Drunk (illustration)
Drunk (illustration) iStock

Just how many drinks do you think you can you hold? I am not asking this rhetorically.  I am asking out of a deep and growing fear for our well-being and the future of our children.  

This is not a new concern. Many have noticed and commented on it in the past. But, it remains shocking to me and others as well, and seems, at least anecdotally, to be a worsening issue. In the last month I attended several smachot, a L’chaim, a few weddings, sheva brachot, and a bar-mitzvah along with the many Shabbat kiddushim both in the United States and Israel. On the table at all of these events were some very high quality wines and a variety of whiskeys, bourbons, tequilas and other alcoholic beverages that are all extremely expensive.

Several self-proclaimed connoisseurs at each of the events were heartily extolling the virtues of their drinks. Not surprisingly, with each additional sip their praise became more pronounced. At one of the events I was asked what my favorite drink was.

“Seltzer” I answered.

The laugh in response was followed by a “Try this it’s really good.”

Now it’s not that I do not drink alcohol. Occasionally I do. I like good wine and even a little bourbon. I do not like alcohol especially to the point that it becomes a focus at major and minor events, often as an excuse to need the alcohol to make the party.

What is particularly troubling is the growing number of young people who are also imbibing, often at the paradoxical encouragement of their parents or their rabbis. Take for example just two recent parties I observed. The first was a wedding. At the choson’s tisch there were approximately 20 young men who were downing one drink after another. Within about 45 minutes these 20, twenty somethings finished three Glenlivet 18 year old single malt whiskeys three Grey Goose large bottle vodkas a bottle of Cabo Tequila and two bottles of small batch bourbon. These men were singing and banging and carrying on as if they were all inebriated. I do not doubt that most were. It was no surprise that at one point during the wedding several of them were in the bathroom hugging the porcelain throne.

Do not think that the behavior pattern observed is unique to this one wedding, it surely is not. The drink labels may be different at other venues but the consumption of the liquor is the same at many such parties. Take for example a Bar-Mitzvah party I observed. At the Shabbat table where all the men sat, there was a total of 24 males including many young bar mitzvah aged boys. On the table I counted 15 different bottles of wines, liquor and schnapps. At the head of the table sat the bar mitzvah boy, his father on one side and the family’s rabbi on the other. Everyone was drinking, including the boys. One of the boys mother’s commented to me about the alcohol. She expressed her concern and asked me what I thought. I told her I was unhappy with what I saw and decided to ask one of the older men to explain the attraction to alcohol use especially in front of the boys. “I just want my son to get used to alcohol so he can learn to handle it properly” he said. I must have made a face so he continued “If he handles it now I won’t have to worry about him later.” A statement that is patently untrue.

It is true that many have come out against this type of behavior, some shuls have banned hard liquor, and several rabbis have requested that there be no liquor on tables at smachot. None of these interventions seem to be working. I am not sure what will work but still there are several things that must be said.

This pattern of alcohol abuse strongly suggests what health care professionals call an alcohol use disorder. This is no small matter. Addictions of any sort are dangerous and can ruin lives. Alcohol addiction is no different. What is worse is exposing youngsters to a lifestyle that lauds the use of alcohol as a means to find pleasure and heighten the enjoyment of important occasions. It does neither. Alcohol abuse is not pleasurable nor does it add to fun. If a video of even mildly inebriated people is shown to them when they have sobered up they are often shocked at how they appeared while under the influence. What is perhaps worse is exposing children whose developing brains are especially sensitive to the effects of alcohol. This may have a lifelong negative impact on the person.

Having a L’chaim, a toast on a special occasion and making Kiddush to sanctify an occasion are all fine and acceptable. If your taste runs to the finer drinks that too is apt. More than that is a problem – and it can become a big problem for your children!

Dr. Michael J. Salamon is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the author of numerous articles and books, most recently “Abuse in the Jewish Community” (Urim Publications).