On Being A Jewish Alcoholic: My Spiritual Journey Continues

by Dick on March 11, 2012 · 7 comments

in 12 Steps, Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Alcoholism, Judiasm, Recovery

“Religion is for folks who don’t want to go to Hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.”


I’m Jewish. At least in my area, which has a decent Jewish population, there are only a handful of Jewish folks in A.A. I definitely feel in the minority, and I’ve felt a bit of a struggle coming to terms about following a program which has its roots in Christian principles.

There is also somewhat of a stigma in Jewish circles about being an alcoholic. There is an old pejorative Yiddish saying from the old country — “Shikker iz a goy” — meaning that a drunk is a non-Jew, and by implication, Jews aren’t drunks. I always joke that the most frequent customers at Jewish wedding open bars (which are typical) are the Irish-Catholic folks. Unlike many fellow A.A.’s, there was very little drinking in my family, across the board. My generation definitely drank the most, as we had a more American traditional upbringing than my parents, with high school and college keg parties, etc.

Generalizations aside, there are, of course, plenty of Jewish alcoholics. Indeed, the Torah and Talmud speak of excessive drinking, and King Solomon was a reputed heavy drinker.

In my quest to connect my Jewish faith with the spiritual side of my recovery, I’ve been reading an amazing book, God of Our Understanding, Jewish Spirituality & Recovery From Addiction. The book points out that the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (p. 87) actually referenced seeking solace with “one’s priest, minister or rabbi” when it spoke about setting time aside for daily prayer and meditation. This was remarkable considering that AA was but four years old and hardly any Jews had joined its ranks. And of course, the Big Book went to great lengths, abnormally so, considering Bill W. wrote it in the 1930’s, to eschew favoring any particular religion or even making assumptions about its members’ religious affiliations. Religion and spirituality are mutually exclusive, as far as AA goes.

Anyways, Rabbi Shais Taub, in his God of Understanding book, posits a really profound theory about addicts/alcoholics and spirituality:

All human beings have a deep seated need for spiritual contact. But most people can also live their lives without it. Addicts are people who, for whatever reason, are unsettled to the core and cannot handle the business of life without maintaining a continual and acute awareness of the Divine. Absent such higher consciousness, they are miserable and sick. What makes their dilemma fatal is that their drug of choice (alcohol, pot, cocaine, pills, whatever) will actually produce in them short-term effects that simulate the release and relief that can only really be had through spiritual consciousness.

The drug of choice becomes the addict’s God. This is not meant as mere rhetoric. Addiction is idol worship in the most fundamental sense of the term — turning to something other than God to do for you what only God can do.

Pretty heavy and insightful stuff. It makes me really think about all the underlying reasons why I drank excessively. I mean, I had all the usual reasons: my life and job were too stressful; I was trying to escape from unpleasant feelings; financial insecurity; I couldn’t deal with failure, etc., etc. But now I’m wondering if there is something far more in my core? Was I really chasing some type of other-worldly experience? I was certainly trying to get to some type of “out of mind/body experience”!

It’s all good and interesting stuff to reflect on. I’m excited to work through the book. This is a major step inasmuch as when I first got into the program, I was a pretty militant agnostic.

One day at a time…



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  • Miss D

    I just added that book to my wish list. Thanks for another great post.

  • Joanne J

    I am not an alcoholic but I have an allergy to gluten … which is rarer in the Jewish community than other ethnic communities in the US. Why do I mention this … because the symptoms when trying to eliminate gluten from the diet are much like trying to kick an alcohol addiction.

    I have always wondered if many alcoholics really have an underling allergy to gluten which is causing their problem of controlling alcohol consumption. Those reading this who are alcoholics … what is your alcohol of choice … is it a grain based alcohol??? Might there be a connection?

    A gluten allergy is an allergy to a protein in certain grains like wheat, rye, barley and some others. If beer is your choice of alcohol … what is beer but a barley based drink and people allergic to gluten must stay away from barley. Is your choice of alcohol gin, vodka, scotch whisky or rye whiskey ??? … these are made from the fermentation of wheat, barley or rye … all of which are a problem when on a gluten free diet.

    Here is a link telling what living with a gluten allergy is like …
    does it sound something like an alcohol addiction …

    So … if you are addicted to alcohol that is made from grains you might want to surf the web and read up on gluten (and celiac disease). I have a theory that to deal with the temptation and addictive qualities of alcohol you may also have to eliminate GLUTEN from the diet and not just the alcohol you are trying to avoid. Because the cravings for grain based alcohol may always be there if gluten is still in your diet.

    I do not see discussions about this theory of mine on the web … but if someone wants to try eliminating gluten from their diet to see if they have an easier time staying away from alcohol after a bit of time has passed without eating any gluten and the cravings for gluten have left the body … what have you got to loose. It will either work or it will not work. Most people who have a gluten allergy go their whole lives without being diagnosed. And the tests do not look for all types of gluten so it is possible to even be tested and not know for sure if you are allergic or not.

    It is my guess avoiding alcohol will become easier if you avoid ALL gluten in your diet and not just alcohol.

    If anyone tries this suggestion and it helps please post your experience with it.

    Just a thought that has been returning to my mind again and again. The theory makes sense to me … as long as there is any gluten in your diet you will have cravings for alcohol … eliminate ALL gluten and after a little while no more alcohol cravings.

    If it makes sense to you too … try it.

    … Joanne J

    • TheTruth743

      Wow, you are an idiot.

      • Anonymous

        LOL, while the connection between alcohol and gluten is not quite accurate, I wouldn’t go as far as to say “idiot”

        This is just a question coming from a person who is not trying to escape.

        Let me be a little more specific…

        is not quite the substance that causes an alcoholic the problem, it’s
        the way the alcoholic uses the substance. As of today, Alcohol is the
        main legal substance available for the purpose, thus, the difficulty to
        acquire it is minimal. Speaking from experience, a younger me used other
        substances to find relief until i personally experienced the power and
        immediacy that alcohol offered. A child can display alcoholic tendencies
        long before that child takes their first sip of booze.If gluten
        plays a part in alcohol abuse, it is minimal. The effects of consuming
        gluten buy someone with a gluten allergy does not manifest itself the
        same way an alcoholic reacts to consuming alcohol – either with or
        without wheat/barley.

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  • i am jus’ naive china guy

    typical american rot. just more ideology.

    the rabbi finds the locus of pathology in the individual. except he gives it the twist that it’s not a pathology, it’s really a virtue.

    addiction and mental illness more generally are exclusively social problems.

    once you realize this and accept it, you can stop drinking or doing whatever.

    being human and living in the anglosphere, it’s difficult not to make an idol of society or to deny that it even exists, which is the same thing paradoxically.

    but it can be done.

    btw…i’m not chinese.

  • Jenni

    I love this post! Nicely written.

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