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Depression and Drugs


Paul phoned in to ask: What’s the Buddhist view on Antidepressants? Is it looked on the same as alcohol?


I hate to put words into Buddha’s mouth, but I suspect that his prohibition against intoxicants wasn’t intended to condemn medicinal treatments.

In a perfect world, antidepressants would not be necessary; you would have such perfect mental control that they would be redundant. In reality, that’s rarely the case. People battling depression (and it IS a battle) are not taking the drugs for enjoyment or pleasure; they are taking them in order to function. The fifth precept (‚ÄúI undertake the precept to refrain from taking intoxicants‚Äù) was not meant to harm anyone, but rather the point was to keep monks in line. You cannot meditate and reach Enlightenment when you are too drunk to sit up straight. On the other hand, you cannot meditate and reach enlightenment if your depression keeps you from caring one way or the other. If it takes antidepressant medication to get you through the day, then that’s just what it takes– there is no reason to judge it.

There is, however, a fine line between a necessary psychological/medical treatment and fueling an addiction. An addict needs his ‚Äúdrug‚Äù too, but as with many things dealing with karma, intention and motives have to be considered. We have occasionally talked about addiction and recovery here in the past, so if you are not actually taking the medication under a doctor’s supervision, I would look into some kind of treatment program.

as always, just my opinion. There ARE other viewpoints on this.

14 comments to Depression and Drugs

  • My friend Susan Moon, a Zen Buddhist teacher and writer, wrote this excellent and moving personal essay on Zen and depression:

    [the opening lines appear below]

    Suffering Zen

    I want to tell you about coming apart, wanting to die, and returning at last to myself, and about how my Buddhist practice both helped and hindered me in this zigzag journey, in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

    I didn’t call it depression for most of the five years I was in and out of it. I thought depression was for lethargic people who stayed in bed all day. But my pain was as sharp as an ice pick. Restless in the extreme, I paced and paced, looking for a way out.

  • Bob Perry

    I am new to the site. I am also in 12 Step Recovery, and have been for some time. I just wanted to mention that I was delighted to hear your thoughtful answer to this question.

    Blessings ~

    Bob P.

  • Michael Pickel

    This is the toughest for me, personally. I agree about being “too drunk to sit up straight,” but that’s a far cry from a glass of wine with dinner, or a cold beer, after you’ve mowed the yard!

    So, it is not more of a matter of quantity in some cases? I know, if we were perfect, we’d be only pure water drinking vegans, but most of us aren’t.

    Michael in Maine

  • Michael

    I loved Brian’s response to this topic. As someone who has battled with mental illness for over 10 years and has to take large amounts of anti-psychotic medications to function daily, I would hope the Buddha would welcome me as I am into Buddhism. I am a recent “convert” to Buddhism, only 90 days, and have been truly blessed by meditation and the Dharma. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to reduce or eliminate the need for these medications in my life.

  • Paul

    Thank You for your reply Brian

  • Jerry

    My meditation practice was of great help during the dark days of my divorce. In fact, it helped me realize that I was truly in a deep depression. Understanding that, I sought medical help and went on anti-depressants for about six months.

    I think the Buddhist practices are helpful in working through life’s problems, even if sometimes they just help us realize that we can’t solve everything on our own.

  • Thanks for your reply!
    I have to agree with Michael from Maine. A small drink relaxes me to better appreciate a slow but insightful lecture by Bhikkhu Bodhi! No dancing and no drinking is ONE of the reason internet says, why Buddhism was kicked out of India (though lot of its teachings have been preserved and given a new garb). But for one with no control drinking can be a curse. Do you think “no intoxicants” is a rule for lay Buddhist? (not a monk!)

  • Jami

    Thanks for the response(s).

  • Abe Simpson

    The Buddha was very careful to advise practitioners to abstain from things that intoxicate. We are quick to point to drugs and alcohol, but that is a cultural preconception. While these things may cause intoxication, they are not specifically what the Buddha was referring to.

    The Buddha was advising practitioners to refrain from anything that causes you to loose control and to wander from the middle way. Intoxicants, whether it is an illicit drug, alcohol, television, internet, art, sex, violence, music or politics, do not allow one to center themselves and see life as it truly is is.

    Prescription drugs, like everything else, can help you and hurt you. It is you and your practice that decides which.


  • Anonymous

    Thank you Paul for your comment. Catriona

  • Charles Zutta

    This has helped me so much. I have found reading Buddhism books has helped me feel better with my depression and anxiety. However i have always felt guilty i could not be a real Buddhist as i take anti – depressants. Now i know i can be Buddhist even though i am on anti – depressants. Thank you so Much.

  • Liam

    Great question Paul and Mushim thank you for your wonderful link. Brian i think your answer was very thoughtful and correct. I like many others, i am guessing, came across Buddhism looking for a way to battle my Mental demons. It has helped me many times over and i really appreciated how it is OK to look at parts of Buddhism and not be judged for not adopting it as a whole faith. I was emailed the link to this site and i think it is great. Congratulations and thank you

  • David

    I am a recovering addict and was using heroin for over 20 years. This was to cover up the suffering I was experiencing and most certainly was not the answer and only caused more suffering such as depression for which I required medication. A problem leading to another. I am fortunate enough to be clean and healthy today and of a sound enough mind to study dharma. Something I had always been keen to study but was too wasted or ill to do so. Many people I know did die because of their addictions and I feel so blessed to be still alive and have knowledge of these wonderful teachings. Peace and joy everyone.

  • Mj

    Having suffered with anxiety and depression in the past Buddhism and some of the philosophies have helped me to think only in the present so reduced my anxieties.