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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. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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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Richard Glasgow July 27, 2016

free will Hashem has given us the spiritual power to achieve sobriety. It is up to the individual to use that power. Believe you can do it. Believe you will do it!
I am 30 years drug free in recovery after 20 years of heroin addiction Reply

Tovah WPB, FL via chabadinsouthbeach.com October 21, 2014

Thank you, Mark. I am going to have the negative impact conversation with her, ASAP! Reply

Mark California October 21, 2014

Hi Tovah, your friend needs to want to get help. To motivate her, you can ask how drugs are negatively impacting her life and remind her how things would be better without them. Hopefully, her motivation will lead her to accept a referral to see an American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) doctor in her neighborhood. ASAM doctors are more likely to correctly treat her addiction than a physician without specialty training. I'm not a member of ASAM, but have been practicing medicine long enough to know which way the wind blows. She will likely require residential treatment to detox her and get her stable enough to return to the community. G-d bless you for trying to help her. You may have to work on her for a while---don't give up. Reply

Tovah WPB, FL via chabadinsouthbeach.com 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. Reply

ANTHONY PERRY LONDON 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. Reply

Mark California 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. Reply

Zebeth 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 Reply

Norman Orlando, Fl. 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 Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA 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. Reply

Robert Kunkel St. Thomas VI 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, Reply

Anonymous August 22, 2014

This is great! Thank you so much for posting this! Reply

Troy Atlantic Beach, NC 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 Reply

Bernie Siegel, MD Connecticut 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. Reply

Fern Toronto August 21, 2014

Yes I am Jewish. I have been clean for 25 years. I have been to treatment in a 12 step program. The third step states "Made a decision to turn our will and our live over to the care of God as we understood him". I am alive and clean ! Reply

Chaya Sarah Omaha August 21, 2014

Addiction is a serious disease. My friend who is a Psychiatrist and works with people who have pain pill addictions told me that 50% of the population has a gene that is specific to addictive behaviors. He told me that he himself had the addiction. He says, not only do you have to connect with G-d and put your life into his hands with faith, but you have to help yourself. You help yourself by getting invovled with studying Torah with a group, get into a public AA group and just call your self an Alcoholic even if the addiction isn't alcohol because belonging to this group most of his patients are successful at beating the addiction if they stick to it. And believing your higher power, Hashem, is the one in control is Key. Reply

ANTHONY PERRY LONDON August 21, 2014

My friend Rabbi twerski is one of the leading authorities in the world on the subject of addiction, and he can be found on you tube talking on various different themes. Reply

Reuven Massachusetts 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. Reply

ANTHONY PERRY LONDON 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. Reply

scott israel 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 Reply

David Adler Sydney 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 Reply

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