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How to Beat Addiction

How to Beat Addiction

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Question:

What does the Torah teach about drug addiction and breaking free from it? For instance: Why does man beg G‑d for help, yet still remain in addiction? It is as if religions are powerless to defeat the monster of addiction. Can you give me some insight?

Answer:

You’re right. The only one who can defeat your addiction is yourself. But you can’t do that as long as you are the same person who got yourself into the addiction. You need to plug into something bigger than yourself to get that power to do it yourself.

It’s something that concerns all of us, because all of us are addicts—to our habits, to our emotions, to our limited perception of reality. The first step of progress out of our little boxes is to acknowledge, recognize, and surrender to a truth higher than our own.

This is why we say the Modeh Ani as soon as we open our eyes each morning, to say, “Although I feel myself to be the center of this world, I acknowledge Your presence as the Author of this world. You are bigger than me.” With those words, we punch a hole in an otherwise sealed existential prison. We open ourselves to freedom.

What kind of freedom? The freedom to navigate our own lives. The very concept of Torah implies that we all have free choice to direct our lives. We are never helpless. G‑d never gives us more than we can handle. But it’s always with the condition that we recognize how small we are—and so we don’t try to go it alone.

An addict, too, has free choice. He has the choice to continue going it alone—something akin to trying to dig himself out of a pit, or to pull himself up by his own hairs—or to call out to someone outside of his particular pit who can throw him a rope.

The mind that has sunk itself in a mess is lost to that mess. Only someone who is not bound and tied can untie the bonds of another and offer him a hand to pull him out. Ironically, it is that first move of surrender that allows the addict to win over his addiction.

Perhaps if you can tell me more about your experience with addiction, I may be able to target in on your concerns.

In the meantime, let me know if this helps.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman,
—Rabbis That Care, Chabad.org

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (21)
August 21, 2014
I grew up Lubavitch. I went astray from my faith and my people in my late teens. I joined the army,went to war and lived as I pleased. I came back from war with PTSD issues and self medicated myself with illegal narcotics. I have been clean since February but I am still struggling to reclaim my faith and my Jewish identity. G-d willing I will find myself again.
Reuven
Massachusetts
August 20, 2014
Addiction
My name is Anthony and I carry the illness of addiction. My illness needs to be medicated with the truth, and I need other addicts to help me, because collectively, they are a power greater than myself. To stop using, practising addicts need to wave the white flag and surrender.
ANTHONY PERRY
LONDON
August 20, 2014
Guilt and shame. Its all about guilt and shame. They produce a depressive cycle in certain people fueled by addictions. The cycle can start at any point in the circle. You do things under the influence that start the shame guilt cycle or you initially start your addiction to escape externally produced guilt and shame..etc...but once the addiction starts you are alone. Isolated. And the only place you can think of to stop the pain is the addiction.

12 step programs are about ending isolation through contact with g*d and creating a framework in ones life to process guilt and shame before it does its evil work and restarts the cycle.

The great thing about being Jewish is that all of that is accessible to any Jew who seriously observes the religion in a heartfelt manner. I'm not saying that good Jews can't become addicts...I'm just saying that the tools to achieve freedom from it are right in front of us all. Baruch Hashem
scott
israel
August 18, 2014
Explaining addiction
There is a superb book by Rabbi Shais Taub which gives an insightful Jewish perspective on addiction:
Title is God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction and it is available on Amazon for around $17
David Adler
Sydney
August 15, 2013
Getting HIgh Was Not an Option
"Although I feel myself to be the center of this world?" Many of us struggle with this from both sides. Thankfully I"m not an addict but I once was close to someone who was starting to be one. I don't think I"m the center of this world. I found out a long time ago, good or bad, that I"m far from the center of this world. But it is still impt for me to realize my uniqueness & importance. In a world where uniqueness is some times a trait that doesn't matter too many. I am who I am. I try to be kind &be hlpful.
The reason I was never an addict is partly because I never wanted to use a substance that would hurt my body. So I literally was very careful about what I did physically. The old saying " my body is a temple." We have just 1 body. G-d blessed us. The rest is up to us. It was my choice to Never use any drugs just for fun, getting high was never an option and still isn't.
Anonymous
July 15, 2013
pornography
the same goes for pornography, not ever a topic anyone talks about, but one of the most destructive and darkest addictions, i struggled with this for too long, you have to want to quit and you absolutely have to believe that G-d loves you and will never let you go, never look back and only speak positively. I wish someone told me this when I was struggling with this, I usually fell back into because I used to feel unloved and not valuable, but you are.

There was a Rabbi that once taught me that G-d is like our Father but you must think of it like you are His only son, that's how much He cares and loves. repent and make resolve, get rid of all triggers even material things, just throw them in the trash, by physically doing it there is nothing to go back to. Then when you want to return to it, you can always remember that you removed it for a good reason, and it's not worth returning to and it is always good to be faithful to Hashem your'e true beloved One.
Ruan
Capetown, South- Africa
May 25, 2011
Addiction
Realize that all addictions are based upon the perception of need. The "I must have [whatever] in order to maintain my life, my habit, my thrill, my feeling..." what weak creatures we are when we fail to recognize our responsibility is our ability to respond, and that we must strive to hold ourselves accountable to the higher standard: "to do no harm..." to ourselves or others... "if I am not for myself, who will be for me, if not now... when?" Maybe if we stopped and struggled with our self as much and with the same intensity as we sometimes do with others we could see through our own delusions and find a purpose for living beyond our own addictive behaviors... Addiction begins with ego, that we are too weak to stop and/or change, as well as that we are to strong to admit that we really must stop and change because we have a purpose greater than our own small mindedness. There is a difference between selfish behavior and self-centered behavior, neither serves others, or is thankful...
Reb Yehonatan Levy
Chicago/Tel Aviv, USA/Israel
May 5, 2011
addiction
G-d overcame three addictions for me, only for me to realize that I have three more addictions that G-d needs to overcome for me.

These addictions are like three beach balls that I try to push beneath the water. I can hold two down, just so the third one bounces up.

All I have is what the Torah says to me, and I have the twelve steps, yet sometimes I feel I am in a losing battle.

Any helpful advice?

G-d bless,
Anonymous
Norwood, OH
May 14, 2010
beautiful,noble,good,and pure...
Thank you Shirley!
Mirianna Thomas
Milwaukee, WI
May 13, 2010
beautiful, noble, good and pure
Gee, Mirianna, my heart goes out to you.

You want to be married to this man and yet you sort of fear being intimately connected to him.
If you can try to trust G-d more, it will not matter who you are with
or where you go
He is always always going before you.
I have to say that life is hard enough soemtimes
but to be with a partner who has a struggle with alcohol or drugs would be awful to me.
No one can tell you what to do, dear, all i can offer is my empathy and understanding of this situation.
Now, I could say this:
ask G-d in your prayers
This is what I say
If this is right and it is your will, please make it clear and show me a way to handle it
an encouragement, a sign
And if it is not your will that I do this,
please make it obvious
In Italy they have an expression "Tessa Dura"--it means hard head.
Before I got sober, I had a hard head and could not break down my psyche to change
Hashem has given me many miracles
Today and each day I have to be very careful to ask for directi
shirley
westlake vill, ca
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