In our orthodox community, where spirituality, piety and Jewish identity are central to one’s character, those of our children who are non-practicing or who conceal struggles with belief are especially vulnerable to substance abuse driven by feelings of guilt, self-loathing, or social isolation. Like in other communities, some may turn to intoxicants in order to palliate feelings of unworthiness brought on by personal failings or interpersonal rejection. Either way, cases of substance abuse among Jewish youth are often crises of spirit.
When properly equipped with basic knowledge about addiction – its roots, its manifestations, and its corrosive effect on family and community – a community rabbi may assume significant roles in the intervention and treatment process.
Identifying the substance abuse
Your rabbi may have a long-term ongoing acquaintance with both you and the members of your family. In his position as religious leader, he accompanies the family over time, through simchas and tragedies, and often attains a sense of your family dynamic and culture. In his position as spiritual caretaker, he has a professional obligation to actively engage you in times of spiritual crisis. For all the reasons above, your rabbi may be uniquely qualified to help your child, and your family, recognize addiction and set out on a path towards coping and healing. Your rabbi may help steer your family toward effective professional intervention.
Advocating appropriate professional treatment
In the face of parental confusion or resistance, an experienced communal rabbi can effectively advocate the addicted child’s need for therapeutic intervention. If equipped properly, he can authoritatively direct the addict and family to various kinds of substance abuse treatment, suggest an acceptable therapeutic community, or treatment hub and, later, provide reassurance that a particular program is suitably matched to your family’s religious values and ritual standards.
Giving spiritual counsel to the addict and family
Many parents and siblings experience anger or hostility toward the addicted child for bringing shame on the family. Some believe that the child’s behavior warrants active censure – perhaps, even requiring that he be removed from their lives. Your rabbi can provide spiritual perspective, laying out the halachic view of parental responsibility and reasserting the addicted child’s redeemability in the eyes of God. At different times, the addict himself may seek out such reassurance from a rabbi that he or she trusts.
Partnering for post-recovery reintegration
A truly effective recovery program anticipates its patients’ post-recovery needs and acts with the family to ensure long-term reinforcement of recovery gains. Reintegration of your recovering child into everyday life requires a strong spiritual, emotional and practical support network. To that end, a partnership between the recovery program’s treatment staff and the communal rabbi is key to maintaining and building on the spiritual growth achieved in recovery, as well as to bolstering the family’s fortitude throughout the reintegration process.
Your communal rabbi can, and should, be a powerful positive force in successfully dealing with your child’s substance abuse.Please share this post!