It often really concerns me that many people get their medical information from watching movies and television. That's because most shows are wildly medically inaccurate and truly misinform, especially in the arena of mental health. So I was particularly intrigued to watch Cake with Jennifer Aniston, which would be dealing with the subject of addiction. Besides being touchingly absorbing, Cake spells out that in reality ANYONE can develop a drug addiction, which is a painfully horrible way to live, often deadly and that it most often goes untreated.
When we think of a drug addict, we tend not to think about young mothers, upstanding citizens or those with means. Cake's main character, Claire, is all of these. This is accurate because addiction cuts across ALL demographics. That is because, like for Claire, addiction often begins due to the appropriate use of prescription medication for pain or as an attempt to escape depression or anxiety. Also reflected in this movie is the prevalence of prescription drug abuse. Sadly more people die from prescription opioids (painkillers) than from heroin and cocaine combined.
Claire is anyone and everyone... having a traumatic car accident, being in pain, losing someone she loved deeply. Ms. Aniston captured the anger and irritability of depression, how that pushes away those who are closest, the very ones you need the most in troubled times. Her portrayal of the agonized ambivalence about suicide and the impulsive irrationality of depression that drives 10 to 15 percent of those with the illness to take their lives rings true. Claire shows us how physically and mentally debilitating it is to live with chronic pain, how it can drive you to do and say things you never thought possible.
There is also an accurate portrayal of "the system." Even for someone who can afford treatment, it's difficult to find outpatient treatment and not difficult to doctor shop or attain illegal drugs. Prescription drug diversion to the illicit market occurs at every level of the supply chain and facilitates prescription drug abuse.
Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest growing drug problem. Drug overdoses have surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for those 25 to 64 years of age, and overall they caused 43,982 deaths in the U.S. in 2013 according to the CDC.
The sale of prescription stimulants and painkillers has spiked during the past two decades: According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse:
Between 1991 and 2010, prescriptions for stimulants increased from 5 million to nearly 45 million and for opioid analgesics from about 75.5 million to 209.5 million.
While this is all sobering, with education, there is hope and Cake provides an education for the viewer. In addition to having a more truthful understanding of mental illness brought on by trauma, I hope watchers will see that choosing to get help and change themselves for the better is possible, difficult, but doable. Others can't do it for Claire; she has to decide with support from others, that she can and should do the hard work of recovery.