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Rethinking Responsibility in Recovery

by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.

Many lively debates arise in discussions on the relationship between freedom and responsibility. Many individuals think that with increased responsibility comes decreased freedom. Challenging this notion can be a pivotal turning point in recovery from problematic substance use.

sober man thinking about responsibilityIt is a natural human phenomenon to re-establish a sense of freedom when we feel our autonomy restricted. It follows then, that if we feel responsibilities are imposing upon our freedom, it is natural to rebel against those responsibilities. Substances are an excellent way to rebel.

It is not an uncommon scenario for an individual to think, “I’m stressed out, I’m sick of all these work demands, whatever, I’m going to Vegas this weekend and I’m not going to think about any of it the whole time!” While a trip to Vegas, or elsewhere, to forget about responsibilities temporarily is far from inherently problematic, it is also not uncommon for an individual in such situations to over-indulge, over-spend, and/or over-extend themselves in a way that results in lingering negative consequences (consider the person who calls off from work to recover from the long weekend, or the individual who maxes out a credit card at the casino, etc).

The truth is that responsibility in no way imposes upon our freedom. With a job, marriage, children, etc., we are just as free as we’ve always been to shun responsibility; it’s just that the potential negative consequences may be more severe. Choosing to exercise our freedom responsibly is a self-empowering and meaningful process. Considering how meaningful one’s life would feel without responsibilities is one way to rethink and appreciate what we feel responsible for.

It is well established that most individuals mature out of problematic patterns of substance use. It has been argued that the highest level of maturation is reached when freedom is exercised responsibly. It is through the fulfillment of responsibilities that anxiety is reduced and meaning is given to our lives. Living lives with less anxiety and a deeper sense of meaning is an excellent foundation for recovery. Thus, exercising freedom responsibly is an invaluable method to successfully maturing out of problematic patterns of substance use.