Five Truths about Painkiller Addiction in the Movie "Cake"

Warning -- this article contains spoilers

"Cake" is an intense portrayal of Claire, played by Jennifer Aniston, a woman living which chronic physical and emotional pain. Initiated by her doctor, she is medicated with the painkiller Percocet, following a car crash in which she was injured, and her young son was killed. While the movie contains several mistakes about painkiller addiction, there are a number of insights into the condition. Here are five of them.

Physical and Emotional Pain are Closely Intertwined

Claire was seriously injured in a car accident, and has endured extensive surgery on her legs. She also appears to have ongoing pain from a whiplash injury. Prescribing Claire painkillers, such as Percocet, would be appropriate under these circumstances. But the more painful consequence of the accident was the death of Claire's little boy, which has put her into a state of immense grief. Her inability to cope with this loss led to the breakdown of her marriage, she is unable to work -- previously having a successful career as a lawyer, and friends and other relatives are conspicuous in their absence.

So it is quite clear the Claire is medicating more than her physical injuries; she is using Percocet to sooth the intense emotional pain she is carrying. If Claire received appropriate therapy, such as EMDR, to address the trauma she experienced, and was able to work through her grief with a supportive therapist, she might have been better able to use her painkillers as prescribed.

Double Doctoring is Common in Painkiller Addiction

When people develop painkiller addiction, they hurt more than the painkillers they were prescribed can adequately help with. They might ask for a higher dose from their physicians, but physicians are well aware that these medications are addictive, so are careful not to prescribe too much. In addition, these drugs carry a risk of overdose, especially if less is taken for a while, then there is a sudden increase in the dosage.

When the dose is not enough to deal with the pain being experienced, and the doctor will not prescribe a higher dose, or if the person has taken more than they were prescribed and has run out of medication, they can sometimes have difficulty getting more prescribed. Going to another doctor and getting a new prescription, known as double doctoring, is one way people like Claire obtain more medication. Sometimes people obtain additional medication so they can sell it.

Medication Addiction is Increasingly Common Among Women

While white, wealthy, middle aged women like Claire do not fit with the stereotype of a drug user, this group of the population is commonly developing painkiller addiction, and is increasingly showing up in hospital emergency departments having overdosed on medication. Research from the CDC shows that overdoses among women has increased by 400% since 1999.

People Experiencing Painkiller Addiction Are Often Socially Isolated

While Claire is presented in an unfair light, as a heartless and unlikeable person, social isolation is an inevitable reality for many people with chronic pain and addiction. They may be too disabled to work, so are alone for long periods while others get on with their careers. They may feel uncomfortable going out, and lack motivation to be around others, due to their feelings of anger, and anxiety, and of course, pain. The hurt can be worsened for some, who find it hard to see others living fuller lives with relatively little pain.

Yet being with others and developing supportive relationships is often important to recovery, and to maintaining hope and the will to live life, even if it is not the same as life before chronic pain. Although it can be difficult, the benefits of genuine, supportive relationships are a significant part of the quality of life for people living with chronic pain, and are well worth the effort.

Suicide is a Real Risk

Most people with chronic pain do not end their own lives. However, when someone has been through a life- threatening accident, the loss of a child, and ongoing chronic pain, suicide is a very real risk. This is why it is so important to seek the support of a therapist as well as family, friends, and support groups when it feels like life is too painful to live.


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