The Orthodox Union - Publications
The Magazine of The Orthodox Union

Orthodox Youth and Substance Abuse: Shattering the Myths

By Dr. Benzion Twerski

Signs of Drug Abuse

While other factors can cause many of these symptoms, alert parents and educators should be aware that these signs are typical of substance abusers and they should investigate the situation.

** Sudden changes in mood, attitudes, or vocabulary. Impulsive behavior.

** Sudden and continuing decline in attendance or performance at work or in school.

** Sudden and continuing resistance to discipline at home or in school.

** Impaired relationships with family members or friends.

** Unusual flares of temper.

** Increased amount and frequency of borrowing money from family and friends.

**Stealing from the home, at school, or in the workplace.

** Denies having a drug problem.

** Heightened secrecy about actions and possessions.

** Associating with a new group of friends, especially with those who use drugs or exhibit similar lifestyles.

** Has physical symptoms of drug abuse, such as red eyes, dilated pupils, constricted pupils, sleepiness, chronic runny nose, scars or needle marks.

** Keeping long hours away from home, especially at night and on weekends.

** Neglectful of personal health and unexplained medical symptoms such as weight loss and pallor.

** Sudden and continuing change in appearance and manner of dress, especially when contrasting to family patterns.

** Trouble handling responsibilities.

Resources for coping with the problems of the addict and his/her family

We Can Still Save the Future -- If We Dare

To summarize, I urge that several goals be relentlessly pursued by us as individuals and as a community:

Begin to discuss the problems of addiction openly; in your community, your family and your schools. We have tried to avoid the problem, and in doing so, we have failed our children.

Be alert for signs of alcohol/drug experimentation and use (see sidebar). Refrain from denial, e.g., believing that "it cannot happen in my kehillah" (shul, yeshivah, family). It is a contagious disease and contaminates without respect for the kehillah, shul, yeshivah or family.

Address addiction as a disease, which requires treatment. Do not take it as rebellion or bad behavior, with the focus on punishments.

There are resources available to cope with the problems of the addict and his/her family. (See listings). These should all be utilized, even if you think there only may be a problem.

I often ask an addict seeking therapy a simple question: Would you be willing to report the names of the dealers who sold you drugs to the law enforcement authorities? The addict's answer may well reflect his or her true level of motivation to recover.

Likewise, the readiness of a community to pursue those who would destroy it is a reflection of its level of caring about every precious soul in that community.

Allowing drug activity to continue is tantamount to supporting it. If you or someone you know is aware of the names of dealers, report them to the police or the local office of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Our community deserves protection -- and we are the only ones who can provide it.

Dr. Benzion Twerski is the staff psychologist at Substance Abuse Services at Elizabeth General Medical Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He is on the professional advisory boards of JAADD (Jewish Association for Attention Deficit Disorder) and JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically dependent persons, and Significant others). He has written and published in a wide variety of lay and professional periodicals, and lectures on addictive disorders in the Jewish population.


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