My Problem with Refuge Recovery

One Mind Dharma Social Issues 0 Comments

In case you’re not familiar, Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist path to recovery started by Noah Levine and the wonderful folks in the Against the Stream & Dharma Punx community. There are many people that have played a part in getting this program up and off the ground, and I’m super grateful for all the work they’ve done. Refuge Recovery has offered me a path to recovery where twelve-step programs didn’t work for me.

However, there’s just a few things that really turn me off, and I think they need addressing. Let me first be clear by saying I am neither affiliated with Refuge Recovery nor Against the Stream, and these thoughts are just my opinions and not necessarily the opinions of everyone that works with One Mind Dharma.

Refuge Recovery (Centers)

Refuge Recovery is a non-profit that oversees the recovery groups across the world. I won’t pretend that I know everything that the non-profit does, but I do know that they have done things like produce a beautiful website with a meeting directory, organized the annual conference to foster conversation, and of course handle all of the accounting and numbers. To be fair, this is a gross understatement of everything they do.

Refuge Recovery Centers is a for-profit treatment center with locations in Los Angeles. I have had limited experience with them, although I did work there for a while. However, the program and structure has changed quite a bit as they’ve grown, so I can’t say I know a whole lot about what they do. What I do know is that there are a lot of really amazing teachers and clinicians that work with them. I feel I would have benefited from a program like Refuge Recovery Centers when I was trying to get sober.

I’ll pause here to say that I love the Refuge Recovery program and meetings, and I also fully support Refuge Recovery Centers. I think what they’re doing is wonderful and necessary. Specifically, they offer a treatment model that is unique in offering an alternative path to recovery. Although my experience is limited, I have known quite a few people go through their program, know a few people who work with them, and am familiar with the potential of the teachings of the Buddha to help relieve the suffering caused by addiction.

The Issue of Boundaries

My issue here is the same issue presented in two different places. First, on their website, they have both the non-profit and for-profit treatment center. This can be found multiple times right on the home page at In my opinion, one of the reasons twelve-step programs have become so successful in growing and reaching people is that they have remained unaffiliated with the many treatment centers out there. Could you imagine if the AA website had a phone number and button for a for-profit treatment center?

Every time somebody asks me where they can find a meeting, I tell them to check the Refuge Recovery website. In my opinion, the official website of a non-profit support group with meeting listings and information about the program should not be blatantly attached to a for-profit treatment center. I’m not against what the treatment center does or that the treatment center is helping people make a living. Rather, I care about both Refuge Recovery and the work done at the Centers.

One of the dangers here is that if the Centers were to ever get bad press or have something happen, the non-profit is at risk. Furthermore, every time someone goes to the website to look for donation-based meetings, they are essentially presented with advertisements for the treatment center.

This issue is made worse by the absolutely appalling fact that the Refuge Recovery book ships with a flyer for the Refuge Recovery Centers. I have no idea how many books have sold, but according to it’s Amazon rank, it’s about 5-7 books a day. This may or may not be accurate, but that’s the Amazon guesstimate. Anyway, every book ships with the flyer for the for-profit treatment center. Imagine if every copy of the Big Book shipped with an advertisement for a treatment center.

Again, people who want to participate in a free support group should not be hit with advertisements for a for-profit treatment center. Someone I know recently said this was a “mushy boundary,” but there really is no boundary at all. Part of the issue here is that every book that sells serves as a way to bring people into a for-profit treatment center. I work in for-profit treatment myself, and am not against the people at Refuge making money. What I am against is using this program with so much potential as a way to feed clients into their treatment center.

At the Refuge Recovery Conference this year, this issue was brought up and met with the answer that the flyers and website are helping people. I agree partly. I think the Centers have an incredible potential to help people, as do the group meetings. I do think there are many people that don’t know about Refuge Recovery Centers and could benefit from knowing about it. However, find another way to advertise yourself! I think it’s a genius marketing plan and must be good for business. However, it’s unethical at best and not something a Buddhist organization should be doing.

By having the for profit treatment center right on the home page and in the menu bar of the non-profit site AND including flyers explicitly advertising the treatment center in the books, they’re using the support groups as a marketing ploy. This is the core of the problem. Refuge Recovery should NOT be associated with the treatment centers or used in any way to help market it. The purpose of the Refuge Recovery non-profit should be to help people find meetings and keep the organization running smoothly. There purpose should absolutely not be to bring people into a for-profit treatment center. In fact, it should specifically steer clear of marketing it.

I don’t want to add on another issue, but truthfully the treatment center shouldn’t even be called “Refuge Recovery Centers.” Again, there’s no “AA Treatment Center.” I keep mentioning twelve-step. I don’t like twelve-step programs, I don’t go to meetings, and I think there’s a lot of growth that needs to happen there. However, there’s a reason they have grown to where they are and helped so many people. I care about Refuge and the people suffering who don’t find twelve-step helpful. I want to see Refuge continue to grow.

If Refuge Recovery continues to grow, it needs to separate the two. I love Refuge Recovery, and the centers, but I don’t want to be a part of an organization that is using these unethical marketing tactics.

To throw one last piece in, I work in online marketing for various addiction treatment centers. Several of these treatment centers take their clients to Refuge Recovery meetings and are really embracing the program. However, (not by my choice) they hesitate to talk about Refuge Recovery on their websites and to prospective clients because of the boundaries. I don’t think this is right, but it again shows the problem. Treatment centers are less likely to share about Refuge Recovery meetings as long as the website has links and phone numbers all over for the for-profit center.

We are working on a public petition to send to Refuge Recovery to ask for this change. We will be asking for the flyers to be removed from the books and the websites to be separated to protect the future of the program we love. We are working on drafts, and appreciate any support or help. If you want to sign the petition or help word the document, please email me at

I’d also like to throw out there that if anyone from either the non-profit or for-profit wishes to speak to this, we welcome any statements or contributions to this post. My goal isn’t to beat either organization down, but to foster a conversation which I find to be important and to work together to do what’s best for the greater relieving of suffering.

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