Addiction is a disease that knows no cultural, religious or socioeconomic boundaries. Anyone is capable of becoming addicted to alcohol, prescription pills or illegal drugs. Long a subject of denial in the Jewish community, addiction is being forced to the forefront of discussion.
Drug Dependency Denial
There has long been a myth among and about the Jewish community that its people do not fall prey to alcohol or drugs. Why this myth has held court for so long is up for debate, but the truth is that it represents a community in denial. The denial of the presence of addiction has only led to a greater stigma, a larger sense of shame and the refusal of addicts to get help. Addiction in all populations has always been stigmatized, which creates a barrier to treatment, but among Jewish communities, the stigma is pronounced.
The Real Problem
Jewish organizations dedicated to battling addiction report that the proportion of Jews abusing substances is startling. A significant percentage of patients seeking treatment for addiction and people calling hotlines to get help for drug abuse are Jewish. Some reports put the numbers as high as between one-quarter and one-half of all people looking for help. Getting solid statistics is a challenge, thanks to the denial pervasive in the Jewish community. Many Jewish groups have never bothered to collect data on addiction in the mistaken belief that Jews just don’t drink or abuse drugs. Addiction is always a problem in the U.S. and today an epidemic of heroin abuse is sweeping the country. More people than ever are trying this dangerous drug and are getting hooked on it and even dying because of it. From suburban moms to rural teens and everyone in-between, heroin does not discriminate.
Opening the Doors
The good news is that Jewish groups are starting to come out of the closet about addiction. Across all groups of people, the importance of reducing the stigma and shame surrounding substance abuse cannot be overstated, but for Jews in particular, it is crucial that the problem be recognized. Rabbis are now being given the opportunity to get training in drug counseling so that they can help the addicted members of their communities. Organizations dedicated to helping Jewish addicts are forming in greater numbers. Where previously many addicted Jews had no choice but to turn to Christian support groups held in churches, synagogues are finally opening their doors to help addicts with a Jewish perspective. Jewish organizations have formed to help treat addicts, to perform community outreach, to spread awareness of the problem of addiction and to raise money to help further their efforts. Some groups are even taking the 12 steps, traditionally a Christian-oriented approach to treating addiction, and modifying them for Jewish addicts. The problem of addiction is one that is widespread and that does not discriminate by religion or anything else. Anyone can be susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, and this fact needs to be recognized so that everyone who needs help can get access to it. When the stigma and shame are removed from the disease of addiction, we can finally work toward defeating it.