Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

People turn to alcohol and other drugs for several reasons. When substance use disorder (SUD) develops, it is only a matter of time before substance use consequences become apparent.

When individuals seek recovery from SUD, they will often go through a stage of healing that involves reflecting on these consequences. Additionally, they will likely succumb to the blame game, which refers to blaming oneself or others so heavily that it procrastinates and delays the recovery process. While blame can motivate change, it is essential to avoid playing the blame game at all costs during treatment and recovery.

The Intersection of Blame, Substance Use and Society

When individuals start to reflect on the reasons that led them to substance use, they may blame peer groups, their parents or even themselves. Although it is normal to want to place blame, it ultimately does nothing to resolve the problem. Actions or feelings of guilt and responsibility are characterized by denial, which causes an individual to get “stuck” in their life circumstances.

Most people do not fall into the blame game on their own. Society has contributed to many misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding substance use, addiction and treatment.

Language’s Impact on Blame

It is essential to understand the effect that language has on instilling feelings of blame and shame or guilt in individuals who use substances or have experienced addiction.

For example, consider the term “addict.” When a person uses the label of an “addict,” it suggests that the labeled person is a problem rather than has a problem. This label elicits negative associations and individual blame.

A solution to this label would be to use the phrase “person with a substance use disorder.” This phrase is factual and does not elicit blame.

The influence of language should be a concern of society, not just for experiencing blame, but for all experiences of substance use and addiction. There are too many newspaper headers, television titles and content that use derogatory language toward individuals with a problem and need help.

Where Does Self-Blame Lead?

During recovery, there will likely be times that you blame yourself for your past. In some ways, this can be beneficial as it motivates you to make more positive decisions for yourself moving forward. However, in general, blame will keep you stuck. Transform feelings of guilt and responsibility by recognizing your need for change.

One of the most positive things that you can do to recognize your need for treatment and recovery is to accept that you have a problem and acknowledge that you cannot solve your problem by yourself. You have to learn how to take responsibility for your past actions. A valuable way of accomplishing this is recognizing that you’re trying to do the best with what you have. Even if you did know better in the past, such as realizing the consequences of your substance use, you were not ready to seek help. Now you are ready. Allow yourself to celebrate.

Transform Your Past into Lessons Learned

Life is an ongoing journey of learning, and the path of recovery is no different. Recovery reminds us that there is a lesson to be learned from everything we experience, both negative experiences and positive ones. During the moments you find yourself wanting to blame yourself for your past, recognize that you still have an entire lifetime ahead of you. You can teach yourself how to stay motivated and engaged in your recovery by devoting the rest of your life to positive behavior change. Soon enough, your past will be the main contributor to your future growth.

Take Responsibility Without Blame

When blame is left untreated, it can perpetuate substance use and increase an individual’s risk of relapse. Effective treatment must help patients identify blame and overcome it as it surfaces during the healing process. Individuals who struggle with substance use disorders must not fall into the blame game trap created by themselves or society. You are not deserving of the stigma or harsh treatment. Instead, you are worthy of the opportunity for treatment and recovery.

Learning to take responsibility for your actions without feeling blamed is not something that happens overnight. For many, it is a process that can take months or years of continuing treatment and recovery engagement. It may be helpful for you to recognize that the present moment is all that you will ever have. Mindfulness skills and psychotherapy approaches like motivational interviewing can make all of the difference in learning how to use your past as a motivation for change.

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is a drug and alcohol treatment center recognizing that blame is a standard part of treatment and recovery. We offer several psychotherapy approaches, such as motivational interviewing, that will help patients overcome feelings of blame during their treatment journey. Blame will keep you stuck, but we will work alongside you to help you blossom and maintain motivation. To learn more, please call us today at (877) 557-5372.