Adult B’nei Mitzvah Class of 2014: Marsha Epstein, “On Murder and Alcohol”


My verses are about murder. Part is translated, “… if the object with which he struck him was a wooden tool that could cause death, and death resulted, he is a murderer…” So I thought, “What do I know about murder??!”
As a retired Public Health physician, I remembered that alcohol is involved in about 70% of murders. Alcohol is involved in about 70% of murders.

We know drunkenness occurred in Biblical times from many passages in the Torah, and there is no reason to think it did not cause violence back then. There is a Torah passage about the disobedient son who was a drunkard. Drunkenness was a cause of grief for Noah, and may have been the reason Aaron’s sons died, for that story in Leviticus was immediately followed by a prohibition against drinking wine or strong drink before going into the tabernacle. Proverbs, Judges, and some of the prophets including Isaiah have warnings about the dangers of alcohol and drinking.

Alcoholism is very personal to me because my best friend at work, a physician who had been a member of this congregation, died from alcoholism. He threw up while drunk, breathed in some of his own vomit, and developed aspiration pneumonia. He developed DTs and died of a heart attack while in the hospital. His memorial service was my introduction to BCC.

Alcoholism, alcohol abuse and drug abuse are large problems in the LGBTQI community. Alcohol abuse is estimated to occur in up to 45% of those in the LGBT community nationally..….45%! Some of that stems from having to meet in bars, and much of it stems from stressful personal environments of discrimination: LGBT children have higher rates of child abuse and being bullied. Some are kicked out of their homes by their parents. Many have to hide among family and at work, etc.

The stigma of alcohol or drug abuse is sometimes even greater than that of being LGBTQI for many in our community…and in the Jewish community too, there is a myth that Jews don’t have problems with alcohol. But it’s a myth. My friend was out about being gay at work, but denied to his doctor and on admission to the hospital that he drank or used drugs. His death was doubly preventable. If he had not lied about his drinking, they would have treated him preventively to prevent DTs, and he would have lived.

I feel bad that I never shared my concerns with him that I suspected he might have had a drinking problem or was using drugs. Since then I have told people I am concerned about them and have given them referrals for resources if I suspect they have a problem. I refer their families and friends to Al-Anon, a free, 12-Step Program which helps families and friends of problem drinkers.

Al-Anon can be helpful whether the problem drinker is a family member, friend, employee, co-worker or supervisor. If you’re dealing with a problem drinker in any situation, Al-Anon can save your sanity. And when family members attend Al-Anon, problem drinkers have a higher rate of getting sober and staying sober.

If you have a family member or friend who has a problem with alcohol, you can best help them by attending Al-Anon yourself. Feel free to talk with me about any concerns you have about someone’s drinking or drug use. You might save their life.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

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