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Section 8
Addiction: Placing Blame on Family

Question 8 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed the caretaking trap. This involves family members feeling they have no choice, avoiding pain and seeking pleasure, feeling guilt and shame, and being well-intentioned.

In this section, we will discuss the blame game, in which placing blame on other family members keeps focus away from the addict’s addiction.

As you are aware, blame doesn’t do any good for anyone. It may lead to a feeling of temporary relief, but never leads to long-term solutions. Blame keeps individuals from taking action- since others are at fault, all there is to do is sit around and wait for them to pull themselves together.

As we discussed in section 1, blame can be a form of misdirection often used by addicts. Remember Peter and Brigit? When Brigit confronted Peter about his alcohol addiction, Peter blamed her, turning the focus away from his behavior.

♦ Family Member Blame Game
Family members of addicts play the blame game too. They blame each other for the way they cope with the addict’s behavior, and turn a blind eye to their own shortcomings. Each family member becomes adept at explaining their own defects as reasonable reactions to unreasonable circumstances. The bickering that result keeps the family’s attention focused on less painful problems, and nothing is done about the addiction.

Martha, 64, was addicted to sedatives, painkillers, and alcohol. Since the death of her husband five years ago, Martha’s three grown children have had to deal with her addiction. Lauren, the oldest, lived nearby, and quickly became the caretaker. When Martha passed out while frying chicken, resulting in a small kitchen fire, Lauren decided to cook and freeze all Martha’s meals so that she would never have to use the stove.

Lauren spends more time with Martha than with her own husband and children, searching Martha’s house for pills she can throw away, and staying nights to make sure her mother does not overdose. Lauren told me "If I work really hard, I can at least give her back some of her dignity".

Martha’s other children had different ways of dealing with her addiction. Jenny visited every other weekend, became angry with Martha, and argued with her. Jenny felt like she was the victim of Martha’s addiction, and expected her to use willpower to ‘snap herself out of it’.

Phillip, the youngest, lived 400 miles away, and rarely visited or talked about Martha’s addiction. He was ashamed of her behavior, and viewed her as a bad person, rather than as a sick person. Phillip, Lauren, and Jenny all blamed each other for enabling Martha’s addiction. Jenny blamed Lauren for babying Martha, and Phillip for hiding their mother’s problems. Lauren blamed Jenny, telling me "She swoops in every other week, makes Mom angry, and leaves. She has no idea what I go through day after day!".

Phillip resented Jenny for not being more quiet about Martha’s addiction, telling her she has no respect for their father’s memory. Lauren, Jenny, and Phillip often called each other and got into fights, and were so busy blaming each other that none of them brought up the possibility of putting Martha into treatment. It wasn’t until Martha took a bad fall while drunk, breaking both her wrists, that the siblings were able to put their differences aside and work together to get Martha into a treatment program.

Getting Past the Blame Game
Once the crisis of Martha’s fall was over, I worked with Lauren to help her get past the blame game. I told her that the first step was to practice turning blame questions into transformation questions. I said "This means, when you start blaming, rethink it, change it, and restate it. For example, instead of asking ‘who’s to blame,’ ask, ‘what’s gone wrong’.

I asked Lauren to try the REBT process - rational-emotive behavior therapy. I first asked her to write down her three most powerful blame or resentment statements. I then asked Lauren to pick one statement from the list to examine more deeply. Lauren chose the statement "Jenny only came to visit every two weeks, and she always got angry at Mom."

♦ ABC Blame Statements
I told Lauren we were going to break this blame statement into three parts - the ABCs; the action - Jenny’s behavior, Lauren’s belief about the statement, and the consequence. Lauren’s A was Jenny’s behavior. Lauren’s B was "Jenny has no right to be angry at Mom. She doesn’t deal with her every day like I do". The C was a feeling of anger.

Now that Lauren had identified the irrational belief that was causing her anger and blame, I asked her to come up with a list of statements and question to challenge the irrational belief. Lauren wrote "Mom has hurt us both in different ways. Jenny does have a right to be angry with her, and so do I", and "I can’t control how Jenny reacts to Mom, I can only control how I let myself be affected by it."

I encouraged Lauren to mentally recite her list of belief-challenging statements every time she started to become angry at Jenny for yelling at their mother. I told Lauren that although she could not change Jenny’s behavior, she could shape her feelings about it by ceasing to focus on Jenny’s behavior, and focusing on the cause of her discomfort, and by continuing to challenge her irrational beliefs.

In this section, we have discussed the blame game, in which placing blame on other family members keeps focus away from the addict’s addiction. In the next section, we will discuss the mirroring of symptoms in the addict’s family, and the four character defect personality types: the caretaker, the perfectionist, the procrastinator, and the rageoholic.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article Reference:
Corrigan, P. W., Watson, A. C., & Miller, F. E. (2006). Blame, shame, and contamination: The impact of mental illness and drug dependence stigma on family members. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(2), 239–246.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article Reference:
Church, S., Bhatia, U., Velleman, R., Velleman, G., Orford, J., Rane, A., & Nadkarni, A. (2018). Coping strategies and support structures of addiction affected families: A qualitative study from Goa, India. Families, Systems, & Health, 36(2), 216–224. 

Corrigan, P. W., Watson, A. C., & Miller, F. E. (2006). Blame, shame, and contamination: The impact of mental illness and drug dependence stigma on family members. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(2), 239–246.

Eddie, D., White, W. L., Vilsaint, C. L., Bergman, B. G., & Kelly, J. F. (2021). Reasons to be cheerful: Personal, civic, and economic achievements after resolving an alcohol or drug problem in the United States population. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 35(4), 402–414.

Farmer, R. F., Seeley, J. R., Gau, J. M., Klein, D. N., Merikangas, K. R., Kosty, D. B., Duncan, S. C., & Lewinsohn, P. M. (2018). Clinical features associated with an increased risk for alcohol use disorders among family members. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 32(6), 628–638.

Pimentel, P. S., Arndorfer, A., & Malloy, L. C. (2015). Taking the blame for someone else’s wrongdoing: The effects of age and reciprocity. Law and Human Behavior, 39(3), 219–231.

Rusby, J. C., Light, J. M., Crowley, R., & Westling, E. (2018). Influence of parent–youth relationship, parental monitoring, and parent substance use on adolescent substance use onset. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(3), 310–320.

What is meant by the ABCs of a blame statement? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 9
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