October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, and the best way to prevent substance abuse is to talk about it. We must acknowledge that it is also a problem for us, the Jewish community. 

Jewish people die every day of alcoholism, opioid addiction and other substance use disorders. 

While the numbers are staggering (about 130 U.S. citizens die every day from opioid overdose and 260 from alcoholism) these are not just numbers to me. I lost my brother Jeff to an accidental opioid overdose in 2010 and my best friend Jerry to alcoholism in 2012. Jeff and Jerry were members of our Arizona Jewish community and their passing led to my mission, passion and purpose of preventing substance abuse and treating those suffering from substance use disorders. 

Drinking alcohol is not bad — it is part of our Jewish culture. But for some drinking alcohol is devastating and for some even fatal. It’s not how often one drinks or how much one drinks; it’s what happens when one drinks that determines if they are a heavy drinker or perhaps an alcoholic — in other words, if their drinking is not a problem, then it’s not a problem. 

Let’s prevent substance abuse by talking about it instead of covering it up. 

It’s not a shanda. Addiction is an illness, not a moral or ethical problem or a lack of willpower. There should be no guilt or shame associated with having the disease of alcoholism or addiction. Just as a diabetic is not responsible for having the disease of diabetes, an alcoholic is not responsible for having the disease of addiction. However, the diabetic and the alcoholic are responsible for their treatment.   

In addition to thinking addiction is a shanda, we are often in denial about it. Denial, being a symptom of alcoholism, shields prevention efforts. Education and awareness can lower this shield of denial. You may know of someone that may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, and the good news is that professional help is readily available. 

I have had the privilege of helping alcoholics, addicts and their families since 1998. Below are some steps you or your loved ones can use to help prevent substance abuse in your home.

Community: Isolation is a symptom of alcoholism and addiction. Having a healthy support group such as a weekly sober Shabbat, regular attendance at the JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others) meeting, regular attendance at synagogue or 12-step meetings and having close sober friends are effective prevention and treatment methods. 

Routine: Those in active addiction often have neglected the basics of good health such as sleep, exercise and eating well. A good night’s rest is easier with a nighttime routine that may include meditation, herbal tea, essential oil, a night mask, a weighted blanket and a high-quality mattress. Medically appropriate exercise such as weight training, yoga, water aerobics and enjoyable physical recreational activities like hiking are important. Eat healthy and nutritious meals — if we eat food as medicine then we are less likely to eat medicine as food. 

Comprehensive prevention: The most effective addiction and alcoholism treatment — and therefore prevention — is comprehensive and includes medical, clinical, holistic and spiritual modalities. An individual that may have an addiction problem should be very honest with their physician. Individual and or group therapy with a licensed professional counselor is recommended. Holistic care may include art therapy, equine therapy, music therapy, a favorite hobby or meditation.  

Addiction and alcoholism took my brother Jeff and my best friend Jerry, but there is hope. I have dozens of friends who have overcome their alcoholism and addictions and they are now living healthy, joyous and abundant lives. 

In honor of Jeff and Jerry I have dedicated my life to preventing and treating alcoholism and addictions. I hope that you are successful in preventing substance abuse and if I can help you it would be a mitzvah and an honor. JN

Mitch Prager is the founder and CEO of Soberman’s Estate.

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