It was one day after a painful relapse, and the 16 year old’s mother was furious with the program director. “If you’d done your job,” she hissed, face the color of a ripe plum, “this would never have happened.” The director didn’t respond, but you could read her thoughts plainly enough: the same might be said of Mom and Dad.

The reality: Both might have done their respective jobs better, and still wound up with the same outcome.

That’s because other factors are at work here. Obviously, the addict himself — his own desires, aspirations, needs, and preferences. To use or drink is a personal decision. It’s very difficult for anyone else to prevent an addict from returning to use if he decides to. There’s always incarceration, but that may just delay the inevitable.

Second, there’s the nature of addiction, which is to return to use despite the adverse consequences that follow. You could argue (and many have) that relapse is just a demonstration by the disease of its continuing influence.

To quote George Vaillant in 1988, after reviewing the long-term findings on addiction recovery: “…to a remarkable degree, relapse to drugs is independent of conscious freewill and motivation.”

So why play the blame game? I suspect it’s a way of avoiding the painful reality that we’re not really in control of the outcome. Not the parent, not the spouse, not the therapist. It makes us uncomfortable to acknowledge that degree of helplessness. Easier to pretend that somebody else could have done something different and saved the day. So it must be their fault.

Who knows? It may turn out that young Alfred Addict may someday look back on this relapse not as a tragedy but as an important step on the road to successful recovery.

And if that should be the case, he wouldn’t be the first to feel that way.