By: Carly Friedman
“I am a high school girl…and so many of my friends are struggling… Trying to help my friends yet also helping myself is so confusing and scary, and I was so relieved to hear about this event. It felt validating to know that I’m not alone and others are also going through this. The event was so informative and I felt comfortable asking questions and getting the answers I so needed.”
This is a direct quote from a young Jewish teen who participated in a mental health summit at which CCSA presented. This is just one of many examples of lives we have touched and changed through direct and honest dialogue. Our mission is to create stigma-free Jewish communities through awareness, education and prevention programming regarding substances use and addiction.
When we hear about issues that arise in our community, it is human nature to think that we are immune and rationalize why the issue cannot possibly be relevant to our lives or our families. So, while we are regularly confronted with data clearly demonstrating that issues like alcohol disorders, substance misuse, and addiction occur in our community at rates almost identical to the public at large, we find a way to explain away the data.
When we were first facing our daughter’s addiction to substances several years ago, we fell into this same trap. Children from “good families” did not fall prey to addiction. Our honors student daughter was “too smart” to allow herself to fall into the clutches of addictive substances. It took many months (and lots of tears) for us to finally comprehend that addiction is a disease that does not discriminate on the basis of intelligence, religion, race, age, socioeconomic standing or any other demographic factor.
We had to reframe what we thought “addiction” was in order to truly help and support our daughter in her battle against the disease. We had to understand that this was a medical condition that required our daughter to fight for her life with incredible strength and bravery on her part.
All of us, at one point or another, whether we realize it or not, have or will be touched by this issue. Around 46% of Americans have a close friend or family member who struggles with substance use or addiction. Expand this to include colleagues, peers, neighbors, or members of our community, chances are everybody knows somebody, and that is why education and the elimination of stigma are so crucial.
When we go into schools to educate students, faculty and parents, our messaging is not based on scare- tactics, but on the science and facts relating to substances and addiction, and the reality that it can happen to anyone. We give kids the language to ask for help (for themselves or a friend) and, amazingly, we have seen our presentations yield tangible results in that regard. In our support group for loved ones, we constantly hear how people feel alone, that they have no one to talk to, and how relieved they are to find other Jewish people going through this. We help community members and leaders reframe addiction as a disease and understand that sufferers are people just like “you and me” in order to help them relate to those struggling and properly support them.
Addiction is not a moral failing or some character flaw. It is not a choice people make, but a brain disorder that occurs when someone is susceptible to the disease. Our goal is to break down the stigma associated with substance use and addiction, with the result being better outcomes for sufferers and their families. By increasing awareness and education, CCSA is literally saving lives.
Lianne Forman, a 28+ year Teaneck resident and a corporate and employment lawyer by training, is the Executive Director of Communities Confronting Substance Use & Abuse (CCSA), the organization she and her husband, Etiel, founded in 2018. Through their own family’s struggles, they founded CCSA to create greater community awareness and education about substance misuse and addiction in the Jewish community. CCSA’s mission is to eliminate stigma around addiction in Jewish communities through awareness events and facilitating evidence-based educational programming in schools for students ans parents. Visit www.JewishCCSA.org for more information.