By Pat Matuszak

You can’t miss the recent headlines about the opioid epidemic. Celebrities and leaders all the way up to the White House have signed on to man the fight. Some of the blame for the addiction crisis has fallen on healthcare professionals who over-prescribed opioid drugs to relieve pain. When this happens, the cause is straightforward.

But what if you’ve never been prescribed opioids or are addicted to alcohol? You may be using addictive substances to dull a different kind of pain — usually spiritual or psychological pain. This is known as “self-medicating” in the healthcare community.

Spiritual Pain Can Fuel Both Blame and Addiction

Young black couple arguingSpiritual pain often comes from traumatic memories. The ache is just as real as pain from a broken leg but is often pushed aside because the wound is invisible. If you suffer from spiritual pain, you may want to put the traumatic memory out of your mind and move on. But not dealing with the damage caused by spiritual wounds leads to chronic psychological pain.1 To deal with it, you may develop a destructive way of thinking, like a mental crutch to help you keep moving along.

When the source of your pain is a buried past event, you may develop a free-floating anxiety about everything around you. The things and people that surround you in the present may be seen as the pain source. Instead of getting counseling, discovering the root of the problem and dealing with what happened, it may seem easier to use addictive substances to numb the pain. Once you’re hooked and even less aware of your past, it’s easy to blame your spouse, job, parents or life situation for the pain that led to addiction.

Reasons We Play the Blame Game

Why are we so attracted to blame? Why does blaming others seem easier than looking within ourselves? Here are nine common reasons we point the finger.

  1. We resist change. Change is difficult because it requires working on ourselves. Even if we can admit we’re not perfect, we’d rather ask someone else to change to accommodate us than change ourselves. Once we establish habits of thinking and behaving, it’s easier to fall back into the familiar than to enter new territory.
  2. We like a push-button solution. It’s quicker to move or change jobs than to do time-consuming work to change ourselves. “I saw moving as a way out — it seemed to be my only option,” Julie R. writes in her Heroes in Recovery story. “I thought that if I could change the scenery, the people, or the location where I worked, then I could start over. The only problem was that everywhere I went, there I was. Unless I was ready and willing to change, my life as I knew it would not change.”
  3. We fear the consequences. Taking responsibility for our problems is scary because it not only brings us face-to-face with ourselves but also with higher authorities and punishment. The first record of the blame game goes back to the first couple: Adam and Eve. They both knew not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge but decided to do it anyway. They were also aware of the consequence of disobedience: God said they would die if they ate it. That’s the ultimate scary punishment. So Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.2
  4. We don’t like to admit we’re flawed. We’re used to polishing our image in social media and on resumés — not admitting to weaknesses. That’s one reason other people who mirror our own weaknesses bother us the most.
  5. We have low self-esteem. The opposite of pride sometimes looks the most like it. We defend ourselves because we feel the need to prop ourselves up. “Blame is an excellent defense mechanism,” Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, says. “Whether you call it projection, denial, or displacement, blame helps you preserve your sense of self-esteem by avoiding awareness of your own flaws or failings.”3
  6. We have unhealed pain. Growing up with abuse can cause wounds that get buried deep inside. Some victims suppress the awful experiences so strongly they don’t even remember them, but the pain still seeps to the surface. Not wanting to examine it, they look for something else to blame their discomfort on. All the while, they’re working not just to forget the painful memory, but to deny it ever happened.4
  7. We want to shift the focus. If your boss is looking for someone to blame for going over budget and all eyes turn towards you, you might blame whoever is missing from the conversation. It’s a classic case of the best defense is a good offense. Diverting attention is simply a means to get the focus off ourselves.3
  8. We don’t want to forgive. It’s easier to forget than to forgive. If we face our past trauma, we might have to forgive someone. We think that might mean excusing their evil deeds, but it just means giving up our bitterness and accepting we were wronged.5
  9. We don’t want to give up the addiction. We know if our problems were resolved we’d have no reason to stay in the addiction. A door to freedom would fling open, and a host of other change might come rushing through. Again, even a destructive habit is a familiar one and hard to give up for the unknown.

It’s tempting to take the easy way out and blame situations and people around you for your addiction. But in the blame game, no one ever wins. It traps you and your loved ones in a cycle of loss. Once you stop blaming others and accept responsibility for yourself, true healing can finally begin.


1 Lancer, Darlene. “Are You in Denial?”, 2014.

2 Zaslav, Mark. “Shame and the Pendulum of Blame.”, April 4, 2016.

3 Krauss Whitbourne, Susan. “5 Reasons Why We Play the Blame Game.”, September 19, 2014.

4Self Acceptance.” Narcotics Anonymous World Service,, 1985.

5 Martincekova, Lucia. “Forgiveness in the Treatment of Alcohol and Other Substance Abusers.” MOJ Addiction Medicine & Therapy, vol. 1, no. 1,, June 2, 2015.