JACS: Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others


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 women's shelter.

 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 disease.

 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.

 Alcoholism disrupts 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 their lives.

 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.


Warning Signs

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.

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