Responsibility Defined

Responsibility can be defined twofold:

* The state of being responsible, accountable or answerable and/or,
* A duty, obligation or liability for which someone is held accountable.

To be responsible is to be answerable for an act performed or for its consequences. To take responsibility is to own up to the actions, behaviors and issues pertaining to a certain act. With regard to substance abuse or addiction, taking responsibility for an addiction refers to being accountable for the abuse or misuse of drugs or alcohol. The individual is responsible for the consequences and outcomes, even if the intended outcome of the use of a substance was not to develop an addiction.

Substance Dependence

Substance dependence is a chronic medical condition that is known to cause major chemical changes in the brain. These changes can affect personality, behaviors, cognitive ability, reasoning and even motor skills. Drugs and alcohol abuse is also known to impact significantly on a persons physical health and serious conditions such as liver disease, heart disease, hepatitis, infections, brain damage and injuries are a consequence of drug abuse. Many people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol will exhibit behaviors that are different to when they are not under the influence. They may neglect personal obligations, have a lack of interest in employment or education and even have poor hygiene. Some addicts will become violent, engage in dangerous or harmful activities and face homelessness as a result of their substance abuse. Acknowledging that these consequences are a direct result of their substance abuse is a major hurdle in the recovery process.

Conscious Decision for Many

In many and perhaps most cases, drug use is something that an individual makes a conscious decision to do. A person who has a drink of alcohol, smokes a joint or injects a hit of heroin makes a decision to do that act at the point in time. Initially this decision may be conscious but as an addiction develops with repeated and continual use of the substance, the decision may switch from conscious to simply a repeated act. Much of our lives are based around unconscious decisions that are repeated such as eating a particular dish on a menu, choosing to drive down one road over another or sitting in a particular chair at home. The language that an addict uses when describing the escalation of their addiction confirms this sentiment; I didn’t know what I was doing, It just happened, I don’t know why I didn’t stop.

It is a voluntarily choice that a person makes when they are considering using a substance prior to an addiction developing. This decision is made with the knowledge that the drug may be addictive or harmful. Regardless of the risk factors to developing an addiction that a person may have; such as a social, genetic, environmental, behavioral or psychological vulnerability; that person takes the opportunity to use a substance with well known risks and harm potential.

Prescription Medication and Addiction

One exception to this is the use of prescription medication. Prescription drugs are taken to alleviate symptoms that a doctor considers necessary to medicate. The most commonly abused prescription medications are those that are designed to alleviate severe pain, anxiety, boost energy levels or are prescribed for conditions such as ADHD. When a person begins to use these drugs, they are doing so to help their quality of life improve and to medicate crippling pain or anxiety. However, some of these medications are incredibly addictive and have a high abuse potential. Without proper supervision by a medical doctor, the use of these drugs can begin to escalate and tolerance can develop. If tolerance develops, more of the medication may need to be used to treat the symptoms they are experiencing, along with the symptoms of withdrawal from the medication.

Another exception is the development of an addiction through the use of other substances. In this case a person may develop an addiction to pain medication such as an opiate drug that has been prescribed to treat chronic pain. The individual becomes dependent on this highly addictive drug through circumstance of medicating their own pain. Due to regulations and doctors concerns, the individual is taken off the medication and begins to undergo painful withdrawals. To treat these withdrawals, the person may begin to abuse alcohol to relieve the symptoms. As a result of this abuse of alcohol, they begin to use alcohol regularly and develop an addiction. In this example, the person does not begin to use the substance out of a clear or conscious decision, rather it was a matter of situational need to relieve suffering.

Blaming Others for One’s Addiction

Many people who have a substance abuse problem will blame others for the addiction they have developed because it is easier to place the fault with someone else. Blaming others means that the addict can avoid feelings of culpability, guilt and responsibility for their actions and behaviors It also allows the addict to develop an extensive list of excuses for why they abuse drugs or alcohol. These excuses allow them to seek pity, compassion and understanding from others but does little to help them overcome the addiction. It is only through owning up to their faults and being accountable for themselves that the addict can be free.

Some of the common excuses used by addicts to give reasons for their addiction include:

* Family or parental substance abuse – the addict is born into an addictive family so that means they will be an addict too.
* Domestic violence – spousal violence has contributed to the need for someone to use drugs or alcohol to cope with the violence.
* Mental illness – conditions such as depression and social anxiety are often characterized by substance abuse so this is the reason for the addiction.
* Trauma – being involved in a traumatic experience such as a sexual assault, accident or violent crime has created the environment for drug addiction.

The above excuses are all contributing factors in a substance abuse and there is some evidence to suggest that without these a person may not abuse drugs or alcohol. However, there is also a large proportion of the community that are victims of trauma or violence, grow up in families with a history of substance abuse or have a mental illness and do not abuse drugs or alcohol.

Blaming others does little to resolve the problems that are caused by the abuse of drugs and alcohol. It does not solve relationship issues, financial problems or abuse issues. Individuals who abuse drugs should recognize that even if they would not have done certain things if it wasn’t for other factors, that they have done them and people deserve apologies.

Avoiding Responsibility

Drugs and alcohol are often abused as a way to avoid personal obligations and commitments such as family, work or education responsibilities. A drug allows the addict to avoid situations that they do not want to be a part of or to not be in a situation that they find uncomfortable or painful. The drug is an excuse for bad behavior and both the addict and those around the addict will allow it to an acceptable excuse. Overcoming an addiction means dealing with these obligations, responsibilities and uncomfortable situations that have contributed to the path of substance abuse and addiction. This can be scary, stressful and hard work for the addict in recovery but without being accountable, recovery will not be be achievable.

Avoiding responsibility is often seen in recovery and may include:

* Developing another addiction or addictive behavior such as gambling, work-a-holic, exercise fanatic, over eating or sex-addiction.
* Denial of the things done while addicted, severity of the problems or previous substance abuse.
* Thinking or expecting that someone else will be responsible if a relapse occurs.
* Avoiding and procrastinating over important goals in recovery.
* Passive aggressive behaviors – accusing others of interfering or blocking recovery.
* Perfectionist attitude – demanding that the recovery process has to follow a certain schedule or pattern or else it is doomed.

An addict may also avoid taking responsibility for their addiction through allowing others to be responsible. Some addicts develop enabling or codependent relationships with people that allow them to avoid blame or responsibility. Family members, friends, spouses and even co-workers will cover up mistakes and give excuses for bad behavior that enable the addict to continue their drug or alcohol abuse. This is not only damaging to the relationship but also puts others in a precarious position of being at fault in the case of an accident, major problem or even financial debt.

Accepting Personal Responsibility

Accepting personal responsibility involves acknowledgment that every person is responsible for the choices in their life. It is not the fault of anybody else if a person chooses to take a drug or drink alcohol. Individuals have the ability to direct where they want to be in their life and should accept that they can only blame themselves if they make poor decisions. If an addict wants to continue to use alcohol or drugs they should accept that there are consequences to their actions. Illness, injury, broken relationships, loss of jobs and discrimination are consequences of repeated and continued substance abuse.

Many addicts have identifiable triggers or excuses for their ongoing substance abuse. These can include stress, relaxation, peer pressure, social settings, anger, anxiety, sadness, loneliness or boredom. Acknowledging that there is not only a problem with drugs or alcohol but also that there are identifiable triggers can benefit any person who is wanting to overcome their addiction.