Addiction tends to inhibit maturity. The self-centeredness that is a hallmark of addictive behavior interferes with relationships and social development. Addicts therefore are often described as irresponsible and immature. The Twelve-Step program provides the vehicle for restoring a balanced level of responsibility and maturity. Some people see responsibility as a burden. There is a more positive way to look at it, as response-ability: the ability to respond in a way that makes you feel good about yourself. Responsibility means to be reliable and trustworthy in healthy relationships.

Family of Origin

A good place to begin to understand responsibility and maturity is by looking at your family of origin. Your role models, parents and others, gave you some (possibly distorted) ideas about what responsibility and maturity were, and whether they were valuable attributes. Wherever your family fell on the spectrum between ideal and absolutely terrible played a strong part in the attitudes you developed.

Healthy families In healthy families, children take on responsibilities appropriate for their age. This level of responsibility starts with simple things and gradually increases to the point where a teenager is taking a fair share of the duties of participating in the family. Everyone in the family, including parents, has a reasonable balance of work and play, primarily depending on their age.

Dysfunctional families In dysfunctional families, the roles tend to be all mixed up; children are usually over- or under-responsible. You may see a ten-year-old child acting as the primary care-giver for a four-year-old sibling, because mom and dad are not available. That is too much responsibility at that age.

On the other hand, you might see a fifteen-year-old who has virtually no responsibilities toward the rest of the family. This leads to the illusion that he or she is “entitled” to a free ride from life.

Martyrdom Some parents, many of whom are from addicted families themselves, try to give their kids what they did not have. It is easy to go overboard on this, and wind up sacrificing yourself for your children.

Think of it this way. If your children look at your life (and they do), will they see adulthood and parenthood as a desirable place to be, or as roles to be avoided as long as possible? If they see that you don’t have much fun because you are sacrificing for them, what incentive do they have to grow up?

Arrested Maturity

Most addicts, especially those from dysfunctional families, tend to have distorted concepts of responsibility and maturity. The most common are:

  • I want what I want when I want it.
  • False maturity (faking it); pseudomaturity; accepting responsibility for anyone and everything.


For many addicts, then, an important part of recovery is learning, or relearning, skills relating to responsibility and maturity:

Boundaries What is appropriate behavior? If your parents and other childhood models were unable to teach you socially acceptable behavioral boundaries, you have to learn them now. Start asking people in the Program whether you’re doing things right, from how close you stand to other people when talking, to how you relate to the opposite sex, and when youare isolating or being too intrusive with friends.

Balance Balance (in most everything) is dynamic, not static or rigid. You will have times when you are more responsible, and other times when you are more carefree.

Communication Focus on love and honesty in communication. Again, check things out with people in recovery and others in whom you sense a level of comfort or serenity with responsibility and maturity. You don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”

Relationships You will have varying levels of responsibility TO other people. Seldom if ever will you have responsibility FOR another person. Even the mother of an infant is not really responsible for her child (for every part of its well-being), although she does have lots of responsibilities for her own actions regarding it. You might be legally responsible for damages done by your teenagers, but you cannot be held morally responsible for their actions, because you cannot control them.

Spirituality Remember that the Program runs on the energy of love and honesty. Your Higher Power and/or sponsors or others in the Program will be glad to help you — you have only to ask.

Responsibility, see also: Abuse, Affirmations, Amends, Assertiveness, Attitudes, Behavior, Character defects, Codependency, Defenses, Family, Feelings, Grief, Guilt & shame, Intimacy, Inventory, Judgment, Money, Paradoxes in addiction, Perfectionism, Relationships, Resentments, Self-centeredness, Service & giving, Spending, Sponsorship, Step Four, Step Six, Step Eight, Survival roles, Willingness.

Updated 9 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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