Researchers estimate that substance abuse in the United States costs business and industry over $100 billion each year and that governments will soon be spending over $100 million every day to incarcerate individuals arrested for alcohol- or drug-related crimes. What has not yet been calculated, however, is the emotional toll borne on a daily basis by those who love or live with an alcohol- or drug-addicted person.

Are you part of the approximately 43 percent of the U.S. population that falls into this category? If so, then you well know this emotional toll and you have probably tried countless ways to influence your partner, parent, sibling, child, or friend to stop. And, undoubtedly, none of these measures has helped. In fact, despite your best intentions and sincere attempts, things have probably gotten worse.

As an example, someone I once worked with had a 23-year-old son living at home who had been drinking and drugging since the age of 14. Her many vigorous approaches to address “the problem” had included everything from trying to talk with him calmly to throwing him out (and then taking him back in when he made all those promises to stop). Sometimes, depending upon her own mood and other circumstances in her life, she coped pretty well with the situation. At other times, she felt like she herself was “going crazy,” and that she just couldn’t do it anymore. This kind of scenario is repeated every day in millions of households, without regard to demographics, social or financial status.

Why Is My Approach Not Working?

The problem isn’t that the well-intended approaches are iwrong. The problem is really very simple. When another person is the one who has “the problem,” and you are the one lifting every stone to find the solution to his or her problem, you cannot and will not find it. No matter how much you love that person, no matter how much sincerity you have, regardless of how hurt or frustrated you feel, you simply cannot solve this situation for the other person. Alcoholism and other addictions are now understood to be a complex disease of the body, mind, and soul. Only the affected person can find the answers to his or her unique problem or the first steppingstone on his or her journey into recovery.

All is far from hopeless, however. You can and you must find answers to your own problem, which often centers on how you can best live your own life in a healthier way and manage not to react continually to the dysfunctional behavior of your loved one. Instead of continuing your fruitless search for his or her answers, you must begin lifting the right stones to find your own solutions. Once you fully understand and embrace this concept and determine that you will make this important change in your own behavior, you are already halfway there.

What Help Is Available to Me?

You will find many useful tools, including understanding people, to help you along the way as you initiate this journey.

  • There are numerous books written with you in mind, as well as numerous publications.
  • On the Internet, there are many web sites, chat rooms and facilitated discussion groups to help you gain a new perspective and learn how others have managed to conquer this stressful situation and emerge whole.
  • There is AlAnon, a recommended free resource right in your own community, which helps people to better understand the diseases of alcoholism and addiction, the predictable behaviors associated with them, and also empowers you to follow your own 12-step recovery program.
  • You may also choose to seek help from a professional experienced in assisting affected family members and friends, or possibly from your religious institution.

The important thing to remember is that you are not alone, and you don’t have to stay lost in the maze you have been trying unsuccessfully to navigate. There is a way out. Whatever first step you decide upon, take it today. You will not regret it. All of us must start our tomorrows with a first step we choose today.


Al-Anon & Alateen

Rogers, R.L., & McMillan, C.S. (1992). Freeing Someone You Love from Alcohol and Other Drugs: A Step-by-Step Plan Starting Today! New York: Berkley Publishing Group.

Johnson, V.E. (1986). Intervention, How to Help Someone Who Doesn’t Want Help: A Step- by-Step Guide for Families and Friends of Chemically Dependent Persons. Minneapolis: Hazelden Information & Educational Services.

Beattie, M. (1998). Reclaim Your Life: How to Take Care of Yourself When Alcohol and Drugs Threaten Your Family (video). Minneapolis: Hazelden Information & Educational Services.

Remboldt, C. (1993). Recovery is a Family Affair. Minneapolis: Hazelden Information & Educational Services.