A Sober Look At Alcoholism




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    A Sober Look At Alcoholism

    How do we properly deal with a husband/son returning home after stringently fulfilling this mitzva of getting drunk and not necessarily on Purim only? What is the problem with excessive drinking and what is escapism? • By Zeev Crombie, Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    By Zeev Crombie, Beis Moshiach Magazine

    We all know that it’s a great mitzva to be joyful, and we all know that “Wine, cheers man’s heart.” This mitzva takes on a special meaning on Purim, when the simcha of the whole year is not enough, and we have to fulfill Rava’s instruction: “A man is obligated to get intoxicated on Purim until he doesn’t know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai.’” (Megillah 7b).

    In accordance with Rava’s instruction, it is customary on Purim to take more “l’chaim” than usual, until sometimes the “l’chaim” is liable to go slightly out of proportion… There are those who take “l’chaim” on Purim “until he doesn’t know” how they arrived home…

    The Rebbe related to this subject in a sicha on Shabbos Parshas Shemini 5723 (1963). At the outset of the sicha, the Rebbe said that his relation to the subject will be “totally incomparable” even to that of the Rebbe Rayatz, who said in his time that mashke is a “repulsive thing…” The Rebbe stated further in the sicha that he is referring to those who are still “before the age of forty”, and particularly bachurim who are still before marriage who for them “there are additional reasons why they need to refrain from drinking mashke.” The Rebbe mentioned what the Rebbe Rayatz told about how there were Chassidim who farbrenged for “a whole winter night”, when there was only one reviis of hard liquor on the table. Still, at the end of the farbrengen, there was enough left to pour back into the bottle. As the sicha continued, the Rebbe instituted his well-known gezeira, the official limit on the acceptable amount of mashke consumption, i.e., even at “joyous events, including weddings, they should not say ‘l’chaim’ more than three times specifically on small glasses, in a manner that all three ‘l’chaims’ together will not be more than a small majority of a reviis.” The Rebbe then also spoke about those who were “after forty years”, and in connection with drinking on Purim. See there in length.


    The problem with excessive alcohol consumption is not limited to farbrengens, as it is stated in Medrash Tanchuma (Parshas Noach 13): “Our Rabbis of blessed memory stated: When Noach came to plant a vineyard (upon leaving the Teiva), the Satan came and stood before him. He asked him: “What are you planting?” Noach answered: “A vineyard.” The Satan said to him: “What is its nature?” Noach replied: “Its fruits are sweet, whether moist or dry, and one produces a wine from them that causes the heart of man to rejoice, as it is written: ‘And wine, which cheers man’s heart.’” (Tehillim 104:15). The Satan suggested: “Come, let’s both be partners in this vineyard.” And Noach replied: “Certainly.”

    What did Satan do? He brought a lamb and slaughtered it beneath the vineyard. Afterwards, he brought a lion and slaughtered it there, and after that, he obtained a pig and slaughtered it, and then a monkey and slaughtered it under the vineyard. Their blood seeped into the earth, moistening (the vineyard) from their blood.

    The Satan hinted to Noach that before drinking wine, man is as innocent as a sheep that knows nothing, … If he drinks a moderate amount of wine, he believes himself to be as strong as a lion, boasting that no one in all the world is his equal. However, when he drinks more than he should, he behaves like a pig, wallowing about in urine and performing other base acts. After he becomes completely intoxicated, he behaves like a monkey, standing and dancing about, laughing hysterically, using profanity, completely unaware of what he is doing.”

    The Medrash concludes: “All this happened to the righteous Noach! If the righteous Noach, whom the Holy One, blessed be He, praised, could behave in such a fashion when intoxicated, how much more so could any other man!”


    From this Medrash, you can learn that drinking alcohol is liable to be extremely problematic. How is it possible to know if one’s drinking habits have turned into something problematic?

    To answer this question, it is customary to ask the following questions: Does it happen that you sometimes drink a greater quantity than you had planned? How many times have you tried to reduce the amount you drink without success? Do you invest more time in drinking than you would want? Does drinking harm your relationships with your family and friends? Does your drinking cause problems in your work and additional pursuits that are important to you? Does drinking adversely affect other aspects of your life? Does drinking come at the expense of activities that carry importance for you? Do you drink today more than you drank in the past? Do you feel bad when you don’t manage to drink? Do you feel upset, restless, have insomnia, etc., when you don’t drink?

    If you gave a positive answer to (at least) a portion of these questions, it’s possible that you have a problem that requires treatment.


    All the above is for someone who perhaps drinks too much. What can be done regarding someone dear to us who drinks a little too much?

    In the past, it was customary to try and compel him to drink less through “tough love.” “Tough love” meant setting clear limitations and harsh sanctions (what we call today: “raising the fines”), until he stopped drinking. While this approach apparently should work, the reality of the situation doesn’t always let that happen. Increasing fines doesn’t necessarily cause people to stop drinking, or activities important to them.

    Consuming alcohol, along with other addictive activities of a similar nature, provides an answer to a strong, deep, and emotional need that won’t disappear with fines and sanctions. Despite the accepted maxim in our social order that “what doesn’t go with force will go with more force”, this approach is not an appropriate solution for every problem. The use of strength (through setting stiff sanctions, punishments, boundaries, et al.) doesn’t necessarily achieve the objective. As opposed to what we would expect – the use of force is liable only to make the problem even worse because people don’t like it when they are forced to change. When we use force, it merely makes the addict feel worse, something that will probably lead him to drink more. Sometimes, the use of force can even cause him to rebel.

    People change only when you manage to convince them that the change is for their own good, and then they will understand for themselves that they need to change. Excessive drinking is used as a method for dealing with painful feelings of solitude, a lack of love and a sense of value, etc. The use of alcohol is a way to “escape” the pain.

    The frum psychiatrist, Dr. Avraham J. Twerski, who passed away about two years ago at the ripe old age of ninety, made use of the concept of “escapism” as an expression for avoiding the painful reality that stands as the foundation of all forms of addiction.

    If we really want to help a family member to change, the way to do this is by creating a relationship of trust with him. Thus, he will feel that we truly want what’s best for him, and not just how it will appear to the neighbors.

    If we speak to him from our heart, not from our ego, there’s a chance that our words will be accepted, as I was personally privileged to hear from the Rebbe himself during a yechidus: “Words that come from the heart enter the listener’s heart and do what is required.” If the words come from a loving heart, they will get the job done, and if they don’t, perhaps they didn’t come from “a loving heart”, but rather from our ego…

    When a family member will feel that we’re telling him these things out of a sense of true love and caring (and it’s not enough that we tell him that we’re saying this with warmth and compassion, he has to feel that this is really the case…), there’s a chance that he will be convinced to stop drinking to excess.


    Zeev Crombie is a social worker and couples’ therapist (MSW), specializing in behavioral addictions (MA), doctoral student in couples therapy at the University of Haifa. For comments and questions, call +972-54-782-2686 or send an e-mail to [email protected]


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