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Alcohol Addiction and Purim

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Alcohol Addiction: What is Purim

The essence of Purim is said to be unity, connection, and salvation. Charity and giving to the poor is another essential element of the holiday. It is all about showing gratitude.

Purim and Alcohol Addiction, What is the Essence of Purim?, The Commandment to Drink, Outcomes of Drinking, How to Celebrate Purim in Recovery, Rehab is Your Best Chance


Throughout history, wine has played an important role in Jewish life. It is a celebrated part of their culture and religion. However, because of its abuse, wine—and alcohol in general—can create problems for some people. Alcohol abuse can contribute to illness and harmful behavior.

It is therefore important to discuss the role that alcohol plays in Jewish culture. Purim, for example, is a Jewish holiday that involves the consumption of alcohol. In fact, Purim literally means “lots” and is sometimes called the Feast of Lots.

During the Feast of Lots, Jews celebrate being saved from persecution in the ancient Persian Empire.

The Jewish people of Shushan, according to the Book of Esther in the Torah, were threatened by the villainous Haman who had convinced the King Ahasuerus to kill all Jews.

To determine the date he would carry out his plan, Haman cast lots—which is how the holiday got its name—and selected the 13th of Adar. But thanks to the heroic Queen Esther who married Ahasuerus, the Jews were saved. Ahasuerus discovered that his wife Esther is Jewish, which is why he decided to reverse Haman’s decree. This led to Haman, his sons, and other enemies getting killed instead.

Purim is a celebration of this event, and it involves heavy alcohol consumption.


Purim and Alcohol Addiction


Out of all the holidays on the Jewish calendar, Purim is considered the most raucous of them. It occurs on the 14th day of the month of Adar. During the holiday, people dress up, sometimes as characters from the Purim story. Others choose different costumes.

Listening to the Purim story from the Megillat Esther (The Scroll of Esther) and hearing every word is considered a mitzvah or commandment. They also have a ra’ashan, which is a noisemaker that they use to make loud noises every time Haman’s name is mentioned in the story. Blocking out Haman’s name is one of their obligations.

One important aspect of Purim is giving gifts to the poor. It is also customary to perform a Purim spiel, which is a fun, satirical show that dramatizes the Purim story in a humorous way.

But another aspect of Purim involves alcohol consumption. This is because the Megillah ends with Mordecai’s encouragement that the holiday is celebrated as “yemei mishteh v’simchah, days of drinking and rejoicing” (Esther 9:22)

In addition to this, there is also the Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 7b, where “Rava said: It is one’s duty levasumei, to make oneself fragrant [with wine] on Purim until one cannot tell the difference between ‘arur Haman’ (cursed be Haman) and ‘barukh Mordekhai’ (blessed be Mordecai).”

Because of those descriptions, some people use the holiday as an excuse to drink excessively. This becomes a challenge for those with alcohol use disorder or AUD, which affects many people around the world.


What is the Essence of Purim?

The essence of Purim is said to be unity, connection, and salvation. Charity and giving to the poor is another essential element of the holiday. It is all about showing gratitude.

During Purim, Jewish people learn about its story from the Megillah, which was recorded around the 5th century. It is also known as the Book of Esther. It is a celebration of the fact that the villain Haman failed to initiate the decree to execute genocide of the Jewish people. This was all thanks to Queen Esther’s brave revelation of her Jewish faith, which led to the King sentencing Haman to death.

Purim is a celebration of this victory, which is why Jewish people celebrate, drink, and feast during this holiday.

The Commandment to Drink

The events surrounding the Purim story were recorded by Mordecai, who also tasked the Jewish people to observe the 14th and 15th of Adar each year as days of merrymaking and feasting. Purim also involves sending gifts to the poor and to one another.

Jewish people may feel compelled to drink excessively to the point where they are intoxicated since this is encouraged during Purim. But whether drinking excessively is an obligation or not is actually debated. Some say it is a communal practice or a custom, also known as a minhag. Others believe that if alcohol will cause danger or make you sick, you should not participate.

Drinking is not necessarily considered a mitzvah or commandment. Not eating pork is a commandment, whereas drinking is not.

This is why some people drink during Purim while others do not. Those who do not drink may have one or two, while those who already drink normally may drink more during Purim. Depending on your location, you may be encouraged to drink, but some people don’t.

Outcomes of Drinking

Although Purim is a holiday that is associated with excessive drinking, Jewish teachings do recognize the risks of such actions. Drinking too much does have its consequences. According to 18th Century codifier R. Abraham ben Yehiel Michal Danzig, it is better not to get drunk on Purim if it will lead to neglecting other mitzvot like hand washing and praying.

Similarly, Hatzalah is a Jewish volunteer emergency ambulance organization that advises young people to drink responsibly especially during Purim. The group says that Purim should be about happiness and having a good time. It should not be marred by alcohol poisoning and tragic alcohol-related accidents.

When a person consumes alcohol, their judgment becomes impaired and it affects their decision-making abilities. It also makes them more impulsive, which may lead to risky behavior and accidents. When someone gets drunk, it’s not that they become unaware of their actions, but rather they become less concerned about the consequences.

Long term alcohol abuse can also lead to serious health problems like liver damage and organ failure. A person who has been abusing alcohol for a long time may develop an addiction or alcohol dependence. Alcohol addiction is characterized by the inability to stop drinking even when it is already affecting different aspects of your life. The addicted individual will keep drinking despite suffering from physical and mental health effects.

Drinking alcohol can lead to changes in the brain’s chemistry as well as its functioning. Alcohol activates the brain’s reward center, stimulating the release of dopamine within the brain, which makes the person feel good. This is why when you drink regularly, you begin to crave for alcohol. Your brain wants to feel good and it has associated alcohol with those pleasant sensations.

Alcoholism, just like other addictions, is a learned behavior. The person’s thoughts and beliefs also factor in. This means someone who does not believe in treatment is less likely to stick with a proper addiction treatment program.

Even when someone intends to stop, alcohol makes it difficult for them to do so. Continued alcohol abuse just makes the body more tolerant of its effects. Soon they will have to drink more just to experience the same level of euphoria.

Eventually, they begin to feel like they can’t function normally without drinking. This stage is called alcohol dependence. An alcohol dependent individual will go through withdrawal if they suddenly stop drinking.

To address alcohol dependence properly, medical detox is important. A rehab program that offers detox can provide a safe and comfortable environment where the patient can focus on their recovery. Their withdrawal symptoms and cravings will be monitored and managed by medical professionals, usually using medications. During this time, their alcohol intake will be gradually lowered. It’s not easy to experience alcohol withdrawal caused by continued substance abuse, but this is just another step in the process of recovering from alcohol and breaking your drinking pattern.

So how does one go through alcohol addiction treatment while also going through Purim? It can be tough, but there are ways to celebrate this holiday without putting your sobriety at risk.

How to Celebrate Purim in Recovery

If you are in recovery and want to celebrate Purim, there are plenty of things you can do. You can move to a place that suits your ideology and needs better. One example would be the shuls in Los Angeles where alcohol is not allowed on the premises even for Purim. You may also participate in the festivities and hear the Megillah without putting your sobriety at risk.

It can be difficult to go through these significant holidays without drinking or being part of the festivities. You may even feel sad over your situation. But remember that this is a long term investment on your health and safety.

Do not put yourself in a situation where you will be tempted to drink, especially when you know you cannot control your alcohol consumption. The same applies to when you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction. Help them avoid these situations that put their sobriety at risk.

Look for a synagogue with a spiritual practice that is consistent with your own spiritual practice. Purim does not have to involve excessive alcohol consumption—you just need to focus on the message and essence of the holiday. Spend the holiday by giving to the poor and giving gifts to your friends. You can still celebrate while staying sober. Even some people may encourage it during Purim, the holiday does not have to involve drinking.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, it is not too late to seek help. Look for an addiction treatment facility near you and find out about what treatment programs they offer. The road to recovery and long lasting sobriety begins today.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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