Volume 54 Number 04
                    Produced: Mon Feb 12 22:12:53 EST 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Drug abuse in the frum community


From: Izzy <izzy@...>
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 2007 17:21:00
Subject: Re: Drug abuse in the frum community

I am an alcoholic and an Orthodox Jew. 

Russell J Hendel makes a number of good points that illustrate why so
few Orthodox Jews become alcoholics and drug addicts in comparison to
the general population, but while he comes close to a solution, he
misses the mark slightly. Secondly, the strong Jewish prohibitions
against drinking seem not to have translated into strong prohibitions
against drug abuse so we need to understand what we are doing right
about alcoholism in the community and what we are doing less right about
drug abuse. Perhaps we can discuss that further.

I will use Russell J Hendel's comments as a jumping off point to make
comments of my own. As I make my comments, do not assume that somehow
Russell J Hendel was saying something different. He might agree with me.

> Several postings have been written about drugs in the frum community
> but no one has mentioned the simple steps needed to stop them -- I
> refer to prayer and charitable deeds.

Yes. Prayer and charitable deeds are the essence of what works. However,
once one is caught by addiction, one must be more specific. It is not
enough to pray regularly, write checks to the synagogue and help little
old ladies across the street. These are all admirable deeds and one will
have to do them as a frum Jew, but the frum alcoholic/addict will have
to do things IN ADDITION to these deeds and maybe BEFORE he does
anything else.

It is said that an alcoholic/addict is a person who is waiting for a
call from G-d, and when he does not receive it, he searches for a way to
make that contact. Some will seek out that connection in drugs and
alcohol. If a person builds his connection with the Holy One, blessed be
He, through Jewish prayer and charitable deeds, then he will have a good
foundation to guide him when that crisis of connection occurs. But just
as many of us are not Talmud scholars despite our desire to be more
learned, so too, a person might not have a full enough foundation in
Jewish prayer and practice to weather this crisis when it comes. What to

At first alcohol and drugs work. It fixes the crisis. But in time the
body changes. The very cells change their configuration so that one will
no longer be able to resist the use of drugs. The body will scream for
drugs the way the body will scream for food... more so. One can deny
oneself food for only so long but a drug addict will forego food to get

> It is published literature that the endorphins released after prayer
> are similar in quantity to a dose of tranquilizers.

Endorphins are also released during long-distance running, but once the
body has reconfigured itself to desire drugs and alcohol, prayer (or
even jogging) will not be enough. You cannot do a substitution in this
situation.  It would be like substituting bread and water for cheesecake
and wine. It might work for a short while, but in time the desire will
return stronger than before. An alcoholic/addict needs more.

> We all know why people take drugs...they want temporary reliefs. We
> say it is wrong because it is temporary. Someone like Dr Twersky will
> say it is animalistic and mechanical and not spiritual.

I have spoken to Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski. He well might analyze the
condition that way. But he has told me personally that the frum
community does not pay close enough attention to drug abuse. We are
doing things that he finds maddening. He seemed very upset about the
practice of febrengen on college campuses. He had heard mothers and
fathers complain that they were glad to hear that their sons were
getting involved with Orthodoxy, but then were shocked when the Orthodox
returned their kids as drunks. He also told me of his worry that a large
reason why Israelis enter rehab is to recover from heroin abuse. He has
no firm statistics, but he is worried.

We say, "It can't happen in a frum community!" so we don't look for it
until a young man dies of a drug overdose. Then we say, "I suppose he
was not frum enough." That is a poor excuse for our failure to notice a
boy's despair.  That is like the excuse Christians use when one of their
number does something wrong. They say, "No good Christian would do such
a thing!" and then when someone is brought to trial, they say, "He was
not a good Christian." It is a circular argument. My fellow Jews are not
worthy of such a sophomoric slight of hand.

A few days ago a Jewish woman called me. She was in deep despair. Her
doctor had prescribed pain medication while she recovered from
surgery. The pain was terrible and perhaps the surgery did not fully
correct the problem. The doctor continued the pain medication for three
weeks. In the end, she decided to stop the medication and realized
something terrible. She longed for that drug and the soul-yearning she
felt was almost unbearable. I almost cried, she was suffering so. I
spoke to her today. She is better now. She was nipped by the ringer. It
was only a small bit of the soul-pain an addict goes through when he
must give up his drug. It has nothing to do with character, although
character helps when the pain comes.

There is no test to know whether one is susceptible to addiction. You
won't know until you are exposed. Once exposed, and the truth is known
to you, perhaps your good character will carry you through. But with
only slightly less character, one is caught and then... only G-d can
save you. I mean direct intervention. You will need a soul-changing
spiritual experience or you will die. Most people die.

> I have been shocked when I relate the above approach that people cite
> the Aruch Hashulchan that one should not make ones own prayers (that
> is insert personal requests during prayer). This is cruel and not
> completely accurate.

I insert my own prayer after my required prayers. In the past I have
asked G-d for help and I still do when the need arises... as do we
all. But after my regular prayers, I add this prayer of thanksgiving. It
will seem a little strange but here it goes.

    Thank you G-d for everything you have given me.
    Thank you for everything you have taken from me.
    Thank you for another day of life.
    Thank you for making me a Jew... and an alcoholic.

It was easy to learn to thank G-d for the things He gives me. It was
more difficult to learn how to thank G-d and mean it when He takes
things away from me, but I have lived long enough to see the end of some
things. What at first I thought of as a tragedy, turned out to have
consequences I could not have imagined. One good example is my
alcoholism. While tragic and disruptive, there have been some benefits I
would not change. Without my addiction, I would not have sought out G-d
with the fervor that I do. I would not have known the depth of
experience. My soul has been lost in a void of chaos. I have walked to
the gateway that leads to the Garden of Eden and I have seen the light
of Heaven shining through.

I thank G-d I am an alcoholic. It led me to be an Orthodox Jew.

> ...(Only to cry out to God). People who sing like this do not need
> drugs and will never experiment with them.

It is best not to experiment with drugs, but some folks do foolish
things regardless. All of us have done things we regret and perhaps we
are embarrassed by our foolishness, but telling us not to do foolish
things will not help us after the fact. If that foolishness involves
drugs, and we have a predisposition to addiction, we are caught and we
can't get out.

And if we take prescription drugs, it is easy, when we have real pain,
to salve the wound with pain medication. Who can deny us? The pain is
real. The drug helps and if we take one extra pill, who will know or
care? Even if we call the doctor and ask permission to take more, the
doctor cannot know if one person or another is especially susceptible to

I remember recovering from a broken leg and had to take pain
medication. I was worried about addiction for the obvious reason that I
had shown susceptibility due to my alcoholism. It was proven. So when I
thought I could survive on aspirin and tough it out, the doctor said I
was being ridiculous. How could I become addicted on such a small amount
of narcotic?

"But I'm an alcoholic."

"Oh." Long silence. "Okay. I'll prescribe Motrin." I got the largest
dose they made. It was uncomfortable but it worked.

The doctor knew about addiction. Some folks need to get off the
narcotics as quickly as possible. I was one of those people. He knew
it. I knew it, but some folks won't know it until it happens to
them. Then it is too late.

> ... I asked how we could integrate our own needs into prayer. He
> stared at me blankly and answered my question by saying "I dont think
> you understand prayer."

Yes. I know. I use Jewish prayer like a mantra. Saying them over and
over again helps to move my soul in the proper direction. Read "Jewish
Meditation" by Aryeh Kaplan. He suggests selecting some Jewish phrase in
your prayers as a mantra.

So... not only prayer but meditation is also required. Find out what
meditation is.

Everyone who prays daily recites a meditation though you may not realize
it.  It goes something like this. "My G-d, guard my tongue from evil, my
lips from speaking deceitfully..." You know the rest of it. It is a
meditation we recite three times a day. But the alcoholic/addict needs
to do more than this. So read Aryeh Kaplan's book. Find out.

> ... There are people under stress...if you let them cry out in prayer
> they will not need drugs, therapy or anything else. If you clamp them
> down you are inviting the type of psychological disasters that plague
> our community. Let me put it this way....without prayer we are no
> different than the non Jews we live with.

In general I agree with you. If one is not yet an alcoholic or drug
addict and involves himself in the activities your recommend and at the
level you recommend then certainly it will be of great help as a
preventative measure.  However, it is difficult to convince people to
invest that kind of effort in an activity, no matter how noble,
admirable, or desirable, without some greater motivation for doing so.

We may all wish to do Daf Yomi study, but how many of us actually commit
to it fully and without fail? Few have enough character and personal
drive to do so, no matter how much we may wish for it.

When I was younger, in order to make me an Orthodox Jew, G-d would have
had to beat me with a stick until I was bloody and nearly dead. So He
did. He "beat" me with alcoholism until I was nearly dead. And now I am
an Orthodox Jew. I thank G-d for the "beating," as awful as it was. I
know it was necessary since I would not have come to Him and Orthodoxy
otherwise. And I would not have been able to see the wisdom of prayer
and mitzvot. Now I do.

> I would also warmly recommend chesed community projects as a way of
> avoiding states where one has a need for drugs. I have seen more of
> these in previous years and I hope the trend continues.

Each week I visit the local jail and meet with some of the inmates. We
talk a little about G-d and a lot about alcoholism and drug abuse. Why
would I do such a thing? Trust me. I'm a nice guy, but I'm not THAT
nice. I do so for several reason but the most important to me is that I
must or I will drink again. It is selfish. I agree. But it is true. In
order to help myself, I must help others who are similarly
afflicted. Nothing less will do. So I go.

The other reason I do this type of work is because I grateful to those
who came before me. They went way out of their way to help me. They
asked for nothing in return except my attention and even then, not much
of that. They kept saying, "Keep coming back" so I did. It worked.

I suggest a few books for the Jewish alcoholic/addict:

Jewish Meditation - Kaplan
Living Each Day - Twerski
Twelve Steps for Everyone - Twerski
Twelve Jewish Steps to Recovery - Olitsky
Alcoholics Anonymous - AA World Services

You can find more information about alcoholism at The Orthodox Caucus
and from JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically dependant persons, and
Significant others).


Please contact me if you have any questions or need help. I will keep
your name confidential. I am associated with JACS but no one pays
me. I'm trying to pay G-d back for helping me. He doesn't take cash but
He seems to be pleased when I help others. Go figure.

Izzy (not my real name)


End of Volume 54 Issue 4