Impact Areas

Purim and Drinking

by Debbie Akerman,  PhD., LCSW
Associate Director of Field Instruction
Wurzweiler School of Social Work Yeshiva University

Purim - Celebrate Safely…..
Of all of the Jewish holidays on the calendar, Purim for many represents one of the easiest and joyous days. With no deadlines of candle lighting and two or three days worth of meals to prepare, with no scrubbing and koshering needed, Purim is 24 hours of family, friends, exchange of delicious food and celebration. And there is where the problem may begin.

According to Chazal, we are supposed to drink until we cannot distinguish between blessed is Mordechai and cursed is Haman. With no specific amounts stated, this has led many to become inebriated from Purim night until after the Seudah the next night.

As a psychotherapist specializing in addiction and an orthodox Jew as well, I do not believe that Chazal or any part of the Torah would command us to do anything that would be unhealthy. The Chofetz Chaim in Biur Halacha-695:2 states that we are not required to come to a drunken state, but to rather celebrate in a manner that brings us closer to Hashem.

Addiction, whether behavioral or chemical is one of America’s most prevalent disease processes affecting more individuals than cancer, heart disease and stroke every year. The notion that this does not affect our community is false, and the Jewish community is now becoming more aware through the number of those addicted and public awareness that we are as affected as the general population.

A real danger of the Purim holiday is binge drinking. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of alcohol use in the United States.” Binge drinking elevates an individual’s blood alcohol concentration, (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. The criteria for binge drinking is 5 or more drinks for men, and four or more drinks for women in about two hours. The majority of individuals (90 %) that binge drink are not alcohol dependent. A drink is defined as 12 oz of beer, five ounces of wine, 8 ounces of malt liquor, (like Smirnoff Ice)  or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (whiskey, tequila, gin, run, or vodka).  I believe that if we begin to recollect of Purim holidays of the past, we may see in hindsight that many adults and teenagers would fit the criteria of binge drinking on Purim.

Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning which is a serious and potentially deadly consequence of ingesting large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Alcohol poisoning floods the bloodstream with large amounts of alcohol and affects brain function that controls breathing, heart rate and temperature.  According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs of alcohol poisoning include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow breathing, irregular breathing, blue-tinged or pale skin, low body temperature and passing out and not being able to be awakened.

It is imperative to note that an individual does not have to have all of the symptoms before seeking help. A person that is unconscious or can’t be roused is at risk of dying.

If alcohol poisoning is suspected, please call 911 for immediate help. Never assume that a person will just sleep it off. Alcohol poisoning can stop the gag reflex which will cause an individual to choke on their own vomit. Other old wife’s tales should be avoided at all costs.

  1. Do not give the person coffee, as coffee is a further cause of dehydration.
  2. Do not give food as the individual may choke due to an inability to swallow or a depressed gag reflex.
  3. Do not administer any medications which will make the alcohol poisoning worse.
  4. Do not induce vomiting, due to the slowed or absent gag reflex
  5. Do not attempt to “walk it off” as the lack of coordination could lead to accidents /falls
  6. Do not put a person in a cold shower to “sober up” as that can increase the hypothermia
  8. Do not leave the individual alone
  9. Do not administer any more alcohol

Alcohol poisoning necessitates correct and prompt medical attention. Try to have as much information, (individuals age, weight, amount of alcohol consumed over what time period, any other medications or medical conditions). While waiting for help try to keep the individual conscious, keep the individual informed and in a sitting position. If the individual is unconscious, carefully roll them on their side with their arms over their head to prevent choking. Additionally, cover the individual with a blanket as the alcohol poisoning will likely make them feel cold.

It may feel difficult to call for help especially if the individual is underage. Not calling however may produce far more serious consequences.

This Purim, let us endeavor as a community to be educated and vigilant, preventing unnecessary pain and suffering. A Purim with markedly reduced or no alcohol related incidents would surely fulfill, “Layehudim Hayta Ora V’Simcha Sasson V’yikar…..”