Everyone is familiar with the widely held belief that addiction is an incurable disease characterized by a seemingly pathological preoccupation with a substance or behavior. People suffering from addiction are believed to be incapable of controlling their thoughts and their behaviors with respect to their addiction, often struggling with frequent cravings and relapse. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction on their website:

“Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”

This definition, although not supported by independent research, is widely accepted in our culture today and I assert is one of the leading causes of what the CDC deems is an epidemic among women; overdose deaths from prescription painkillers. In a feature story released Tuesday by ABC News, the CDC reported that rates of death for women from overdose of painkillers is up 400% over a 10 year period with an average of 18 women dying each day from overdose. While they reported that rates of overdose correlate to the rapid rise in prescribing these dangerous medications over the past decade, at the same time the report states that 70% of those who overdosed first obtained their drugs through means other than a doctor’s prescription. This inconsistency clearly indicates that there are other factors at work.

As our culture has moved rapidly away from personal responsibility and choice with respect to substance use and other behaviors, rates of mental illness, drug and alcohol problems, eating disorders and obesity as well as many other behavioral problems has increased exponentially. What’s truly insidious about this cultural belief system is that people are being told addiction can strike anyone at any time seemingly without their knowledge or input, much like cancer or ALS. ABC News correspondent Aditi Roy talked about women becoming “accidentally” addicted, and a woman who struggled with painkiller addiction said, “It just kind of spun out of control without me even realizing it was happening.” Yet later in the same interview the woman states she was actively doctor shopping, seeing multiple doctors and found an elderly doctor who was writing her a script a week. Anyone who has doctor shopped knows that to be successful requires elaborate planning, a high level of deceit, and a serious commitment; it certainly does not happen without prior thought and consent, and it doesn’t happen accidentally.

The question that is not answered in this report is how many women who died were being treated or had been treated for addiction? This data is crucial to understanding the problem and finding real solutions. What if addiction treatment and the cultural belief it has created are actually making the problem worse? With 18 women dying each day from willfully taking too many pills this should raise red flags in the addiction research and treatment community that something is terribly wrong! Perhaps the availability of drugs is only a small part of a much more complex problem. Perhaps the cultural belief system of powerlessness, helplessness and a disease that strikes without warning is at the heart of the problem. Millions of people take billions of pills for their medical problems as prescribed each day without issue. Perhaps it’s time to look at those people and find out exactly how they do it and why they seem to be immune to this alleged disease.