Nov 1, 2010
I Think He's an Alchoholic
Photo credit: Boruch Ezagui

Sholom Bayis Blog with Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch. Question #6: My husband drinks every night. I know that we believe that drinking at a Farbrengen is allowed, but when does it become a problem?

Q: My husband drinks every night. He starts with few glasses of wine with dinner and always ends with whisky. Some nights its just one or two large ones and other nights can be half a bottle. I know that we believe that drinking at a Farbrengen is allowed, but when does it begin to become a problem?

A: Many people drink alcoholic beverages as a way of relaxing or as a way of socializing and for some individuals this never becomes a problem. For example, those of us who attend Farbgrengens do enjoy a few L?Chaims and have no problem limiting how much we drink. In the cases of some individuals, however, they are unable to limit their intake and develop consistent patterns of behavior that can eventually lead to an even more serious problem ? alcoholism.

It is often assumed by many that alcohol abuse and alcoholism is the same thing however the reality is that there is a difference between the two. One significant difference is that in most cases a person who is known to abuse alcohol still has some control over when and if they drink while a person who suffers from alcoholism is often dependent on the use of alcohol.

Alcohol abuse often occurs when individuals begin drinking as a way to deal with the stress of certain situations such as losing a job or the death of a close loved one, or marital tension. While initially the effects of alcohol may numb the pain or reality of these circumstances over time it seems to take more and more alcohol to have the same effect. Over time this can lead to a dependence on alcohol known as alcoholism.

When alcohol abuse becomes an issue a person may know that they shouldn?t be drinking at that particular time however they allow poor judgment to win out over common sense and continue drinking anyway. In many cases this causes problems such as failing to keep up with prior commitments like taking care of children or other family responsibilities and may even have serious detrimental effects on job performance and the ability to maintain relationships.

It is often hard for individuals who are affected by alcohol abuse to admit they have a problem because this would mean they are admitting to not being in control of the situation which is often why they drink in the first place.

Just because your husband has a drink or two on a regular basis with dinner this does not necessarily mean they have a problem although attention should be paid to be sure that this practice does not lead to a problem over time. When you mention that his wine drinking is capped off with a shot whiskey, or that he tends to drink up to half a bottle ormore, I begin to question whether or not this is crossing the line towards addictive, or a least, abusive behavior.

Another distinction between casual drinking and alcohol abuse is when an individual looks for any opportunity to have a drink and use the cover that they are ?celebrating? something specific. For many people this may come in the form of acknowledging some minor achievement that does not really warrant celebration like finishing a good book or getting dinner ready on time. Although for average people this may not seem like much, to a person who has issues with alcohol abuse it may be considered a big deal as a way to give them a reason to drink in a situation that they consider celebratory.

When it comes to a point where a person finds themselves continually looking for a reason to celebrate in order to have a drink this may be an indication that a problem is starting to develop.

How do you know if your husband is an alcoholic?

The following symptoms should tip you off that you -- or someone you know -- may need treatment for alcoholism:

An uncontrollable craving. An actual need for alcohol may seem unfathomable to someone who's not an alcoholic, but if you're alcoholic, you have a craving for alcohol similar to that of food and water.
No such thing as "one or two." Alcoholics can't just have a drink or two. You may have good intentions, but once you start, you have to keep drinking.
"Eye openers." Needing a drink first thing in the morning is a sign of alcoholism.

Drinking for one. Drinking in secret (and hiding the evidence) is another indicator.

High tolerance. An alcoholic can drink an extraordinary number of drinks and still appear to function relatively normally.

Needing more and more. An alcoholic often ends up needing increasing amounts in order to achieve the "high."

Drinking dominates everyday life. When drinking is doing significant harm to your work, school, or home responsibilities on a regular basis, and you still can't control it or cut back, you are likely suffering from alcoholism.
Withdrawal symptoms. If you regularly experience nausea, sweating, shakiness, or anxiety when you stop after a period of heavy drinking, you are physically dependent on alcohol.

What can you do if I think your spouse is an alcoholic?

There are some researchers who believe alcoholics can learn to drink "normally." However, most experts believe that total abstinence for life is the only way alcoholics can recover and avoid relapse, and that is the goal of most successful treatment programs. Treatment usually begins with an initial period of detoxification (getting alcohol out of the system safely), followed by counseling, a nutrition program, and sometimes prescription medicines to help prevent relapse.

Alcoholics Anonymous, the best-known program, offers a 12-step path to recovery that focuses on getting alcoholics to admit that their drinking is a problem and that they need to stop. Rabbinic figures such as Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski support the efficacy of AA and often refer their clients for support. With the help of such programs, millions of alcoholics have gone on to lead healthy lives free of alcohol.

If you think that your spouse is an alcoholic, I suggest that you seek help as soon as possible through your doctor or therapist. Do not attempt to talk to your friend or relative about the problem when they are drinking, and try to avoid blaming them when you do talk about it.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch is a trained marriage and family therapist who maintains a practice in Crown Heights specializing in couples therapy and families with teenagers at risk. For an appointment in person or via the phone/Internet, visit or call 646-428-4723.

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Opinions and Comments
To Rabbi Schonbuch:
You're not a drug export. Who are you to say that mashke by a farby is ok?-is a little weed ok? according to every study ever done alcohol is a lot more harmful then marijuana.
(11/1/2010 5:20:25 PM)
thanks for the article
sadly girls are starting to drink too much as well! very well written! yasher koach!
(11/1/2010 5:32:22 PM)
a different approach
Well written but how bout focusing on the fact that alcohol ruins the liver!
(11/1/2010 5:46:34 PM)
# 1
if you read properly you will see that he does not say that it is ok that people drink at farbrengens, just that people who dont suffer from alchoholism are able to limit the amount of alcohol they enjoy at a farbrengen
please read properly before pointing your finger
(11/1/2010 5:48:59 PM)
to #1
tell 'em baby thats right
(11/1/2010 5:51:31 PM)
To #1
He's not a drug import, either; for that matter, he's not a drug. *Experts know that generalizations aren't always correct...however, thanks for your opinion, it really changed my life.
(11/1/2010 6:06:30 PM)
In my opinion, the red line is when alcohol make you fail any of important life responsibilities, such as: career credibility, career growth, moral growth, chinuk and other important family duties (school duties for younger). As long as the ability to fulfill all the important responsibilities is intact, alcohol is fine, the moment any of these responsibilities start to suffer even a bit - that's the red line.
(11/1/2010 6:15:39 PM)
(11/1/2010 6:19:40 PM)
To #1
For an Alcholic person even a little bit is very bad..... to someone is not an alchoholic lechayim in moderation by a farbrengen is not bad but even welcomed.

If someone starts drinking every night as the person in this article is saying her husband does than most likely the person has aproblem.
(11/1/2010 6:20:36 PM)
To 1 and 5
number 5-Wow, you are just a chucklehead.

number 1- Don't be so smart , as pot has drawbacks as well, such as an increase incidence of cancer amongst those who smoke pot. This is because there are the same additives in tobacco as there are in pot.
The key to alcohol is MODERATION. Alcohol, in MODERATION has positive effects: moderate alcohol use protects against cardiovascular diseases. This means a maximum of 2-3 glasses of wine or beer a day for men, and 1 to 2 glasses a day for women. Not a bath of mashke. Pay attention to R' Schonbuch next time.

number 3- its not a new fact.
(11/1/2010 6:23:22 PM)
Never Understood
My parents are both of Persian Jewish ancestry, I grew up in a Sefaradi community in South America and had never known that it was not only okay but actually "encouragable" to drink at a Beit Tefillah, until we moved to America and we met our Chabad Rabbi.
I have lived in America now over 20 years and to this day, I don't see drinking on Shabbat, Yom Tov or any Simcha as a Jewish thing, but rather a bad Russian Habit.
(11/1/2010 6:25:56 PM)
the problem
I think the root of many shalom bayis problems is that it is always assumed that the husband is at fault. Articles like this do not only not help the problem, but enhances it. Why are all these about "my husband has an internet addiction" , "my husband doesn't communicate with me", "my husband is an alcoholic" ?

How about focusing on the real issues for a change. For example that people who are simply not meant for should not be getting married in the first place.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it's a start.
(11/1/2010 7:22:22 PM)
this article made me thirsty. i think i'm going out for a cold one as soon as my wife gets home.
(11/1/2010 7:30:00 PM)
The Rebbe's Standards
The Rebbe set strict--very strict--limits on the amounts of mashke allowed to be consumed. Why says we encourage drinking, even at a farbrengen?
(11/1/2010 7:37:18 PM)
to 8
mer top havingy a drinks wile reding
(11/1/2010 7:59:32 PM)
To #8
Noone is pointing fingers at husbands in particular. If your wife (I'm assuming you're a married man for practical purposes) is drinking every night, you can safely assume she has a problem with alcohol. This particular question was posed by a woman about her husband, but applies to women too. Yes, there are (frum) women (mothers and girls included) who are addicted to various substances. However, you won't hear much about them bacause A)they are fewer in number than their male counterparts B)they and their families may be covering it up better (perhaps it's a bigger shanda?)
Bottom line: we as a community (shuls, peer pressure, etc.) need to help each other eradicate this problem before it's beyond our control. I hope it's not too late...
(11/1/2010 8:30:46 PM)
To #8
Woops, I meant #12
(11/1/2010 8:31:52 PM)
i think it is important to note that while in the general,goyishe culture,a few beers,scotch,or several glasses of wine in the evening after work is seen as normal,it is totally foreign to jewish culture.we did not grow up frum but my parents and their jewish friends drank very,very rarely. since this type of drinking is so foriegn to us it is of far greater concern in our circles if it does occur.
(11/1/2010 8:33:11 PM)
its not ok to drink every night. if saying lchaim to wish another yid a broch is good, saying lchaim to make good hachlotas or to moyrer ones neshoma is good. a casual lchaim or a bissel vien to relax is ok. but to drink every night is not!!
i know becuase i make kiddush every shabbos. but i dont drink every day, just on shabbos, or a simcha or a farbrenen...

(11/1/2010 8:55:00 PM)
women drinking?
just out of curiosity: can someone point out the difference between women drinking and men drinking? why is it more okay for a man to drink than a woman? and why are men encouraged to say l'chaim, while doing that is wrong for women?! anyone care to clarify?
(11/1/2010 9:18:14 PM)
She should ask her husband to not drink for 30 days. If he can't....there's a problem! Case closed.
(11/1/2010 9:35:22 PM)
whats the plan when pot will become legal in california?

growing up drinking underage i dont see our kids having a clear path of whats right and whats wrong??!!
(11/1/2010 10:29:57 PM)
Same here...I saw the heading and went for a shot!
(11/1/2010 10:30:03 PM)
Clearly a problem

As a therapist, I can clearly say, your husband has a drinking problem, get him help.

I am also unimpressed by the authors "kid gloves" attitude. This is a clear case of alcohol abuse.
(11/1/2010 10:35:44 PM)
Don't Be Fooled
Alcohol is a drug. A drug by definition is any substance that is mind altering or mood changing.
The Jewish community has a drug problem. This article was spot on. Time to face the realities of our problems.
(11/1/2010 10:38:52 PM)
simple test
if the drinker decides he wont drink again and he still drinks that's an alcoholic!

(11/1/2010 11:04:07 PM)
When we made lchaim's in 770 at the rebbi's farbrangin it was done only on wine! NOT mashke! i seeno excuse why some shul's in ch have many many bottles of mashke at the table? why cant we go to wine on shoboos? bais shmuel is notorious for greatbig kiddish and its not wine
(11/1/2010 11:08:04 PM)
I'm a lubavitch addict
Sounds like your hubby's got a problem. If your husband is an addict (by personality) he probably has issues of control, co-dependence, fear, resentment, and entitlement. If caught in time an alcohol abuser can stop the craving from developing into full-blown addiction. Most people are addicted by the time they catch themselves. Alcoholism is a disease, not a moral failing. From my experience if you live your husband and want a normal family life you should get him help right away.
(11/1/2010 11:17:43 PM)
(11/1/2010 11:36:25 PM)
feel so bad
for those whodont care about this subject and have the chutzpa to say that r drining rght now, just to do the opposite bedavka!
(11/2/2010 2:33:52 AM)
to all the #'s
Ooooh shtech!!!
(11/2/2010 7:24:32 AM)
is it even realistic
Is it even realistic for a girl to say she wants to marry a guy who does not drink...or do all lubavitch boys drink?
(11/2/2010 8:23:22 AM)
Rabbi Schonbuch,
Do you take insurance for marital counseling?
(11/2/2010 9:34:48 AM)
Very good
Good article for CHABAD!!!!!!
(11/2/2010 9:35:50 AM)
the biggest problem we need to resolve is the YOUNG boys in our yeshivas drinking. Our 14 year olds who for reasons have to be sent away to Yeshivas with no parental control. They are too young to be buying it for themselves so where r they getting it from??? what is wrong with our system?? Lots of these boys become addicted at a very young age. Its alot of peer pressure too in yeshivas. PLEASE PLEASE to all the teachers and hanhala that are farbrenging with these (young) boys put a stop to it. ENOUGH!!!! there are plenty of chassidishe farbrengens without all the mashke. This must not be tolerated anymore.
(11/2/2010 12:53:31 PM)
huge difference!

There is a huge difference btw alch and marijuana - find one person who became a better person bc of marijuna.
There is a reason why we use wine at every occasion and event - and why me make lechayims on alch; it helps!
There is a physical and spiritual effect and that's why we do it.
of course the same effect can be just a dramatically bad.. one major built-prevention in our system is - there is no excuse to drink alone, ever! (accept for kidush). A lechayim is for a reason and only for a reason - and only with someone else!
you can't have it both ways, you can't drink a lechayim as a chassidisher concept at a farbrengen and then have a drink at home, there is no more 'megushem' concept then drinking for pleasure.
(11/2/2010 2:48:02 PM)
To #1
That is actually incorrect. Not every study shows Alcohol is worse the Marijuana. Marijuana is harmful to the body immediately while alcohol done in moderation has zero negative implication, unless the person has a preexisting condition
(11/2/2010 3:28:24 PM)
After reading these comments, I have changed my mind and now believe that every lubavitch school has a duty to teach ENGLISH!!
(11/2/2010 3:58:21 PM)
you have a clouded view
just because your a shrink does not mean that you don't have a bias!
(11/2/2010 4:32:15 PM)
TO 32
it is realistic!
not all boys drink!
(11/2/2010 8:11:46 PM)
Alcohol is a drug
Alcohol is a drug like Cannabis, cocaine or heroine. The only difference is the fact that Alcohol is legalised which means it is more readily available. According to most studies in the UK and USA alcohol is more of a social problem than even the hardest drugs.
However it is a known fact that prolonged cannabis use can cause permanent mental health problems. I commend the bravery of Rabbi Schonbuch for bringing this problem to the attention of this blog and the Chassidische public.
(11/3/2010 4:43:09 PM)
.....GET HELP NOW!!! and while your at it take care of your other addictions too....pains me to see your wife/my friend suffering!!!
(11/3/2010 4:58:32 PM)
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