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by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

Drug use is so common these days, unfortunately, that it no longer evokes any shock. Nevertheless, use of illicit drugs exacts a high price in exchange for short-lived pleasure--at times, the cost of life itself. 

The dose of drugs that gives the initial high no longer works within a short period of time. Gradually, the user's brain adjusts, and needs higher and higher dosages of drugs to feel the same lift. Eventually, users become dependent on drugs just to feel "normal," to avoid depression and devastating withdrawal symptoms.

Once the user has become addicted, drug use is no longer voluntary; the addict loses control over his behavior and his life. Life becomes a nightmare which, all too often, ends in suicide, G-d forbid. The neurobiological culprit responsible for addiction is a complex brain structure known as the "reward center." This center is activated whenever one engages in pleasurable activity.

Narcotics stimulate the reward center of the brain directly, thus creating a closed loop that drives the person to keep repeating the act, over and over again. This results in the devastating effects of addiction, with which we are unfortunately familiar.

In Torah sources, the forces of impurity are referred to as samim, "poisons," or drugs. And not in vain. They are internal forces that motivate us to keep returning to activities that in the long run, will only cause damage. They corrupt the delicate structures of the soul and make it less sensitive to holiness. This insensitivity prevents the soul from being nourished by the very things that are required for its proper development. The forces of impurity gradually drag the person down into a moral abyss, a form of spiritual death.

The fleeting pleasures of this world cause us to incur a debt that will eventually need to be paid off, with compound interest. 

Even the most severe addictions can be broken. With the help of detoxification and anti-withdrawal medications, drug abusers can break the vicious cycle of addiction. Spiritually as well, the help we need is available to us to overcome the forces of self-destruction--in the form of books, classes and lectures in the timeless and beautiful teachings of Torah. These teachings fortify us not to fall prey to the counsel of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. Even where we have already failed, the teachings of Torah, particularly of Chassidut, can help us restore our soul to its original perfection.

Even if it seems that all the power in the world is pulling us back to our original habits—we have the ability within us to overcome that and seek the path of truth, goodness and ultimate satisfaction. The satisfaction that the entire world will enjoy, with the coming of Moshiach.

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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