By Howard Reznick, LCSW-C
The “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly: persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.” That’s the definition of addiction, according to Webster’s Dictionary. But that definition doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t touch on the toll addiction takes on the user, his family, his friends, his employer or his community. It also doesn’t hint at the broken promises, the failed relationships, the crushed dreams or the shattered hearts.
Addiction is a disease that’s tough to endure and even more difficult to shake. Denial is big part of addiction. Nobody wants to have any disease, but with addiction, denial comes along with the illness. With cancer, there’s an initial denial but people eventually move past it. With addiction, denial is more integrated into the disorder and therefore harder to overcome. Just like sneezing with a cold — it’s a given.
There’s no way to know who among us will fall victim to addiction. It’s an equal opportunity disease that doesn’t discriminate based on race, religion, gender, etc. and no one can say “not in my family; not in my neighborhood.”
Every ethnic group has its own set of issues when it comes to addiction. In some cultures drinking is so pervasive that abstaining could alienate a person from family and friends. In others, intoxication is so unusual, that it can force an individual to question his cultural identity.
For Jewish people there are cultural nuances and religious sensitivities which come with their own set of unique challenges. On one hand so many Jewish rituals are based around alcohol: a Jewish boy is exposed to wine at his bris; at the Passover Seder people are instructed to consume four cups of wine; and on the holiday of Purim, intoxication is encouraged to elevate the learner to a higher level of understanding the spiritual dimension of Jewish history. On the other hand, over indulgence is looked down upon, illustrated by the common belief that “Jews aren’t addicts.”
Whether it’s alcoholism or problems with other drugs or behaviors like gambling, addiction is no stranger to the Jewish community. As far back as 30 years ago, Rabbi Abraham Twersky, M.D., one of America’s leading authorities in addiction medicine, first addressed the Baltimore Jewish Community about the then increasing pervasiveness of these disorders. Today, the newly formed Jewish Recovery Network is exploring how to best treat the Jewish addict and effectively deal with some of these unique cultural obstacles. The Jewish Recovery Network is joint partnership of Jewish Community Services, Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, Right Turn-IMPACT, and Caron Treatment Centers. Together, this consortium of organizations provides a continuum of addiction treatment and recovery services that can attend to distinctive needs and issues or individuals and families in the Jewish community.
At the Jewish Recovery Network’s inaugural conference last month, more than one hundred professionals turned out to learn more about “Clearing the Path: Addiction Treatment and Recovery in the Jewish Community.” Speakers addressed important challenges that Jews sometimes try to use to “block” or avoid treatment, such as concerns about being able to keep kosher or observe Sabbath in inpatient treatment settings, or attending 12-step group meetings housed in churches, and the spiritual nature of recovery. The rabbis and presenters at the conference tackled these obstacles head on, familiarizing clinicians with these therapeutic issues and offering guidance on ways to address them and overcome them in order to enhance the recovery process.
Once we overcome denial that addiction exists among our friends and neighbors, the key to ‘clearing the path’ is to understand and remove barriers to addiction treatment and recovery. In 2015, Baltimore’s Jewish Community can look forward to more innovative ideas and support from the Jewish Recovery Network in its pursuit of effectively helping both individuals and their families get the help and support they need. If you’re concerned about yourself or someone close to you, Jewish Community Services and the Jewish Recovery Network can offer help, hope and healing. For more information, call 410-466-9200.
By Howard Reznick, LCSW-C, Senior Manager, JCS Prevention Education
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.