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.
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 2018, Baltimore’s Jewish Community can look forward to more innovative ideas and support at Understanding Addiction and Recovery, a free two-part program sponsored by Jewish Community Services, The Baltimore Board of Rabbis, Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc., Edward A. Myerberg Center, JCC of Greater Baltimore and JMore.
Part 1: The Disease of Addiction
Tuesday, October 9, 2018 • 7-9pm
Weinberg Park Heights JCC
Park 2: Addiction Treatment Options
Tuesday, October 23, 2018 • 7-9pm
Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC
Registration preferred: jcsbalt.org/AddictionPrograms or 410-466-9200
Both programs will feature breakout sessions and Narcan overdose response training. If you’re concerned about yourself or someone close to you, Jewish Community Services can provide helpful resources for counseling, treatment options and prevention education. For more information, call 410-466-9200.
By Howard Reznick, LCSW-C, is Manager of JCS Prevention Education.