February 19, 2019

According to recent statistics gathered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 23.5 million Americans over the age of 12 cast about in daily life addicted to alcohol and/or illegal drugs. That number does not include the millions of other Americans who are addicted to prescribed medications, most of whom began taking their prescriptions to mediate a physical or mental-emotional problem. Then the drug became the problem, most notably narcotics and anti-anxiety medications. Even more, that 23.5 million people addicted to alcohol and/or illegal drugs does not include the millions of people involved in process-behavioral addictions to sex/pornography, gambling, food, and work. Many other subtler addictions that exact a cost upon society is denied or simply not recognized, and they also add significantly to the millions not counted.

For every one person addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, 3 to 4 other people in relationship with the addict experience life-damaging effects.

Speaking only about the 23.5 million addicts (saying “only” about 23.5 million anything seems absurd to me, but I want to remain specific) impact upon themselves and others, statistics indicate that for every one person addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, 3 to 4 other people in relationship with the addict experience life-damaging effects. Predominantly family members directly suffer the emotional and relational, if not the physical and financial, impact of addiction. The impact of addiction upon this group centers on the suppressed capacity for emotional and relational developmental abilities that trauma causes. Any person who is connected relationally with an addict for an extended period of time will suffer some characteristics of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Think of the impact on children alone.

Trauma indicates that a person will suffer some form of reaction that requires they hide their vulnerability to emotional expression and relational capacity for intimacy. They develop a distortion, distress, and distrust with their own sense of worth and acceptance of belonging and mattering. More simply put, they believe they have to perform to have worth or acceptance. They have to earn love, and rarely allow themselves truly to trust love when it is given. These characteristics, likewise, reside inside every addict at the core of their own emotional and relational makeup.

The effect is that these people suffer the compulsion to attempt to find a full life without knowing how to risk feeling all that is required to live a vibrant relational life. Symptoms of this core “need” for control can extend into myriad complicating results, from stress illnesses, anxiety disorders, and depression, as well as addiction itself. Addiction sets up the continuation for the next addiction and/or many other life-stifling consequences. Addiction is, tragically, a form of relationship, a self-cure that allows one temporarily to avoid the insecurity of depending on others or God for relational fulfillment. These counterfeit fulfillments take control over the emotional vulnerability and insecurity required to live ably and fully in true relationship with others and God.

Addiction is, tragically, a form of relationship, a self-cure that allows one temporarily to avoid the insecurity of depending on others or God for relational fulfillment.

By multiplying the minimal number of 3 people impacted by addiction times the number of addicts estimated by SAMHSA, that number is 70.5 million people harmed emotionally and relationally by people trapped in their own emotional and relational maelstrom of addiction. By adding the 23.5 million to the 70.5 million, one can see the power of addiction and its devastating consequences. That number is 94 million people suffering emotional and relational distortions, distress, and distrust, all connected to one common denominator of addiction to alcohol and/or drug addiction alone. That number is greatly expanded by all the other addictions and their impact.

No matter how much we attempt to address our personal, family, community, and national problems without addressing addiction and its impact, we will fail. Addiction and its impact is America’s number one internal problem. Actually, it may be America’s epidemic. Ironically, one of the main characteristics of addiction is denial—will-bound blindness to what is literally, objectively, actually occurring within in the addict, and within the people associated with addiction. We are a nation of people addicted, and a nation of people in denial. It becomes an ongoing repetition of retracing a circle. We cannot see the damage of addiction because of denial, which protects us from the emotional vulnerability of trauma, which exacerbates the “need” for relief from stress, which influences addiction, about which we are in denial. And on it goes.

We must see and feel beyond denial. We must see and feel our way into living with the capacity for full relationship, which requires the vulnerability of receiving and offering love, even the love that does not tolerate the denial of addiction and its impact. Unless we do, we perpetuate the problem.

One person at a time can do that one thing. That reality is occurring all over our nation daily, one person and one relationship at a time. And that one thing can really matter to some one person who becomes available to another adult or to one child. It can change a person that can change a family, and impact a community, and can affect a nation.

Relational fulfillment may be our only hope to address what is destroying our nation—one person and one relationship at a time.

I suspect, however, that only a minority will experience the solution. So what? Look at the power that a minority of 23.5 million addicts has. Can 23.5 million people living fully in the vulnerability and strength of relational fulfillment not have the same and exponentially greater impact? Being in a minority certainly is not hopeless. It may be our only hope to address what is destroying our nation—one person and one relationship at a time. No top down national solution will work. An uplifting relational solution can.


If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, Sage Hill is here to help. Browse our therapists at Sage Hill Counseling to find the right guide for you: NashvilleBrentwoodMurfreesboroMemphis

For further reading, consider The Voice of the Heart by Chip Dodd or Codependent No More by Melody Beatty.