Jews & Alcoholics Anonymous

Dispelling the myths that Jews aren't alcoholics and that Alcoholics Anonymous is only for Christians

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The following article discusses the problem of alcohol and drug abuse among Jews, suggests ways to address the issue, and shows that Alcoholics Anonymous is consistent with Jewish values. At the end, the author answers some common questions about AA. Reprinted with permission from the website of Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others.

"For whatever I did or failed to do which contributed to my daughter's alcoholism problem I will always bear the responsibility and perhaps the guilt. But the fact that my daughter is now a devout Catholic and has left the faith of her family, for that I hold the rabbinate responsible. It is not as though she was primarily attracted to another religion, but rather by default of the Jewish resources."

Full and empty bottles

At a weekend retreat for Jewish alcoholics, chemically dependent people, and their family members, this mother went on to explain:

"My daughter was an excellent student, and when her grades began to drop we knew something had to be wrong. We eventually discovered she was drinking too much. When she failed her courses she sought help for her problem in an alcoholism clinic. She told her counselor that she felt spiritually empty, and he advised her to see a rabbi. The rabbi she consulted admonished her to control her drinking, and told her that it was a disgrace for a Jew to drink excessively. The rabbi offered no response to her feelings of spiritual bankruptcy. 

"Her counselor then told her of a priest who was knowledgeable in alcohol problems. She began to see this priest, and progressed well in her recovery. She is now happily married, eight years sober, and a devout Catholic."

This is a serious indictment, but one which I believe has great validity. Nowhere in the years of my training to become a rabbi was I taught anything about alcoholism, nor do I recall any attention given to the problem either in rabbinic journals or at conventions. 


Alcohol Abuse by Jews

It may be convenient to adhere to the myth that Jews cannot be alcoholics, but this denial constitutes a serious dereliction of duty. To dispel this myth, one need only ask proprietors of country clubs, who just several decades ago shunned Jewish affairs because they could not make their profits on the sale of alcoholic beverages. These same facilities now welcome Jewish business because the drinking is more than adequate to turn a profit. 

Whereas the incidence of alcoholism among Jews, while no longer negligible, may indeed be less than in the non-Jewish population (a rather hollow consolation), the same cannot be said of chemical dependency involving other mood altering drugs. Among the older population, addiction to tranquilizers, sedatives, and pain pills is quite common; and among the young adults and adolescents the problem of marijuana dependency as well as abuse of other street drugs is rampant. 

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Rabbi Abraham Twerski

Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D. is a nationally acknowledged expert in the field of alcoholism and chemical dependency, and is currently the Medical Director of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, as well as an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.