Whose Fault is a Drug Addiction? Parents or Individuals?
Not long ago I was conducting a therapy group at Sunrise Detox when a client shared about how bad he is, how he just can’t forgive himself, and that his addiction is all his fault. When I assured him that the disease is not his fault, another group member raised her hand and insisted that her disease is actually her parents’ fault. Again, I replied that her disease is not her parents’ fault.
I replied that no one is to blame for addiction. As is the case with diabetes and similar diseases, we are not responsible for having become addicted; we are only responsible for our recovery. Well, that set off a firestorm of controversy, and a great discussion. The questions flew! “Then whose fault is it,” blurted yet another member of the group.
“How can this not be my fault when I’m the one who picks up the drink/drug?”
“My parents make me so mad I just have to use…I can’t help it! How is that not their fault?”
“I’m an alcoholic and now my oldest son is an alcoholic too. He got this from me and I feel terrible about it.”
Sometimes We Feel the Need to Assign Blame
Considering the devastation that addiction causes in the life of a person, a family, even a community, it’s easy to see why there’s a desire to place blame. If it’s not someone’s fault, we feel even more out of control. Humans hate not knowing the “why” of things, and if we don’t get good answers we make up our own. I love it when these questions and comments come up, because I get to give people good news.
We are, I remind the group, accountable for our behavior, in or out of active addiction. Our addictive behavior affects other people, so when the time comes, the right thing for us to do is to make amends: to the best of our ability fix or make right the damage we have done to others. We are accountable, even though we were not in our right minds when we did the damage.
Is Addiction a Disease?
We are not responsible, however, for having the medical condition that caused us to act as we did. Although we may have made some unwise choices along the way, not one of us set out to devastate our lives by becoming an addict. Social, psychological, neurological and genetic factors combined to make what was, at first, a pleasant experience into a perpetual nightmare. We did not choose for that to happen, and would certainly not have done what we did if we had any idea of the real consequences. We are, perhaps, guilty of bad judgement. But we are not guilty of addiction.
Responsibility for an Addiction is Not The Same as Responsibility for Recovery
A parent who may feel guilty for passing the gene along needs to know that we have no more control over our offspring’s addiction than over the color of their eyes. The only control that we have regarding a child’s addiction from this day on is to be an honest example of recovery, a model of living in the solution and of finding happiness without substances.
We Are Responsible for Our Recovery
Just as we are not guilty of our own addiction and have no control over the addictions of others, others have no control over our addiction. We can remain solid in our recovery even if we are stressed, enraged, wounded, or feel uncomfortable about the behavior of someone else. However, we may find that distancing ourselves from people who trigger those emotions is beneficial for us, especially early on. That makes it easier to disentangle our emotions from theirs, strengthen our recovery, and develop some healthy boundaries. No matter what anyone else does, our recovery is our own responsibility.
Addiction— whether our own or that of others — is nobody’s fault. Sometimes stuff just happens, and no one is to blame.