Preventing Alcoholism: What We Can Learn from Jews and Others


“I’m writing a book about Jewish alcoholics” said a scholar to a colleague, who asked “Really! All three of them?”

Jews are a group well-known for their successful ability to enjoy alcohol widely with a minimum of resulting problems. Research has long demonstrated that although most Jews drink, they tend to have extremely low rates of alcoholism and other drinking related problems. This is true among Jews ranging from Orthodox to Reform, rich to poor, rural to urban, educated to uneducated, and from country to country.

These extremely low rates occur in spite of the fact that Jews would appear to have at least as many fears and anxieties as do others, although fear and anxiety are commonly viewed as causing drinking problems. The heterogeneity of Jews in terms of genetic background reduces the credibility of any biologically based explanation. A second problem with a genetic explanation is that drunkenness appears to have been frequent among Jews during the age of the Prophets but then virtually disappeared after the return from the first Babylonian exile (about 600 B.C.) Because no genetic change occurred, the answer would appear to lie elsewhere.

Jews learn how to drink in moderation by example and experience within the home and they simulaneously learn how not to drink. The common ditty “Shikker iz a Goy” (Drunkard is a Gentile) reflects the belief that drunkenness is un-Jewish; sobriety is considered a Jewish virtue, while drunkenness is a Gentile vice. Therefore, Jews who become drunk are subjected to scorn as expressed in the Jewish folk saying, “A Yid a Shikker, zoll geharget veren!” (A Jew who’s a drunkard, may he get killed!).

Jews, along with Greeks, Portuguese, Italians and many other groups consume alcohol frequently but experience few alcohol related problems. There are at least three keys to their success:

Alcohol is considered to be an essentially neutral substance that is inherently neither good nor bad. It’s how it’s used that is important.

There are two equally acceptable choices about alcohol that people can make: either abstain from alcohol or consume it in moderation. However, it’s totally unacceptable for anyone of any age ever to drink too much at any time, at any place, or for any reason.

Young people learn about alcohol from an early age within the safe environment of the home and from their parents, whose example they follow. These successful groups would all agree that it’s better to learn about drinking in the parent’s house than in a fraternity house.

Beliefs and behaviors that are consistent with these proven principles are likely to reduce the risk of alcoholism and drinking problems. They’ve survived the test of time and can serve us well.

However, if you have a drinking problem, it’s essential to understand that you don’t have a disease. Alcohol rehabs virtually always use the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, insist that you have the “disease” of alcoholism, that you suffer from a condition called “loss of control,” that you must submit to a Higher Power, that you will always be alcoholic, that you must always live in fear of relapsing, and that you must remain in recovery for the rest of your life.

In reality, scientific research has revealed that all of these ideas are erroneous. That’s why the non-religious St. Jude retreats have developed and use Cognitive Behavioral Education, a highly effective program to help guests learn how to achieve fulfilling and happy lives without ever drinking alcohol again.

Long term success of the non-profit St. Jude program has been independently verified over time to be at least 62%. This is much higher than the short term five percent success of 12 step programs.