JACS LIBRARY - ARTICLES
Alcoholism: The Plague Upon Us
When L'Chaim is Not to Life
by Rabbi Joel Dinnerstein, M.S.W., C.A.C.
Rabbi Joel Dinnerstein is
founder and director of Ohr Ki Tov: Center for Growth and Transformation,
an organization devoted to integrating spiritual practice with the process
of Recovery From Addiction. A credentialed Alcoholism Counselor, Rabbi
Dinnerstein also serves on the staff of the Metropolitan Coordinating Council
on Jewish Poverty.
Chana was in despair.
Several evenings a week, her father would come home drunk. He would break
furniture, throw ashtrays at mirrors and would then sit down and fall asleep
on the couch.
Sarah was desperate.
Her husband, who used to drink only on weekends, was now staying home every
night guzzling several six-packs of beer. He would become abusive and violent
and would often beat her. She needed to spend many nights at the battered
Shlomo's wife began
drinking a Bloody Mary after getting the children off to school. Little
by little, her drinking increased throughout the day. She stopped maintaining
the house, neglected to pay bills and could not parent and provide care
for their children when they returned home from school. Family life, friendships,
social relationships and employment all began to suffer.
Chana, Sarah and
Shlomo all have tried to cope with the uncontrollable need of the alcoholic
family member to drink. They found they were powerless over the alcoholic's
drinking and behavior. Vissits to Rabbis, family counselors and talks with
friends all provided little assistance or understanding.
In each case, the
alcoholic family member became obsessed with alcohol. As their addiction
grew, the compulsion to drink increased. The only hope for recovery would
lie in the recognition of their drinking problem and a sincere desire to
stop drinking. Alcoholism is treatable, and many programs are available
to the alcoholic who is ready for recovery.
Family Suffers Most
When alcoholism strikes,
the alcoholic is not the only one to suffer: his family, friends and co-workers
endure much of the pain and suffering caused by this disease. It is within
the closeness of the family that alcoholism creates the greatest difficulties
and most turmoil.
Alcoholism has been
called the most serious drug problem in terms of number of victims and
cost to society. It is estimated that some 100 million people over the
age of 15 drink in this country (U.S.). But what about help for the troubled
family member who becomes sick emotionally, psychologically and sometimes
physically as a result of living in an alcoholic situation?
Family members become
obsessed with watching the alcoholic's behavior, and experience increased
anxiety as a result of the uncertainty and unpredictability of being in
a close personal relationship with someone suffering from this addictive
As the alcoholic
continues to lose control of normal functioning, anger and resentment are
prominent emotions caused by frustration of living with someone who cannot
maintain their responsibilities.
Family members frequently
become depressed, angry, frustrated, confused, and need treatment as does
the alcoholic. The unwritten rule for the family is not to talk about the
problem to anyone outside the home. This only further isolates the family
and the alcoholic from receiving help.
the home. It accounts directly or indirectly for at least 50 percent of
the cases brought to family court. Between 30 and 40 percent of youths
in trouble with the law or school authorities come from alcoholic homes.
Currently, more than 65 percent of the people in state prisons have alcohol
or drug problems.
Recent studies clearly
show that the children of alcoholics or other high-risk people develop
chronic patterns or emotional instability. Approximately half of the children
of alcoholics become alcoholics.
Children of alcoholics
often develop certain specific and predictable characteristics: inordinate
need for control; an overdeveloped sense of responsibility; lack of trust;
denial of feelings; and a sense of inadequacy that they carry into adulthood.
Because alcoholism is a disease of denial, they are often unaware of the
characteristics that prevent them from experiencing deep satisfaction in
The home is not
the only place where alcoholism interferes. If problems at the place of
employment are a result of drinking, then drinking must be treated or productivity
and the person's usefulness will be impaired. Between 6 and 10 percent of
employees have alcohol problems. Nationally (U.S.), the total cost is nearly
$45 billion a year due to absenteeism, health and welfare services, and
property damage as well as loss of production.
In order to be treated
successfully, alcoholism must be viewed as a complex, progressive disease
that interferes with health, social and economic functioning and, if not
treated, ends with few exceptions in physical incapacity, mental damage
and premature death. The alcoholic is usually the last person to realize
he has a drinking problem. Because of the insidious nature of this disease,
friends, relatives, co-workers and employers often see a rapid deterioration
long before the alcoholic realizes or acknowledges the problem.
Alcoholism can be
treated. Recovery rates range from 65 to 85 percent in many programs in
which hundreds of thousands of recovered alcoholics have participated.
The family's main defense against the impact of alcoholism is gaining knowledge,
support, and direction. Counseling is imperative for both the alcoholic
and family members.
If an alcoholic's drinking
creates problems, then alcohol is a problem. And, if there are warning
signs for family members who may be in need of help - counting drinks,
pouring liquor down the drain, searching the house for alcohol, listening
for the sound of cans opening and generally becoming obsessed with someone
else's drinking - Al-Anon may be for you.
The Al-Anon family
groups, for example, provide invaluable assistance; Alcoholics Anonymous,
likewise, is a resource unparalleled in human services. Help is always
a phone call away.
Help can also be
found at the Ohr Ki Tov Center, a locally-based, national organization
which serves as a resource to the Jewish community. Ohr Ki Tov provides
counseling and education, hope and encouragement, and utilizes the assistance
of the many Jews already in recovery to reach out to those in need of help.