Playing the blame game seems to be a part of human nature. For many, it’s easier to try to find or place blame than to work on a problem. And it’s culturally engrained — children, teens and adults often look for blame in a situation before searching for a solution. Whether it’s a natural defense mechanism or not, who or what we place blame on for hardships can be telling of individual and social situations and actions.

In a recent study conducted by The Recovery Village, approximately 400 participants were surveyed in an effort to better understand the public’s perception of addiction and the family’s influence on addiction. Of those 400 participants, a staggering 63.43 percent blamed someone that could be surprising to some people: themselves. This result was revealing because it displays that over half of the participants struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD) are self-aware and potentially looking inward for help.

Simply being aware can turn a dire circumstance into an opportunity to make a change in behavior, beliefs and surroundings. The survey results contradict common social beliefs or judgments that are often passed on people struggling with substance use disorders.

The Blame Game 

With a proverbial roll of the dice, people can decide various reasons to determine who or what is to blame for their substance use disorder. This choice to blame other factors besides themselves is not often a conscious decision, it can be part of the nature of being someone struggling with a substance use disorder.

No one can definitively conclude why some people, especially those dealing with addictions, actively blame their problems on other people or factors, but there are potential explanations for why people struggling with substance use disorders try to shift blame away from themselves. These reasons may include:

  • They are embarrassed – People with substance use disorders may feel ashamed of their actions or behaviors when they’re intoxicated, and by admitting that the choices they made were their fault, the actions and behavior could be even more embarrassing. For example, someone with an SUD may blame the fact that they didn’t get a promotion on their boss showing favoritism, instead of the fact that they’re late nearly every day because they’re hungover.
  • They are not ready to change – When a person with an SUD recognizes that they are to blame, it can often mean that they are taking responsibility for their actions and something in their life has lead to that change. However, often times, people with SUDs just aren’t ready to make the change.
  • They don’t believe their addiction is a problem – A sign of active addiction is often denial. Instead of seeing substance misuse as a problem, someone with an SUD often views their substance misuse as a solution. Any suggestions that drugs and alcohol are to blame for their bad situations challenges the way that they live their life. For this reason, it difficult for people with SUDs to accept the blame for poor decisions because their mind is completely convinced that it’s not their fault.
  • They don’t realize they are dealing with addiction – Whether they take prescription painkiller provided by a doctor or have one too many glasses of wine after work, some people may not realize that they have a substance use disorder. When substances consume everyday life, it can be a challenge to understand the gravity of addiction. Recognizing the problem truly is the first step toward healing.
  • There are other factors at play – Finding the root of addiction is more complicated than finding someone or something to blame. Family history, medical history, environment, education and other experiences play a role in addiction. These compounded factors make it difficult to accept or even understand the role that a person plays in their own substance use disorder.

Is Addiction a Family Affair? 

Based on the survey results, the correlation between family history of drug or alcohol addiction and an individual’s struggle with substance misuse wasn’t necessarily what one would expect. While 69.5 percent of participants reported that they did have a history of drug or alcohol addiction in their family, just 27.5 percent disclosed that they had struggled with a substance use disorder. These results support other studies, including one by the American Psychological Association (APA), that states that at least half of an individual’s risk of developing an SUD can be connected to their genetics. The APA even suggests that there is one particular gene that could one day predict the likelihood of someone developing a drug or alcohol addiction.

With the realization that addiction is, in fact, a disease, researchers are looking at genetics to determine whether or not someone can be born with a higher risk of developing an SUD. They have discovered that like most other diseases, addiction can be a very complex issue. According to the Genetic Science Learning Center, addiction can be the combination of hereditary and environmental factors. The Genetic Science Learning Center suggests that scientists will never find just one addiction gene. The center claims that several genes, in addition to environmental factors, can influence a person to be more at risk for developing an SUD, or that these factors and genes will cancel each other out. One person with an SUD won’t necessarily carry the same gene as someone else with an SUD, and not everyone who carries an addictive gene will develop an SUD.

Carrying an addiction gene doesn’t guarantee a person will develop an addiction either, it just means that they should be more careful. This gene’s presence suggests that if someone possesses the gene it may be more difficult for them to stop misusing substance or they may have more severe withdrawal symptoms when they do quit.

Alcohol: A Family Matter 

A family heirloom is often passed down from one generation to the next, surviving moves from state to state or even country to country. Addiction is a disease than can be passed on from one generation to the next.

The Recovery Village’s recent survey found that the relationship between the type of substance that both the individual and their family member struggled with were nearly identical. Participants said alcohol, at 85.5 percent, was the substance their family member struggled with and 62.7 percent reported that they were struggling or struggled with an alcohol use disorder.

This evidence suggests that the influence of a family member’s substance use disorder can have a negative impact on an individual’s own risk of addiction. According to the National Institute of on Drug Abuse, alcohol is the most commonly misused substance. This implies that it could be no coincidence that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that children of those who have an alcohol use disorder are between four and 10 times more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol themselves, compared to people who don’t have an alcohol addiction in their family. Children with parents who have an alcohol use disorder are also more likely to start binge drinking before they’re 27 years old and they tend to move through the stages of alcoholism quicker than people who do not have alcohol addiction in their family.

We Are Family: The Relationship Between Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder 

A similar relationship existed between the biggest contributing factor for both a family member’s and an individual’s substance use disorder. Participants said that the biggest contributing factor to their family member’s addiction was mental illness (31 percent), while 35 percent of them also believed that mental illness was the biggest contributing factor to their own addiction. Similar to addiction, mental health is also known to be hereditary. According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, someone who has a family history of addiction is twice as likely to develop mental health and substance use disorders — also referred to as co-occurring disorders.

Children who grow up in an environment with parents or relatives who have SUDs are more likely to develop mental health disorders, according to the Institute for Family Studies. A parent or relative’s substance misuse can affect a child’s development and lead to behavioral and mental disorders. In addition, children struggling with mental illnesses are at risk of developing a substance use disorder.  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration adults with any mental health disorder, 18.2 percent also had an SUD. On the other hand, 6.3 percent of adults without a mental illness struggled with an addiction.

Self-Awareness Prompts Change

The fact that over half of the survey participants acknowledged their part in their own substance use disorder demonstrates how self-awareness can be a catalyst for change. When a person takes ownership of their actions and the factors that impact their life, they can begin to take steps toward healing. Being self-aware allows someone with an SUD to recognize where their thoughts and emotions are leading them, and make necessary changes like enrolling in treatment for their addiction.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.