Inside the Mind of an Addict

Renowned Psychiatrist Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski Discusses Addiction with Neuroethics Honors Class

The Yeshiva College’s Honors Neuroethics course had the privilege to hear from the eminent Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski on the topic of addiction, specifically as it relates to the Orthodox community. As a board certified psychiatrist and Jewish community leader, Twerski has spent many years engaging with many of the dark realities that exist in the Orthodox world.

Rabbi Dr. Twerski addresses Yeshiva College's Neuroethics course on the dark realities of addiction.

In his pre-Purim lecture, Twerski provided enlightening insights into the mind of an addict, using common day examples to stress the crippling force of habit. He discussed a variety of addictions, ranging from alcohol and prescription drugs, to the less discussed though equally destructive food and sex addictions. Each addiction was unfolded for its particular nuances to provide a comprehensive picture of the whole gamut of potential addictions.

Twerski stressed the primacy of the primitive psychological defense mechanisms in the irrational decision-making process of the addict, which include rationalization, denial and blaming. He also noted that the classical psychoanalytic approach to addiction—which attempts to treat current problems by unearthing past experiences buried deep in the subconscious—is relatively ineffectual in treating addiction. Furthermore, attempts by friends or family to “help” addicts by bailing them out frequently results in anger, disappointment and continuation of the problem.

According to the Twerski, the addict must hit “rock bottom” before serious change becomes a possibility. Only when an individual reaches this point can he realize the depth of his problem and push himself into a recovery program.

Dr. Alexander Kushnir, professor of the neuroethics course.

As far as treatment is concerned, Twerski believes that without a highly structured program and a robust social support network, attempts to lose an addiction are invariably doomed to fail. He recommended that anyone going into psychiatry, the rabbinate or psychological counseling attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to experience the power of a social support network.

The Honors Neuroethics course, part of the Yeshiva College Jay and Jeanne Schottenstein Honors Program, is designed to introduce students to the moral and ethical challenges of rapid advances in neuroscience.

“Addiction science is a core topic in the curriculum”, said Dr. Alexander Kushnir, professor of the course. “Thanks to Rabbi Dr. Twerski, the students had the opportunity to witness the synthesis of academic scholarship and research with clinical reality.”

The author, Nathan Agi, is a sophomore studying psychology and biology at Yeshiva College.

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