The Blame Game

by Sandy Swenson
June 15, 2020

Addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone who opens Pandora’s Box. Even just a crack. Addiction can happen to anyone who has ever taken a pill or a drink or any other substance; all addiction needs is for us to lift off the lid for the very first time (which we’ve all probably done in one way or another). All addiction needs is one opportunity to first weasel its way in, then its deadly party can get started. So, trying to assign blame to what happens by chance, not by choice, is a waste of energy and time. It’s a distraction behind which the real issue can hide—battling the disease itself.

The only one who wins the blame game is The Addict wearing our loved one’s face. And yet, the blame game continues to be played with vitriolic vigor every day. Parents blaming children, children blaming Mom and Dad, society blaming whole families—everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else. Accusations, judgment, and ugly words are flung this way and that, landing here, sticking there. Resentments and irreparable damage abound.

Sometimes blame shoots from The Addict’s mouth, a bewildering cloud of confusion designed to shift accountability and attention away from himself. Whenever things go wrong—choices, consequences, or behavior—blame will land somewhere else, on someone else, with a thud. Bad luck, bad friends, bad upbringing. A smoke screen spewing untruths and unkindness in order to buy time and keep the addiction going, which The Addict must do at all costs.

Sometimes blame shoots the other way, right to the heart of The Addict from the people who love him most. Sometimes the blame is hit-and-miss, and sometimes it’s all-out war. Blame for everything and anything, for all the troubles addiction has caused—the shame, the stress, the family dysfunction, the expense, the pain. The whole damn kitchen sink. And sometimes blame is just pure blame. Cold, unadulterated, and cruel. No empathy or flowers, as with other diseases. Nope. Because “you did this to yourself.”

Sometimes blame is a series of poison darts, carried aloft on the myth of perfect parenting: “My child would never become an addict.” Or, “Where were the parents?” Or, “Why don’t they just tell him to stop?” Condemnation and judgment catching a ride on ignorance. Some people are lucky that poison darts aren’t actually boomerangs that could one day return to hit them in the butt.

Sometimes blame is a family affair, exchanged between individuals and among the whole group. Both self-directed and directed at one another, blame endangers the entire family unit. A whirling, twirling spiral that can easily get out of control. Because when we can’t fix something, when we can’t do something, when we can’t understand something, and when there’s nothing concrete to slap the blame onto, we, ourselves, are the easiest targets. So we kick our own selves while we’re down.

Sometimes, blame is a sleight-of-hand trick, redirecting responsibility to anyone else, anywhere else. Sometimes, blame is well-disguised shame. And sometimes, blame is just a bunch of hurt with nowhere else to go. But, no matter how it’s packaged up and presented, no matter from where it erupts, blame is actively destructive. It needs to stop.

It’s the disease with which we do battle—not the addicts consumed by the disease and not the people who love them. But as long as we’re playing the blame game, as long as we’re pulled into that emotional free-for-all, our focus is diverted. As long as we’re bickering over who’s to blame about what, we’re making enemies of each other instead of fighting the right enemy: the disease of addiction.

Sometimes blame is a way to cope. A way to avoid facing hard truths, learning new ways and making difficult changes. But if we’re ever going to win the war against addiction, it will happen with conscious effort, not knee-jerk reactions. So let’s do the work—the work that might actually change the dynamics of the place where love and addiction meet. Let’s take responsibility for the things that belong to us and set aside the rest. Let’s stop looking around for fault in others and stop engaging when others might fling fault our way. And let’s move forward in ways that are healing. Without blame. Without shame. Without guilt. Without judgment.

Addiction is a wily disease, a master at ensuring its own survival. We don’t need to behave in ways that will help it.

Dandelion STRONG

“We may often feel fragile, but we are strong. And we are many.
We have the power to overpower the destruction that addiction spreads.”


Sandra Swenson is the author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction (Central Recovery Press 2014), Tending Dandelions: Honest Meditations for Mothers with Addicted Children (Hazelden 2017), the Readings for Moms of Addicts app (Hazelden 2018), and her blog.

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Sandy Swenson

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  1. JUST what I needed to read today, Sandy. Your empathy and understanding are far-reaching. Thank you for sharing these thoughts!

  2. Thank you for your beautiful words. My son is in the nether world at this point; 3 OD’s in the past 2 months. I am reading Tending Dandelions right now and I love it. It has allowed me to cry and let all my pain go. My son has relapsed after 10 years and I have been struggling. It it so good to have this resource to remind me that I am not alone.

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