Information on Jewish Faith-Based Substance Abuse Treatment

Created On Thursday, 04, February 2016
Modified On Friday, 17, September 2021

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People from all walks of faith struggle with addiction and substance abuse. Many people within the Jewish religion battle addiction. Unfortunately, the vast majority do not seek help when they need it. Within the United States are many different faith-based rehabilitation programs, which include those for the Jewish faith. According to Pew Research, there are approximately 4.2 million American adults who say they are Jewish by religion, which represents 1.8% of the U.S. adult population. Unfortunately, there is a stigma against addiction in the Jewish community, and much of it stems from guilt and shame surrounding substance abuse within the Jewish religion. Experiencing this certainly prevents those struggling with addiction from reaching out for help.

According to an article titled Alcohol and Substance Use in the Jewish Community: A Pilot Study, a large portion of the North American Jewish community views alcoholism as an illness, has a strong fear of alcoholics, and blames individuals with addictions for their condition. Jewish rehabilitation centers are those that incorporate the Jewish faith into treatment. The religion of Judaism is considered by Jewish people to represent the covenant that God has established with the children of Israel. The practices within Judaism are designed to follow God’s laws and to connect the individual more closely with God. Unfortunately, some practicing Jews believe that people of their faith could not be affected by addiction and substance abuse.

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Within the Jewish community, there is a tendency to deny or suppress the reality of addiction. However, more people in these communities have become increasingly aware of the problem of substance abuse. The problem is being notices not only among mainstream Jews but also among the most traditional Orthodox Jews. The rehabilitation and support systems for addiction within the Jewish community are designed to for people of the Jewish faith. Other groups within the community make an effort to educate community members about the reality of addiction, breaking through myths of misconceptions.

The Myths of Misconceptions and the Prevalence of Substance Abuse in the Jewish Community

According to the article mentioned above, talking about substance use in the Jewish community, Jewish individuals are likely to be impacted by addiction, similar to other ethnicities. However, there are numerous stereotypes that Jews cannot have addictions. Because of these stereotypes, Jews affected by addiction may find themselves with limited support options. Per the study, 41.2% of respondents reported knowing someone is currently struggling with addiction. Also, 23.5% of respondents reported having a family history of alcohol or drug abuse. When participants were asked what help they would ask for, 8.8% said they would contact a rabbi or priest, 2.9% would not seek help, and 5.9% sought private counseling.

For many generations within these communities, there has been a stigma against addiction. However, problems with alcohol, marijuana, and illegal drugs are known. Unfortunately, the stigma is based on some common misconceptions. Some of the misconceptions are the Jewish faith protects its followers against addiction, and observant Jews do not drink or abuse illicit drugs. Also, Jews who do abuse drugs or alcohol do so because they have been alienated from their religious heritage or because they have lost faith. Other misconceptions are addiction or substance abuse is a sign of moral failure, and those who abuse drugs or alcohol should feel guilty. Because so many believe that addiction is not a problem within the Jewish community, there is no need for faith-based recovery services.

Unfortunately, because of the stigma and misconceptions, many people with addiction do not receive the treatment they need. Per the study mentioned earlier, 17.6% of respondents stated they had used drugs other than those required for medical reasons. Also, 14.7% of these participants stated they could not get through a day without using drugs, and 2.9% reported neglecting their family because of their drug use. Addictive behaviors do not discriminate between individuals from different genders, religious backgrounds, or on the basis of other demographic barriers.

When is Jewish Drug and Alcohol Rehab the Best Option?

According to a research paper titled Addiction: Alcohol and Substance Abuse in Judaism, the author says—“There are particular difficulties in discovering the prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse and addiction in the Jewish community. Chief among these is denial” (p 975 2. Prevalence). The problems associated with alcohol and illicit drug addiction are increasing. The rates may be lower than in other groups, but it is difficult to be confident about the prevalence due to the ongoing denial of the problem.

When family and friends begin to notice the signs of addiction, it is time to intervene. Jewish drug and alcohol treatment centers are an excellent option at any stage of addiction. Some of the signs of addiction include a feeling that the person has to use drugs regularly, daily, or even several times a day. Addicts have an intense urge for the drug, and this often takes priority. As the addiction progresses, they need more of the drug to get the same effect and begin taking larger amounts of the drug over a longer period.

Additionally, anyone addicted to drugs or alcohol makes certain they maintain a supply of the drug and spend money on the drug even they do not have money to spend. Addictions create problems with meeting obligations and work responsibilities and cutting back on social or recreational activities because of the addiction. An addict will continue to use the drug even though they know it causes problems physically and mentally. Overall, if they fail to attempt to stop using the drug, this is a clear indicator they have an addiction.

It is important to recognize these problems, especially within the family dynamic. The individual may begin to experience problems at school or work, such as frequently missing school or work, or a sudden disinterest in school activities or work, or a drop in grades or work performance. Also, there are noticeable physical health issues, a lack of energy and motivation, weight loss, or gain. Family members may notice changes in behavior and things that are completely out of the ordinary.

How Do Jewish Substance Abuse Treatment Centers Operate?

Treatment for addiction is most effective when it involves a well-rounded process using traditional and non-traditional approaches. The treatment process should focus on the mind, body, and spirit and help the addict by treating all aspects of their addiction. Also, addiction treatment is most effective when it integrates the individual's culture and spiritual beliefs into the program. Overall, programs that incorporate the belief system and culture of Judaism would offer specific services for individuals of this faith. Also, like most other rehabilitation centers, there are standard protocols that are used to treat addiction. The rehabilitation process is the same, and it would begin with an assessment, which, in this case, could also include a spiritual assessment.

An assessment helps the addict or family determine the extent of addiction and what methods of treatment are the best option. Assessment is beneficial for the family and addict and could be done over the phone or in-person. Following an assessment, the first step with treatment is a medically supervised detox or conventional detox. Typically, the extent and severity of addiction determine what method of detox is required. Medical detox or withdrawal management treats addicts that are struggling with opioid addiction, severe alcoholism, or prescription drug abuse. Withdrawal management uses medication to control withdrawal symptoms and manage underlying medical conditions. Conventional detox programs treat most forms of street drug addiction where an addict does not experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Most Jewish treatment centers following detox incorporate a variety of forms of counseling and therapy with the spiritual element of treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common approach used along with other forms of counseling. Programs also utilize support from religious leaders, family members, friends, and peer support groups like the 12-step groups. The incorporation of faith-based principles is essential and does help an addict have better success after treatment. Some Judaism based recovery programs incorporate principles directly from the Torah or other aspects of the religion into the program. The length of time needed in treatment depends on the individual and extent of addiction.

Long-term drug rehabilitation usually lasts three to six months, whereas short-term programs last three to six weeks. Outpatient treatment is also available and is usually more accessible and affordable to most families. Outpatient drug rehabilitation is an excellent option for someone that is still working but has family support. Following the stay at any treatment center, the next step would involve aftercare support. Aftercare support includes sober living and peer support, based within the Jewish religion. Aftercare is an important transitional phase for a recovering addict and ensures a smooth transition back to society again.

Despite the stigma surrounding Jews and addiction, there are more members of the community and community leaders recognizing the problem and taking steps to help those in need. The stigma emerged from decades of denial that alcohol and drug are Jewish problems. The rapid social change and technology with communication are factors that have contributed to the increased consumption of alcohol and recreational drugs within the Jewish community, per the article mentioned earlier Addiction: Alcohol and Substance Abuse in Judaism. Jewish communities have responded to include educations initiatives to provide education and prevention to children, along with helplines and treatment programs. The twelve-step approach is widely supported and generally argued to be consistent with Jewish spirituality, as mentioned by the author in the article.

What Are the Alternatives to Jewish Substance Abuse Treatment?

Alternatives to Jewish-based rehabilitation programs would include non-secular programs. Not every substance use treatment center incorporates a religious or spiritual component. However, treatment is sometimes more successful when the mind, body, and spirit are rehabilitated. The rehabilitation process is the same, and it begins with an assessment, detox, inpatient or outpatient care, and aftercare support. There are a variety of therapies, both traditional and non-traditional approaches. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among people aged 12 or older in 2019, 1.5% of the 21.6 million people addicted to drugs received treatment.

For example, some traditional approaches that are part of non-secular programs include cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a process of helping addicts recognize and change their maladaptive behaviors. The approach is helpful because it is paired with other techniques, such as spiritual therapy. Contingency management is also commonly used to treat a variety of addictions. The method provides material rewards as motivation for desirable behaviors, such as maintaining sobriety. Motivational interviewing is a method of resolving ambivalence in recovering individuals to allow them to embrace rehabilitation treatment. The average person who enters a treatment program is often resistant to the idea, and it takes time to help understand the need for help.

Along with standard therapy, approaches are 12-step methods and peer support, holistic programs, experiential therapy, such as music or art therapy, wilderness and adventure therapy, and equine therapy. Many recovered addicts saw success with a spiritual component, and well-rounded treatment is usually the best option.

Common Terminology Surrounding Jewish Substance Abuse Treatment

Term Definition
Judaism is an ethnic religion comprising the collective religious, cultural, and legal tradition and civilization of the Jewish people. Judaism is the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel.
Torah among the Jewish people, the Torah constitutes the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, traditionally thought to have been composed by Moses.
Orthodox Jews Orthodox Judaism is the traditional branches of contemporary rabbinic Judaism. Theologically, it is chiefly defined by regarding the Torah, both written and oral, as literally revealed by God to Moses.
Observant Jews are those who observe Jewish law as compared to someone who is Jewish by virtue of being born Jewish.
Rabbi is a spiritual leader or religious teacher of Judaism. One becomes a Rabbi by being ordained by another Rabbi, following a course of study of Jewish texts.
Addiction Stigma typically, these are negative attitudes and beliefs about addiction and those struggling with addiction. For example, it could include discrimination, prejudice, judging, labeling, isolating, and stereotyping.
12-Step Therapy these programs that are mutual aid organizations for the purpose of recovery from substance addictions, behavioral addictions and compulsions.
Spiritual Counseling is a type of counseling that focuses on a person's spiritual side. Some people might also seek out the guidance of spiritual counselors when they need help in life.

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Marcel Gemme, DATS - Author

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Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.


Michael Leach, CCMA - Medically Reviewed on September 17, 2021

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Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.