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March 09, 2006 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2006-03-09

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With substance abuse rising, observant Jews
find they're not immune.


young people, coupled with
the community's traditional
reluctance to air its dirty
laundry, leads families and
schools to cover up addic-
As a result, addicts often
don't receive treatment until
their addictions have
reached crisis proportions.
Those involved in treating
these addicts say that, until
recently, members of the
Orthodox community
received treatment on aver-
age two years later than
addicts in society at large —
two years during which their
dependencies have time to
grow, worsen and become
harder to beat.
Solid numbers on addiction in
the Orthodox community are
hard to come by. In the past five
to 10 years, the community has
begun to more aggressively and
publicly address the issue, but it
still elicits silence and shame.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the
problem is getting worse, experts
Lou Jacobs, executive director
of the Jewish Big Brothers Big
Sisters League in Baltimore,
which runs the city's Jewish
Addiction Services, believes
nearly half the case load comes
from the Orthodox community.
That's a "dramatic change" from
just five years ago, he says, when
Orthodox clients comprised 10-
15 percent of his clientele.
Is the number of Orthodox
addicts growing, or are a greater
number of addicts seeking help?
Experts say both might be true.
"What has opened people's
eyes is that, first of all, there's
been much more talk about the
problem," says Rabbi Dr.
Abraham Twerski, founder and


Chanan Tigay
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

eter Gould had his last
drink on Purim night,
seven years ago — or,
more accurately, his last drinks.
"I drank more alcohol in a day
than a human body can handle,"
he says. At the time, Gould —
not his real name — had been a
functioning alcoholic for years,
and his body could tolerate a lot
of booze. He lists the staggering
litany of alcoholic beverages he
consumed that Purim, a holiday
some Jews mark by drinking to
• three bottles of amaretto
• two bottles of wine
• one bottle of champagne
• a fifth of scotch
• a fifth of bourbon
"And then I drove home with
my kids in the car:' he recalls.
Gould may be an extreme
example, but he isn't unique.
Alcohol and drug addiction exist
in every sector of American


Substance abuse isn't just for
teenagers anymore. Indeed,
experts say, drug and alcohol
addiction among the Jewish eld-
erly is on the rise.
"Alcoholism and substance
abuse in general is running ram-

Jewry, but addiction and recovery
specialists say Gould is part of a
growing problem in the
Orthodox community — a prob-
lem that, because of the pres-
sures and particularities of an
observant Jewish lifestyle, has hit
the Orthodox community in dif-
ferent and sometimes more trou-
bling ways than other segments
of the Jewish community.
"The Orthodox community
really does have a need:' said
Adrienne Bannon, executive
director of Baltimore's Jewish
Recovery Houses, two centers in
suburban Baltimore that house
recovering Jewish drug addicts
and alcoholics.
Some residents require kosher
food and are placed with local
families for Shabbat meals.
Part of the problem, experts
say, is that for years people
couldn't and wouldn't believe
that drugs had found their way
into Orthodox groups. Experts
say the emphasis in some fer-
vently religious communities on
finding marriage matches for

pant in the Jewish senior citizen
community," says Rabbi Joel
Dinnerstein, founder and direc-
tor of Ohr Ki Tov: Center for
Growth and Transformation,
which runs Florida's Jewish
Alcoholism and Addiction

Counseling Services.
"They go largely undiagnosed
because most rabbis and help-
ing professionals are not trained
sufficiently in addiction or sub-
stance-abuse treatment."
The problem once was
thought largely to affect males,
but that assumption is Chang-

medical director emeritus of
Gateway Rehabilitation Center, a
nonprofit drug and alcohol treat-
ment system in western
Pennsylvania. "Unfortunately
there have been several young
deaths from overdoses, and these
were not covered up and they
raised the alert level of the com-
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, an expert
on chemical addiction in the
Jewish community and author of
Twelve Jewish Steps to Recovery: A
Personal Guide to Turning from
Alcoholism and Other Addictions,
notes that the Orthodox aren't
the only members of the Jewish
community with addiction
issues. "Alcohol and drug abuse is
about an issue of individuals
feeling an emptiness inside of
themselves and they're self-med-
icating, trying to fill that hole
and get rid of the pain they feel:'
says Rabbi Olitzky, who also is
executive director of the Jewish
Outreach Institute.
"Alcohol and drug abuse he
says,"for similar reasons, impact
upon members of the Jewish
community from one side of the
spectrum to the other:'
Recovery communities for
Jews like those in Baltimore are
few and far between, but many
communities are making efforts
to fight abuse by forming sup-
port groups, Alcoholics
Anonymous and Narcotics
Anonymous societies, treatment
centers and clearing houses for
referral services. The religious
streams also have made efforts to
address the issue and inform
their constituents about it.
The number of Jewish addicts is
proportionally similar to the rest
of America, Rabbi Olitzky says,
but Jews are overrepresented in
Gamblers Anonymous, and many


And "as baby-boomer drug
users cross into retirement age,
we can expect to see more illicit
drug use among Florida's elder-
ly," a Florida strategy report
"Boredom, change of social
status, grief and loss, moving

suffer from eating disorders.
Insiders say the Orthodox
lifestyle offers another gateway
into and cover for addiction: the
frequent availability and con-
sumption of alcohol at religious
life-cycle events. Habits devel-
oped at these celebrations can
eventually lead to alcoholism,
observers say, and statistics show
that individuals who abuse alco-
hol are more likely to use drugs.
A person can drink at a morn-
ing circumcision ceremony, fol-
lowed by an engagement party
that evening. Later in the week
there may be a wedding, followed
by a sheva brachot ceremony fol-
lowed on Shabbat by a bar mitz-
vah — and alcohol often is avail-
able at each event.
Then there is the increasing
popularity of so-called syna-
gogue Kiddush clubs, which offer
shul-goers schnapps, whiskey
and other types of alcohol during
and after services.
"Substance abuse is masked by
religious practice says Rabbi
Joel Dinnerstein, founder and
director of Ohr Ki Tov: Center for
Growth and Transformation,
which runs Florida's Jewish
Alcoholism and Addiction
Counseling Services. "See who
goes for the herring and who
goes for the schnapps — you
don't have to be an expert to see
right in front of you!'
Observers say it has become
increasingly easy for kids to
obtain drugs, even Orthodox
kids. "The problem in the yeshiv-
ahs is the same problem as in the
public schools:' says Daniel
Vitow, headmaster of the North
Shore Hebrew Academy High
School on New York's Long
Island. "Our kids live in the same
society and the same culture as
everyone else." ❑

from one community to another
and not having the same social
structure, and having a lot of
expendable free time – those
are the major reasons why sen-
iors start to drink or start to use
prescription medication without
watching what they're doing,"
Rabbi Dinnerstein says.

March 9 • 2006


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