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How Can Addiction Be Controlled?

smokingHow Can Addiction Be Controlled?

by Rav B. Horovitz

Addiction is a harmful, excessive and irrational dependence upon alcohol, food, drugs, smoking, sex or gambling, which seems almost impossible to control.  It is a compulsion akin disease.

The Bible, and the Rabbis of the Talmud, provide insight into the seemingly innocuous start of the addictive process:

"Woe unto those that draw out vice with thin weak cords, until they become cart ropes of iniquity" (Isiah 5:18).  The Rabbis declare: At first the Inclination to vice is a visitor, then he becomes a guest, and afterwards he becomes the master of the house.

"The L-rd will remove from you all sickness" (Deuteronomy 7:15).  "This is the Evil inclination, which is sweet at first, but bitter in the end."

The Jewish attitude toward pleasure is positive.  The Rabbis declare that a person will have to give an account to G-d for every pleasurable opportunity in which he did not indulge.  The Nazarite had to bring a sin-offering for having vowed not to drink wine (Numbers 6:11), which was made to bring joy to the heart of man (Psalms 104:15).  The joyful sanctification of Sabbath and festival and of marriage is expressed by drinking wine and eating tasty foods.  The Rabbis mentions the beneficial effects of incense in the temple.  They encouraged the use of sweet smelling spices used at mealtimes.  Sexual pleasure within marriage is enhanced by following the Torah's marital pattern.

A dynamic social and business life demands taking risks, which adds excitement and adventure to life. But all these modes of behavior need to be controlled and sublimated so man will not become destructive.  This is achieved, not by asceticism, but by channeling these drives into controlled enjoyment, by combining them with religious service, by retaining an awareness of one's spiritual self while experiencing physical enjoyment, and by not allowing destructive over-indulgence.

It is therefore not surprising that alcoholism is almost unknown among religiously observant Jews.  The dietary, sexual and social code, and the injunction "you shall be holy" (Leviticus 19:12) can prevent harmful addictions to food, sex and gambling.  It is widely recognized by the most popular addiction treatment programs that at the root of many addictive behaviors is a moral, spiritual vacuum.  The rich moral and spiritual content of Jewish life weakens the inclination to get involved in addictive behaviors.

Drugs which are harmful to the normal body and mind were already prohibited in Talmudic times.  Drugs which may cause mental and physical damage to oneself and to offspring are a transgression against G-d's command to guard one's health (Deuteronomy 4:15).  Regular tobacco smoking is known to shorten the life of the smoker and of those who inhale his smoke.  A person so addicted should enter a treatment program.

Man has innate freedom to control his behavior.  The awareness of G-d as the Moral Absolute Who has given man a moral spirit will strengthen his Good Inclination - his conscience and spirit , to overcome the Inclination of Evil - his materialistic instincts.

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