Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Sivan 5766 - June 8, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

by A. Ross

Addiction is the compulsive pursuit and overwhelming involvement with a specific activity. The addiction may be gambling, or the use of almost any substance. A person might become addicted to shopping, or to computers. In simple terms, addiction is an entrenched habit, which is very difficult to break. An addict might manipulate, lie or steal in order to procure a drug to which he is addicted. Addiction means that he is dependent on a certain substance.

There is psychological dependence, which is based on the desire to induce pleasure, or to relieve tension or discomfort. Psychological dependence acts on the brain, and has one or more of the following effects: elation, euphoria and other pleasurable mood changes; produces feelings of increased mental and physical ability; reduces anxiety and tension; alters sense perceptions. Psychological dependence can be very powerful, and difficult to overcome.

There is also physical dependence, but physical dependence does not always accompany psychological dependence. With drugs that cause physical dependence, the body adapts to the drug when it is used continuously, leading to tolerance, and to withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped. Tolerance is the need to progressively increase the dose of a drug to produce the effect originally achieved with a smaller dose.

The common addictions, which are the cause of so much heartbreak, are smoking, drinking, drugs and gambling. However, there are many more, such as caffeine, food, the Internet or ordinary computer games, telephone conversations, to mention a few.

Much attention has been given to the so-called addictive personality, the ones who are at risk. People who are addicted often have low self esteem, are immature, easily frustrated and have difficulty in solving personal problems. Addicts may try to escape reality and have been described as being fearful, withdrawn and depressed. There are other predisposing conditions, such as heredity and social pressures. Scientists have not yet discovered why two men can experiment with the same drug, and one becomes addicted while the other remains free.

Narcotics are powerful pain relievers, and include morphine, heroin and hydromorphon, among others. People who are given these drugs to treat serious pain, have little risk of becoming addicted, if they use the medication as prescribed. Doctors are only too aware of the dangers of addiction. Cancer patients, who need to take these drugs for months or even years, hardly ever develop psychological addiction, although they do become physically dependent on them to relieve their pain. Following a serious operation, the pain will continue for a while, yet after the first few days, doctors will prescribe milder pain killers, in order to avoid addiction. The Family section in this paper is not the place to write about the widespread drug addiction and abuse throughout the Western world, and how various governments contend with the phenomenon in their societies.

Prescription drugs used to treat anxiety and induce sleep, can cause both psychological and physical dependence. Most people addicted to these drugs began by taking them for medical reasons. Sometimes a doctor may prescribe high doses for long periods, in order to treat a severe problem, which promotes dependency. At other times, people may use more medication than is prescribed. In either case, addiction can result in as little as two weeks of continual use.

Peer pressure plays a large part in youngsters becoming addicted to smoking. If either parent is, or was, a smoker, their children are more likely to take up the habit than children of non-smokers. Most of us do not eat only because we are hungry; food fulfills some other needs in us as well. Even a baby cries for food because the close presence of his mother satisfies some urge in him, besides soothing his hunger.

It is normal to eat a good meal two or even three times a day. It becomes an addiction when, after we have eaten a large meal, we eat the food left on everyone else's plate, with the legitimate excuse that one may not waste food; and then begin looking for more to eat. Addicts might even look for food in the middle of the night, or eat cold food from the fridge at all hours of the day, to fill their craving. Children of overweight parents are more at risk, although anyone can become a food addict.

Alcoholics are not such a rare phenomenon among our people any more. Like smokers, many drinkers think they can stop any time they want. If they really want to stop, they will first have to admit to themselves that they have a problem.

Anyone who drinks more than five cups of tea or coffee a day, on a regular basis, is addicted to caffeine. A student or yeshiva bochur who is desperate to stay awake for one particular night might down a few cups of strong coffee. This is not an addiction, if it occurs once or even twice. But habits are easy to form and difficult to break.

There are other addictions, which might not cause any physical harm, but are dangerous habits all the same and difficult to overcome. Computer addiction has played havoc with harmony in the home. Obsessive shopping is also an addiction, which is not in any medical dictionary. It is a common malady in the 'civilized' world, that one can pay for an item with a credit card, without thinking of the cost. People run up debts which they have no way of repaying. Although not as addictive as gambling, running up major debts, knowing that there is no way to repay them, has ruined many families.

One final addiction which might be worth mentioning is work. A workaholic is one who may be admired by his boss or by colleagues or by neighbors if the addict is a housewife, but who seems to use work as a form of escapism. Like other addicts, a workaholic cannot be cured, unless he himself feels that his way of life is not really something praiseworthy, and decides that he wishes to change his lifestyle.

Treatment for these various addictions depends on the addict, as mentioned before. If he declares that there is no problem, it is almost impossible to break the habit. A heavy smoker might decide to stop 'cold turkey,' i.e. he declares that from now on he is not going to touch another cigarette. Although he has stopped smoking every Shabbos since he became addicted, he knew that he could smoke again the minute Shabbos was out. This time he has stopped for good, he says. He is going to have severe withdrawal symptoms after two or three days. He may become depressed, irritable, unable to sleep at night and develop a large appetite, because his mouth is used to being occupied. Some ex-smokers chew gum, others wear a nicotine patch and some even put a plastic cigarette between their lips. In time, the craving will leave them, but the danger is always there that they might revert.

Alcoholics and drug dependents frequently have to be hospitalized, because their withdrawal symptoms are so severe. Group therapy, like Weight Watchers or Alcoholics Anonymous, is fairly effective, but the possibility is always there that the addict will succumb to temptation. Once again, he has to be determined that he wants to stop. A woman took her ten-year-old son to a non-Jewish hypnotist who declared that he could cure the boy of nail biting. The hypnotist insisted that he should be alone with the boy to effect the cure. The woman cancelled the appointment. She was afraid of what would be said to the child while he was under hypnosis. Nevertheless, hypnosis is an option for compulsive spenders and shoppers, if they really wish to straighten out their lives.

Different approaches to conquer the habit work for different people. However, they all have one thing in common: The addict must admit to himself that he has a problem. An Internet addict who wants to save his marriage will be obliged to abandon his computer in the same way as a smoker has to dispose of his cigarettes. Asking the One Above for help really does work, especially as all addicts know in their hearts that addiction is an illness and leads to more illnesses. Telling friends that from now on you are going to stop this particular habit is quite a deterrent when you are tempted.

Concentrate on the future, on the time when you will be 'clean' and free from this drive which fills your mind constantly (I'm out of sleeping pills; the cigarette shop is closing soon, I must get this new chandelier today, although we owe the grocer $1000 dollars and he refuses us more credit). Believe firmly that an addict cannot give his complete attention to his work or to his studies. He is destroying his life and that of his family. Believe in yourself that you are strong enough to defeat your addiction: use professional counseling if you need it and pray for success in this tough battle.


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