them. Nnetheless, we can look into them honestly and see when they are necessary, and when they are mere addictions and choose to be free from that part of them. Do you really need to work 16 hours a day?

In any case, an addiction is basically a persistent craving, a feeling of never being able to have enough of something, even if you have never ever really needed it. I need more. I must have it. I can’t live without Astro. That’s the addiction doing the talking.

If you’ve tried freeing yourself from an addiction before, you may have heard these in your mind: Just one last one. After this, no more. I promise. That’s also the addiction doing the talking. An addiction will make all sorts of excuses to keep itself alive. So long as there’s an addiction, there’ll always be a ‘last one’ that will not be the last one.

We may stop craving for that object of addiction from time to time, particularly when we feel saturated or overwhelmed by it, but as that feeling of saturation dissipates, we begin to feel that sense of lack again, thus want more again. This goes on and on, so long as we have not overcome the addiction.

The good news is we can be free from any addiction. Would you like that? Would you want to—if you knew you could not fail? Actually, if we truly want to, how can we fail? The only way we can fail is when we sabotage ourselves. So, really, it’s entirely up to you. What do you want?

If you wish to be free from an addiction, you may find these suggestions helpful in your endeavour.

1. ACKNOWLEDGE or ADMIT that you are addicted to a certain thing.

Acknowledging that there is a problem is the most logical first step to solving it. Bear in mind, though, that the addiction is not you. It wasn’t there before, right? So how can it be you? It’s just something that came about later. In this case, it’s an addiction. Neither does it belong to you, nor you to it. It is just as it is: an addiction. When it’s there, it’s just there, and it’s good to acknowledge it—just as it is.

Say to yourself: “There is an addiction to… in me.” Fill in the blank yourself. Say it. Say it again. And again. If you can say that without feeling even the slightest sense of resistance, that’s good.

If you feel a resistance, that’s okay. Let it be there. Acknowledge it too. Like the addiction, it’s just as it is. Nothing more. Just be aware if it and after a while, that resistance will gradually dissipate until you can hardly notice it. Then, repeat the statement: “There is an addiction to… in me.”

The resistance may arise again. Is it stronger or weaker this time? It’s likely to get weaker. Keep this up until you can say it sincerely yet no noticeable resistance arises. It’s when there’s no resistance to the acknowledgement that you truly accept the addiction as it is.

2. UNDERSTAND how the addiction affects you and others around you whether directly or indirectly.

It is gratifying to you. That’s why you keep on wanting it and that’s why we call it an addiction. But is it happiness? Or is it suffering and a cause of suffering?

Ask yourself, “What would it cost me if I allow this addiction to go on?” Time? Money? Energy? Or more meaningfully, what can I get if I free myself from the addiction? Greater health, better relationship,heightened spirituality, happiness?

“Is the fleeting pleasure of this addiction worth what I’m losing?”

“Is it worthwhile to reclaim those precious things in life so that I can live more meaningfully?”

The more you can understand and bear in mind the gratification and disadvantage of the addiction, the more likely you are able to be free from it.

3. AVOID contact with the object of your addiction.

There’s absolutely no need to be afraid of your addiction. Yet, do not underestimate its power to badger nyou into sabotaging yourself. It can give you hundreds of convincing ‘rationales’ as to why you should allow yourself the object of your desires. Be kind to yourself. Don’t torture yourself like that. The newspaper says coffee has antioxidants and antioxidants are good for health, so coffee must be good for health, so what are you waiting for? Besides…besides, you’ll feel good after this!

While the addiction remains, give yourself the best chance by avoiding all forms of contact with it, be it by sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, preferably even thought; for it is with contact that feeling arises, and with feeling, craving arises.

Do you know why the tobacco industry would sponsor anti-smoking advertisements? It’s because they knew it wouldn’t work! That’s right. They knew it wouldn’t work. I mentioned this to someone who’s a manager in a tobacco company. He immediately said, “You’re right.” He was surprised that I knew though. Most people don’t. Do you?

More significantly, while overt cigarette advertisement is not allowed in this country, these anti-smoking advertisements, which include giant billboards, are reminding people of that same thing that they may otherwise not think of.

Contact is necessary for craving.

With the “Tak Nak” (Don’t Want) campaign, we now have children carrying school bags that have images of cigarettes on them. As they see it again and again everyday, the image of a cigarette is etched into their consciousness more than ever before. Introducing cigarettes to children has never been so economical and convenient. I leave it to parents to realise what they have to do.

If you wish to give up smoking, have no contact with it. Get rid of every roll of tobacco you own, be they in your pockets, bedroom, toilet, car, or wherever. You don’t have any use for them anymore, right? You can ask your loved ones to help you. They are probably more than happy to do it. If you were serious enough, you would also want to avoid places that sell them and even smokers. For as long as you are still addicted, you would want to give yourself the best conditions to succeed.

After some time, a thought may occur to you saying that you should have some sort of contact with it, so that you can ‘test’ yourself to see if the addiction is still there. Consider this: If you were indeed free from the addiction, why should that desire for the ‘test’ even arise? It’s the addiction talking again! Ignore it.

Remember: With contact, feeling arises; and with feeling, craving arises. So, regardless of what you’re addicted to, you would be doing yourself a big favour by avoiding contact with it.


Addiction is like an invisible monster—one that the addicted person created. When the monster feels hungry, it starts to make you feel agitated.

Get another fix and you’ll end your misery. So you hear yourself saying. Or was that the monster?

Come on. Get another fix. If you do, then ahh… you feel so relieved from the agitation. You get your peace, so did the monster. But you also become weaker, while the monster, having been fed, becomes stronger and bigger. So, the next time it wants more, you’ll have a harder time resisting it.

As this cycle is allowed to go on, you start to feel powerless against the demands of the monster that you yourself created. Worse is when you start to believe that that monster is you, and you think that you’re just exercising “your own free will”. So what’s the problem? You forget that it wasn’t there in the first place, and you were truly happier then.

If you still have some sense to realise that you somehow need to get out of this rut, then you certainly can. But what are you going to do, when your invisible creation seem to own you?

The solution is simple.


Don’t what?

Don’t feed it.

Starve the monster. The only reason why it became strong is because you feed it. It can’t feed itself. It depends on you to do that. So, to get rid of it, you just have to stop feeding it.

You don’t need to fight it. You don’t need to hate it. You just need to stop feeding it. That’s all.

Of course when you do that, the monster will not give up easily. It will come up with all sorts of justifications, excuses, rationales and strategies. An addiction is a very creative creature. Ignore them. In desperation, it may say, “Just one last one.” Since there’ll be no end to last-ones, let that ‘last one’ be the one that will never be.

It may even torment you, making you feel more agitated than you have ever been. So, things can get a bit rough, but it’s okay. It means you’re on the right track and the monster is getting very desperate. Hah! If you have good friends to give you support, that’s great. If not, you can still do it. It’s a matter of knowing
the right thing to do and bearing that in mind.

It shall come to pass that the agitations become weaker and less frequent. That’s a clear sign that you have made great progress. It’s not the end yet though. Don’t fall for that “Let me test myself” trick. Keep it up until you’re fully liberated from that addiction.

So, in fact, you’re never powerless against the addiction because it depends on you to feed it. To eliminate it, you just have to stop feeding it.

5. Remember to RELAX whenever the craving arises.

Addiction is basically just another illness. There’s nothing to feel angry or guilty about. Be kind to yourself. Nurse yourself back to health.

Before we got addicted to something, we may have enjoyed it. However, when we are really addicted, it’s not so much about the enjoyment as it is about wanting to end the tension that arises with the addiction. When we desire something, we tense up. When we try to resist the desire, we also tense up. Either way, it’s unpleasant. We get so agitated that we naturally don’t want it to go on. The easy way out is of course to let the addiction have its way. That would surely take off the unpleasantness. But since it also strengthens the addiction, it’s not a true solution.

So, are we in a fix? Do we have to fix the fix with a fix? (What a confused word!)

We certainly don’t have to. We just need to relax.

The agitation can’t hurt us. It’s just a form of tension. Nothing more. Not us, not ours, not a problem.

Just be aware of the physical tension, and allow it to ease up by itself. Relax. As that happens, the mental tension eases up along with it. Soon, you’ll regain composure. The addiction becomes weaker, and you become stronger.

Then, with a calm and collected mind, you will naturally know what to do.

To recap, these are what you can do to be free from an addiction: acknowledge it, understand it, avoid it, starve it, and relax. May we succeed in all our noble endeavours.

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