On Sunday evening, October 17, the virtual program Lets Get Real with Coach Menachem featured shiur #76 with two professionals in the field of addictions. Coach Menachem introduced the program with the statement that “No matter where anybody is, there is hope.”

Next, Nathaniel Nagelblatt, LCSW, staff counselor and a Clinical Outreach Manager for Recovery at the Crossroads, spoke first. He shared that addiction is prevalent, but nobody talks about it. It is important to discover the underlying reasons or events beneath the addiction. Addiction is a maladaptive behavior, but it’s a human behavior. It is symptomatic of someone struggling to cope.

Dr. Lew Abrahams, experienced clinical psychologist, taught that there are two major areas of addiction. There is substance abuse, with things like alcohol, drugs, food, etc., and there is process addiction, with behaviors like gambling or risk taking. It is vital for the people around the addict to help themselves and the addict. Addiction is a disease. In the frum community, there has been a lot of progress, but there is still so much work to be done. “The addict’s addiction affects everyone around him. Studies have shown that family members’ emotional state is effected profoundly.” The disease doesn’t just affect the addict. The family and friends need support. The addict’s guilt and shame feed into relapsing.

A family member needs to get help, no matter what the addiction is of his or her family member. Family members have to stop focusing only on changing the addict’s behavior. Every 12-step program has programs for a spouse or children. There is, for example, Al-Anon for families of alcoholics. You can’t wait for the addict to decide to get help. An alcoholic is someone who has problems when drinking. “If there are consequences to a person’s drinking, that’s not social drinking.”

Dr. Abrahams shared that when parents don’t serve alcohol on Friday night or they do but don’t let the children have any, this is a great opportunity to teach them about substances and substance abuse.

He acknowledged that there are some people with an addictive personality. For many, food is the first substance of addiction. There can be a genetic predisposition to addiction. It can skip a generation. In past generations, words like alcoholic were never mentioned, as there was so much shame associated with it. Some people have many objects of addiction and process addictions. It has to do with when the dopamine in the brain gets activated. Losing in gambling can enhance the desire to gamble.

Often, when a person stops one addiction, there is a propensity to move to another addiction. If a child witnesses his parent using maladaptive behaviors for escape, then the child learns that this behavior is a way to cope with stress. Dr. Abrahams shared that children take on certain roles in a family where a parent is an addict. There is the child who is the hero, the child who is the scapegoat, the child who is the mascot clown. Each role has a tendency to follow children into marriage.

After this, Nathaniel Nagelblatt shared that an addict is someone whose life has problems created by use of a substance. They experience consequences from its use. Those consequences are associated with loss or problems. “People lose because of addiction.” Loss can be emotional or concrete. A person can lose his family and he can eventually lose his life. “It’s never too late, as long as you are alive to stop.”

Key signs to see if someone is recovered from an addiction is to note if he stopped lying and if his relationship with his family improved. In the 12-step-programs for addiction, there is definitely a component of spirituality. It talks about Hashem. The goal is for the addict to realize that he needs to get support and that eventually he will give support to others.

Then, Dr. Abrahams fielded questions about adult addictions. He shared that there are trained therapists and support groups for people dealing with these addictions. He shared how there are three A’s with this and they are: access, anonymity, and affordability. These three can make these addictions too available and easy to obtain. Filters are helpful, but they do not solve the problem. A person with this type of addiction must seek professional help to fix it.

The person who is addicted needs to ask himself what he gains from this addiction. He needs to address the underlying issues that brought him to this addiction.

Nathaniel Nagelblatt shared that he was impressed by the people who called in live, and the 300 viewers who stayed up to midnight to listen to this talk. “It takes courage to be honest and say I need help.”

Contact information for Nathaniel Nagelblatt is 347-414-4228 or website for Recover At the Crossroads.

 By Susie Garber