Substance abuse statistics are lower than reported due to stigma attached to addictions. Jewish individuals believe shanda is deeply entrenched within their community.
Stigma is what marks substance abuse as being shameful and forces many to hide their addiction. At a time in their lives when family needs to come together to help one another, far too many people with addictions discover they’re chastised and left to their own devices. Although this occurs in all cultures, Jewish individuals with addictions may have a wider river to stretch across when reaching out for help.
The Shanda Factor
Shanda, or shame, is a concern that many families experience who have a family member suffering with an addiction. Although education in recent years has assisted in alleviating this cultural belief, many still fear this may be a mark against the family in the community.
David Rosenberg, Operations Manager for the Jewish Addictions Community Services says, “When it comes to the Jewish community, denial tends to be ten times larger.” Rosenberg further states, “Addictions are viewed as a moral weakness and many Jewish people don’t see addiction as a disease.”
Abraham Goldstein, a former heroin addict, says that he felt as though his community abandoned him. “I was told I made a spectacle of myself.” He lost his friends, but what hurt the most was that his family abandoned him when he asked for help. His family did not want to be associated with him because he brought shanda to the family. Goldstein turned to his rabbi and he was told not to seek out treatment programs because they are alien to the Jewish faith and Judaism is all he needed to recover.
According to Aaron Gold, a former alcoholic, shanda is responsible for possibly thousands of Jewish addicts around the world who ended up in their graves pre-maturely. He asserts, “Jewish families need to accept the fact that addiction has no cultural boundaries.”
Jewish Addictions Community Services (JACS)
For over three decades, JACS has been the heartbeat for alcohol and drug addicted Jews and their families. JACS has its founding roots in New York City and over the years has opened branches in almost 20 U.S. states, three provinces in Canada, Brazil and in Israel.
JACS has helped put addiction on the agenda in the Jewish community, advocated for the needs of Jews in treatment, and facilitated the involvement of clergy in meeting spiritual needs of Jews in recovery and much more. Through their workshops, support groups, retreats and other programs, JACS has directly assisted thousands of Jewish people in need of support.
At JACS Toronto, David Rosenberg, Director of Operations, speaks highly of everyone who has been a part of JACS. Rosenberg says from the counselors to the volunteers, everyone has been an integral part in the program successes. He asserts that these successes are due to the fact that their services are free. “Regardless of denomination, we are here to help. Addiction is the only thing you have to lose in order to win.”
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, nearly 4 million Americans every year receive treatment for substance abuse and addiction. Almost 20 million more need treatment but do not receive it. To demonstrate the magnitude of this societal problem, statistics at the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. estimate that almost 1,500,000 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer this year.
Anyone needing assistance with substance abuse recovery, or families needing help to cope with a loved one who is suffering from addiction, is urged to call JACS. No longer do people need to sweep addiction under the rug; shanda is becoming a thing of the past.