The question of personal responsibility and blame for addiction is tricky. When does a deliberate and informed choice to disregard the possible consequences of our behavior, turn into something we can no longer control, and which has therefore become something that’s not really our ‘fault’ anymore – at least in the normal meaning of that word? It’s often hard to know exactly when that change occurs.
If you are behaving in some way that puts you at risk for developing an addiction, but you don’t yet have an addiction, and you know you are at risk, but you choose to continue anyway and take that risk, it’s your personal responsibility whether you decide to change that behavior – or not.
Both options are valid personal choices
and each person is responsible for the choice that they make
In the early stages, before a full-blown addiction has developed, people still have choices – and it is always their responsibility to make that decision, or not.
If someone chooses to ignore the danger signs, or advice, and they do not decide to change their behavior (with help if necessary) then in that sense they are ‘to blame’ for choosing to continue.
But it’s a slippery slope – as an addiction develops, the degree of rational choice over our behavior diminishes as the addiction takes over.
Once addiction has developed and the brain changes have become established, that degree of choice over our ability to control our actual addiction behavour is severely limited.
It’s traditional to blame ‘proper’ addicts and alcoholics for not controlling what they do, but at that stage, control is not really possible any more. Maybe they can resist for a few hours or days, but not in the long term without help and support.
Most people in the general public (and some medics) blame/accuse/abuse addicts for what they do, and addicts and alcoholics often blame themselves as well – when it’s really a bit late by then, and also not fair or helpful.
Health professionals these days try to change the general public’s attitudes about addiction by explaining that an established addiction is a whole lot more complicated and difficult to ‘cure’ than just saying ‘No’.
And it’s not simply a matter of moral weakness or lack of willpower, or the belief that someone can just ‘stop’ if only they would pull their socks up, or if they really wanted to.
That moral weakness approach doesn’t help anyone, in fact makes it worse for everyone, and is not even true by then, if it ever was.
Making a decision to stop doing anything we really ‘want’ to do, including feeding an addiction, requires things such as self-confidence and belief in our ability to change, self-empowerment, good self esteem, and an informed understanding of how addiction works (what they are fighting against). Most people with an addiction have lost all those things, if they ever had them.
All those necessary qualities are sabotaged if someone is ‘blamed’ and labeled as ‘a hopeless, weak-willed, immoral person’. As many people discover, blaming and yelling at someone with an addiction never makes them give up – in fact it usually drives them further away from the people who care, or used to care, for them, and who could possibly even help them.
By the time someone has an established addiction, the decision to be made is not ‘should I have a drink today?’ or ‘should I have two or six drinks today?’ but, ‘do I really, really, want to stop being controlled by my addiction?’
If someone really wants to regain control over their addiction, and even if you can’t see how that’s possible, you should take the next step to reach out to someone for help. It could be a help line, or your local doctor, or a trusted friend who can organize for you to see a health professional.
It’s important to realize that you don’t need to know how you can do it, you only have to decide that you want to do it. You can get help with working out how it can be done, later on.
Health professionals work with people with addiction to help them get to that first point of committed and personal decision for change. Once that decision has been genuinely made, the rehab process moves on to teaching, supporting, and showing them how this can be done, and how to minimize and avoid possible relapses.
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