The Issue of Personal Responsibility in Addiction

The question of personal responsibility in regards to addiction has long-since lead to a great deal of controversy. The controversy stems from the fact that while parts of the disease of addiction have to do with genetic predisposition and similar things beyond our control, other parts of the disease have to do with lifestyle choices, things we can control. Substance dependency is not a disease unique to this question of personal responsibility. Cancer patients who chain-smoke cigarettes and hypertension patients who remain obese and lack motivation to exercise face similar controversy. When a combination of controllable and uncontrollable factors comprises a specific disease, the question of responsibility comes into play.

Who Caused the Disease of Addiction? Who Should Work to Fix It?

There are four main possibilities in regards to pinpointing responsibility for personal problems, and these can be applied to the disease of addiction in determining personal liability.

  • The Moral Model

In the moral model, the individual feels a sense of obligation in both causing the problem at hand and in resolving it. There is usually a healthy approach to this model, such as an individual recognizing that they started drinking and thus they are capable of stopping. However, this model can be employed in extreme measures, with an individual believing they are always at fault and they must solve every issue without outside assistance.

  • The Medical Model

In the medical model, the individual recognizes that he or she has no fault in the affliction, and that he or she has no idea how to solve the problem at hand – thus must rely on professional, medical assistance. The extreme version of this model is becoming completely helpless and dependent upon others, while the healthy approach has to do with following advice of professionals with more experience and knowledge.

  • The Enlightenment Model

In this model, the individual does believe that he or she is responsible for creating the issue at hand, but he or she is not responsible for treating the issue on his or her own. The individual will see the immediate role he or she played in the development of the addiction, but will look to authoritative figures for advice and suggestions on how to treat the problem successfully. In an unhealthy extreme of this specific model, the individual may develop a crippling degree of self-loathing thus blindly follow authoritative figures.

  • The Compensatory Model

In this model, the individual does not believe that he or she is responsible for creating the problem, but believes that he or she is completely responsible for resolving it. The danger with this model comes when an individual refuses to accept help based on an overwhelming sense of responsibility.

The issue of personal responsibility varies greatly from individual to individual. Some addicts and alcoholics may view themselves as the victims of circumstance, while some may see themselves as solely responsible for all of their own difficulties and unfavorable situations. Internal versus external locus of control comes into play. It is important to understand that personal responsibility does vary based on one’s specific underlying issues and perspective, and that what is more important than placing blame is identifying a solid and lasting resolution.

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