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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.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Discussion (34)
October 19, 2014
A Friend In Need!
After reading the comment by Dr. Bernie Siegel, below, I just had to write...
My friend became addicted to prescription pain medication, following surgery & treatment for cancer. Although she is a 15 year survivor of cancer, she remains a drug addict. She has three beautiful daughters and two granddaughters and enjoys none of them. Her life revolves around her "pain" and how to keep it under control.

She attended yeshiva for 12 years and gave me all the religious guidance I ever had. I just don't know where to turn and how to get her the help she so desparately needs. Her fear of pain has kept her from rehab...After so many years of self-medicating, does she actually have any pain?

I refuse to believe that she is the only person to whom this has happened. This is truly a case of "when bad things happen to good people". I live in FL and she is in NJ. How can I help her? Please, if anyone has any ideas or suggestions, I am ready to act! Thank you for listening and best wishes for a Shanna Tovah.
Tovah
WPB, FL
chabadinsouthbeach.com
August 31, 2014
After reading the following comments, i must say i have to live and let live. I Feel contempt when i hear someone say they no longer attend 12 step meetings. However, all the readings have made me feel at home and in great company. I have never met any of you before, but you are my famuly brethren. I have been clean a long time. Rabbi Twerski has helped me no end. hugs handshakes, and best wishes. i love you all.
ANTHONY PERRY
LONDON
August 29, 2014
Shed light on the subject
Thank you Rabbi for your insights. In my experience as a physician, friend and family of many people with addiction, there are different therapies that work very well on treating addiction. I remember reading one study during medical school in which the VA followed about 1000 people with addiction for a year, and found that if they went to 2 or 3 12-step meetings a week, worked with a sponsor, and worked the steps, they had a 90% success rate. In my experience as a doc, friend and family member, that success rate is accurate. If one just goes to meetings and does not have a sponsor or work the steps, the success rate is very low. I use an analogy of the world's greatest athletes all have coaches despite being the best in their sport, because they realize they don't have eyes in the back of their head and a coach/sponsor can watch them and provide guidance on what needs to be done to be the best or stay the best.
Mark
California
August 23, 2014
Very insightfull and true. A person might stop lookong up to the hope on the top end of the rope and then slip and fall again, but the hope of escape is still at the top end of the rope. Hold on again and look up to be rescued, or choose not to and stay in the pit. So true aldo about the Mistery that's so much more than we can comprehend
Zebeth
August 22, 2014
Torah addresses addiction
Years ago I went to a big book meeting where the big book was analyzed by every line in it. Projection camera onto screen for a large meeting for all to participate. The big book taken apart Kinda like Torah study. What I realized was most everything said in the big book and in its "analyses" is in the Torah. We need to just open our mind to using Torah lessons as our basis of life (which is what we are supposed to do anyway as Jews) and relate those teachings to overcoming addictions.
I very rarely go to AA/NA meetings anymore as I find all I really need is in Torah. Yes, sometimes I need to relate to someone that is also in recovery and so I go to an occasional meeting. But what amazes me is the people who know me love hearing me relate Torah teachings, especially kabbalistic/Tanya lessons to addiction.
They rarely would have looked at "the devil" within themselves as their animal soul battling their g-dly soul for control.
To anyone battling addiction I say learn Tanya
Norman
Orlando, Fl.
August 22, 2014
Get The Help of Hashem and Break Addiction Through a Nazarite Vow
I recommend taking a Nazarite vow to help overcome addiction. pH is central to several addictions. That a Nazir shall not eat of the skins of the grapes (Numbers 6:4), is just one way to avoid fermented beverages, such that there is not even a hint of bitter alcohol. Another way a Nazarite may avoid pH given urges is via avoiding dead bodies as much as possible (Numbers 6:7). Science tells us of an organelle called a peroxisome, and that upon death, these organelles release peroxide, which is also similar in pH to alcohol, and thus may cause relapse.
Craig Hamilton
Sandwich, MA
August 22, 2014
I've devoted my retirement life to helping other addicts. One addict helping another addict is a powerful part of it. Your answer, Rabbi, is born if the truth. Thank you,
Robert Kunkel
St. Thomas VI
August 22, 2014
This is great! Thank you so much for posting this!
Anonymous
August 21, 2014
Brilliant, I too work a program of recovery. G-d is the higher power I have known and in struggles wanted to Un-Know. Ashamed, guilty and ego-driven was my lot in life until I came across a fellow whom nurtured me in spirit, re-kindled my concerns with the outwardly world and offered me the rope of solution to my problematic hole. He does not practice Torah, neither does a lot of my new fellows, but that is of no consequence. What matters is true selflessness that connects us to a higher power and a closeness to our serenity ultimately leaving us no time for the addiction if we remain in service to G-d and our community. Faith without works is a selfish thought but giving without expectations helps us remain free from the bondage of self and opens our eyes to true Heaven right in front of us. Building armor by Mitzvas. Shalom
Troy
Atlantic Beach, NC
August 21, 2014
labor pains
the addict is like a woman in labor and if premature you seek help to stop the labor but when full term you are capable of givingbirth to a new life and changing your addicted self into a new person free of addictions. If you need help seek it and ask for it until you are capable of delivering on your own.
Bernie Siegel, MD
Connecticut
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