Moral Failure vs. Responsibility

by Josh Hoe

Many people’s heads start to spin when they see me post articles that claim that “Addiction is not a Moral Failure.”

I suspect that they think that I am giving absolution to people who commit terrible acts while ‘acting out’ on whatever their addictive substance or behavior is.

First, I don’t have the power to absolve anyone.

But second, Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me clarify.

Responsibility vs. Moral Failure

Addiction, feeling compelled to use a substance or engage in a behavior compulsively, is a medical problem.

Engaging in immoral or illegal activities while ‘acting out’ (using your substance or engaging in an addictive behavior is still wrong).

I don’t believe addiction gives people a license to do bad things.

I don’t believe I had a license to do the bad things that I did and I believe I deserved to face the consequences of my bad behaviors.

I often tell other addicts that beating yourself up about ‘acting out’ is unhealthy but that guilt and shame are healthy when they are productive.

In other words, if feeling guilt or shame prevents you from doing something bad, the feelings were productive. If experiencing guilt and shame do nothing for you but make you withdraw deeper into your interior shell, those feelings were unproductive.

Saying that addiction is a medical problem does not make everything that you do while ‘acting out’ okay.

Saying that addiction is not a moral failure does not mean that everything that you while acting out is inherently moral.

The Difference

Acting Out isn’t a moral failure, doing bad things while acting out is a moral failure.

Driving drunk is a moral failure but getting drunk is not.

It may be hard for someone to stop drinking, but they are still responsible for the consequences of the things that they do while they are drunk.

Someone should not feel ashamed for gambling but the should feel ashamed for stealing someone’s money to pay for a night of gambling.

I believe it is very important to set boundaries and understand your triggers well enough so that you ask for help before going over the lines that will lead to immoral behavior.

The Point of “Addiction is not a Moral Failure”

The point is:

Society should not shame addicts for using.

Society should not shame addicts for relapsing (relapse is part of recovery).

Society should not criminalize using or look at using as criminal activity (in and of itself).

Society should not create a stigma around use or appoint bullies to “beat the addict” out of people (get-tough approaches).

And society should realize that “get-tough” approaches which shame addicts or that label addiction a moral failing are almost always more about making society feel better about shunning addicts (not about helping addicts deal with addiction).

Hopefully, that clarifies my stance.

Oh, and by the way, addiction is not a moral failing!

What do think of “get tough” and shaming approaches to addiction, let me know, leave a comment!


5 Stars “Approachable writing with good lessons.”

Writing Your Own Best Story: Addiction & Living Hope is available as an eBook on for only $2.99






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