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Alcoholism: The Wreckage In Its Wake

Daily newspapers in Israel have recently included an uptick in drunk driving related articles, invariably detailing the horrific carnage left in their wake. Various editorials have attempted to tackle the devastating effects of drunk driving, albeit leaving out its most basic element-the disease of alcoholism, the precursor to drunk driving.

In fact, as recently as October 16, 2011, the Jerusalem Post penned a blaring editorial, Halting drunk driving? The impetus for this particular article was the culmination of several shocking deaths caused by hit and run drivers, where the underlying subtext involved alcohol and drug abuse.

Most notably the high profile death of the son of retired deputy president of the Supreme Court, Justice Cheshin, was caused by a drunk driver in June 2010. The equally horrendous death of Tel Aviv resident, 25 year old Lee Zeitouni, in September of 2011, more than likely involved substance abuse. Tragically, there are far too many cases to enumerate – all around the world – however, most have one common thread-the link of alcohol or drugs, or the toxic mix of both.

While it is essential to be exposed to such articles, most of them unfortunately miss their intrinsic target. Approaching the issue from the back-end, by attempting to halt drunk driving through a system like “Good Fellas” (where a chauffeur is called and drives the impaired driver home in their own car) or “Designated Driver” (where one person in the group does not drink) should be viewed as a quick fix and a band-aid approach. As for the various alert systems which can now be installed in cars, they too are adjunct “therapies” to a very lethal societal problem. What they all have in common is that they not only miss the mark, but in a very real sense whistle past the graveyard.

As is most always the case, it takes mangled body parts to garner the reader’s attention. In this regard, it is imperative for people, wherever they reside, whatever their background, to grasp the basic dynamics of the disease of alcoholism.

In its essence, the wreckage laid bare on all our roads, due to this insidious disease, is basically a final stop (hopefully) for the alcoholic, a point in which their disease can no longer be ignored, nor hidden behind closed (family) doors. In light of the above, it is incumbent upon members of our communities to ask the salient questions. First and foremost, what are the loved ones of the alcoholic doing, or not doing, in relation to the addict in their midst? Do they believe someone just wakes up one morning, decides to play Russian roulette with a tonnage of metal, throwing caution to the wind, thereby, driving under the influence? Hardly. These are the absolute actions of an alcoholic or drug abuser.

Unless one is an island onto oneself, most alcoholics have families. They may have spouses, siblings, children and extended family. Most significantly, to make any headway in halting drunk driving, the concept of co-dependency/enabling (a topic which is for the most part unexplored, especially by those most in need) must be better understood.

At its core, according to Petros Levounis, MD, MA, Director, The Addiction Institute of New York and chief of Addiction Psychiatry of St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals in NYC, there are several main components to enabling. They include:

· Covering up – providing alibis, making excuses, or taking over someone’s responsibilities, rationalizing or minimizing the addiction.

· Controlling – trying to take responsibility for the person’s addiction by throwing out the alcohol or drugs or cutting off the supply.

· Removing consequences – bailing the person out of jail or giving him or her money.

Specifically within many traditional Jewish circles, the stigma attached to addiction (whether alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling) often serves as the excuse needed to cover up the addiction, by both the addict and their enablers. The perceived shame in asking for help often outweighs the devastating effects caused by the addiction – a truly circular pattern, a dance/marriage of sorts between the addict and their enablers.

It is this “shame-based” behavior which fosters a double crisis. So much effort is expended on covering up the addiction, it leaves precious energy, time and finances to address the dependency, thus freeing the addict of their addiction, allowing their family to become whole again.

The cycle of co-dependency must be broken in order to beat back this ever-increasing scourge within our communities. The wreckage left in its wake is not only found in the twisted metal on our roads and the bloodied bodies, whether maimed or killed. It is in the devastation left behind – the widows/widowers, the orphans, the siblings, the parents, plus all their shattered hopes and dreams.

No one should be foolish enough to expect the addict to gauge when they have caused too much suffering to themselves or their loved ones. They are in no condition to do so. Therefore, it is morally incumbent upon their sober loved ones to lead the charge, finally breaking the chains of co-dependency. They must state convincingly, clearly and lovingly – ENOUGH! Either the alcohol or the family. It can no longer be both.

Adina Kutnicki, a lifelong Zionist, made aliyah in the summer of 2008. She is a political commentator on Zionist related issues at various media outlets. She writes on behalf of Honenu Legal Defense Organization in The Jewish Press.

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