A Jewish Perspective on Addiction and Recovery

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A look at substance use disorder and recovery from a perspective of Jewish faith and tradition. 

Addiction affects people in all walks of life. Despite this, there is a common and mistaken belief that addiction does not affect the Jewish community. In the past, there has been a tendency to deny or suppress the reality of addiction, which has affected the accurate view of how prevalent addiction is among the community. Some hide behind Jewish traditions to cover up their substance use. After all, wine and alcohol can be an integral part of a lot of Holidays that are celebrated. During Purim, alcohol is not only permitted but drinking is encouraged, and the accompanying inebriation is accepted. During Passover, four cups of wine are consumed and every week during Shabbat wine is drunk. 

Even inside Jewish communities, there is a misconception that Jews don’t suffer from addictions

The long legacy of denial among Jews has given rise to some firmly held misconceptions. One of these misconceptions is that the Jewish faith protects its followers against addiction. People think that observant Jews do not drink or misuse drugs. Therefore, they assume, Jews who do misuse drugs or alcohol must do so because they have been alienated by their religious heritage or they have lost their faith. There is also the widely held stigma that substance abuse is a sign of moral failure, and those that abuse drugs should feel guilty and ashamed of their behavior. Despite these misconceptions, Jews of all levels of observance can and do struggle with substance use disorders.

Over time, the Jewish community has become increasingly aware of substance use disorders in its midst. There are now rehab centers tailored to the requirements of Orthodox practice, which is one indication of the acceptance and awareness of the realities of addiction and the impact it is having on the Jewish people. In these centers, Jewish religious doctrines and spiritual traditions provide the structure that supports rehab and recovery. 

Incorporating traditional Jewish prayers and practices can help Jews in recovery

Secular recovery programs do not focus on any particular religious tradition, and anyone who participates is free to connect with a higher power that they choose. This allows space for Jews with substance use disorders to incorporate traditional practices such as healing prayer, meditation, and scriptural instruction. The temple which is a focal point of the Jewish faith, serves as a source of support and strength. The Torah and Talmudsacred texts and that serve as the basis of Jewish lawprovide resources for coping with adversity, addiction, and spiritual and practical tools for recovery. The Jewish paradigm is founded on growth in three areas of life: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Each of these areas can be nurtured through observance, worship, and prayer as well as participation in a recovery program. 

Jewish faith fits perfectly into many recovery programs 

There are many portions of the Torah and different practices that can be used to help someone of the Jewish faith through their recovery process. Take, for example, how easily the Jewish faith can be incorporated into 12-step recovery. There are several steps about connecting to a higher power, beginning with acknowledging, recognizing, and surrendering to a truth that is higher than our own. 

This is why the Jewish practice of Modeh Ani is so important. When we open our eyes each morning, we vocalize, “Although I feel myself to be the center of the world, I acknowledge your presence and the author of the world and you are bigger than me.” With these words, we start the day by opening ourselves to freedom. The kind of freedom that helps the person navigate their own life. This very concept of the Torah implies that we all have a free choice to direct our lives. A person with addiction has free choice, as well, even when it may not feel like it. 

We can find inspiration and hope in the wisdom of the Torah

One freedom people have is the choice of whether to continue on their path and try digging themselves out of a proverbial pit, or to call out for help and receive assistance in getting out of that pit. The mind that is lost in its own mess is lost to that mess. But someone who is not bound and tied can untie the bonds of someone else and offer that help to pull them out. In a 12-step approach, the first move to surrender all allows a person to win over their addiction. 

In the chapter of the Torah about Pesach (Passover), we can relate Pharaoh’s battle with the ten plagues with hitting rock bottom and feeling the consequences. Like the consequences of actions often taken in active addiction, each plague led to hardships. Pharaoh’s willfulness led to the suffering and downfall of Egypt and to the deaths of his family. When one is in active addiction, one often refuses to see the signs that are impacting their life. But we can open our eyes and accept the help and guidance available to us, rather than staying in that pain. 

Fight past the stigma to recognize the worth of every person

For people on the outside of addiction, it can be tempting to jump to conclusions or judge someone who is dealing with addiction. But substance use disorder can happen to anyone. It is important to have empathy and see the godly spark within the person. There should not be any stigma for those who are struggling with addiction. We all have worth and we all have a special soul and purpose that God has put in each of us. 

Want to learn more?

Learn more about alcohol and alchol use disorder, read stories of recovery, and find helpful tools on our blog.

Krista is a care specialist at Workit Health and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management. A couple of her close relationships had trouble with addiction, and it was through these relationships that Krista decided to dedicate her life to helping those with addiction.

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