Weiner lost her estranged father to a drug overdose seven years ago, contributing to her desire to tackle this subject in print. The angle she took, however, is that addiction does not discriminate. While many have a stereotypic vision of what a “drug addict” looks like, it can strike anyone at any time.
“I went in with the knowledge that painkiller addiction is a huge, and growing, problem for women — especially white, middle and upper-middle-class women,” said Weiner back in February to Entertainment Weekly, “the ones you’d see in yoga class or the carpool lane or at Whole Foods and never suspect they had a problem.”
The protagonist of the story, Allison Weiss, is a wife, mother, and blogger for a women’s interest website. Her father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and her marriage is struggling. What Weiner does in the novel is show how social status and class can contribute to the abuser’s complete and total denial that there is a problem.
In the opening chapter of the book, the protagonist — who had just taken Vicodin moments before — is driving through the streets of New York with her five-year-old daughter and sees a homeless woman on the corner begging for money. She thinks to herself, “I was a world away from the woman we’d seen. That woman – she was what addiction looked like. Not me. Not me.”
THE DESTRUCTION of DENIAL
Abuse of prescription pain medication can be one of the most prevalent when it comes to denial because of the way abusers acquire the substance. “Because these medications are prescribed by doctors, many assume that they are safe to take under any circumstances,” says drugabuse.gov. “This is not the case. Prescription drugs act directly or indirectly on the same brain systems affected by illicit drugs. Using a medication other than as prescribed can potentially lead to a variety of adverse health effects, including overdose and addiction.”
Weiner’s portrayal of Allison Weiss shows the downward spiral of denial. Allison began using prescription pain medication when she suffered a back injury while exercising at her local gym. What began as prescribed use turned into her manipulating doctors into calling in refills so she could fuel a growing addiction.
“My husband is cheating. Or at least he’s flirting. My father is dying. My mother is falling apart. And I’m not sure what to do about any of it,” says Weiss in the second chapter. Her answer is to call her doctor and lie about throwing her back out again. When the doctor questions how much she’s been taking because she had just called in a prescription earlier that week, Allison lies again and says the Vicodin she’s taking isn’t strong enough for the pain. The doctor suggests OxyContin. “’It’s a lot stronger, so be careful with it until you see how you react,’” says the doctor. “’I don’t want you driving …’”
Ultimately, the new prescription is filled and Allison’s love affair with the drug begins. “Why had it taken me so long to find OxyContin?” she thought to herself. “It was lovely. Blissful. Heaven.”
THE ART of MANIPULATION
Weiner chronicles the downward spiral of this woman’s addiction, which escalates to her purchasing pills online when her doctor refuses to refill the OxyContin prescription due to its highly addictive nature.
The cost of those orders adds up as her addiction escalates and she ultimately ends up stealing from her company’s petty cash fund. When her boss confronts her, she launches into a tale about a property tax bill. “I was shaking all over, sweating at my hairline and underneath my arms, struggling to keep my voice steady as I repeated how sorry I was, how stupid I’d been, how of course I would put the money back immediately if not sooner and how I would never ever ever do anything that dumb again,” says Weiss.
The protagonist ultimately gets away with it, but the interesting thing never addressed in the book is whether she believes she got away free and clear because she is blinded by the drugs. Her own perception is cloudy because the only thing she has concerned herself with is getting more drugs.
“Addicts can be extremely manipulative,” says Rehabs.com. “If your intuition tells you that an addict is lying to you or playing with your emotions in order to get your help, you’re probably right.”
THE DISTORTED THINKING
Another realistic portrayal in Weiner’s novel is the distorted thinking and justification that goes on within the mind of an addict.
Many reviews of Weiner’s book cite that the protagonist is difficult to like due to her selfishness and skewed thinking, but it ultimately shows the way drugs and alcohol can literally change the thought process of an addict. From blaming her husband for her troubles to blaming the treatment facility for treating her unfairly, Allison Weiss doesn’t own up to her addiction until she finally hits rock bottom.
“It didn’t matter that my turning point didn’t involve turning a trick in the back of a car, or looting my parents’ retirement fund, or sticking a needle in my arm,” she thinks to herself. “This was it. My hand in a stranger’s medicine cabinet, my little girl on the other side of a locked door, needing a mother who only wanted her to go away.”
“Congratulations, Allison Rose Weiss. You’ve finally made it all the way down.”
THE FOREVER BATTLE
Allison Weiss ultimately completes treatment and adjusts her sober living to accommodate her addiction. She talks of it being a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute battle with a never-ending finish.
“Unfortunately, as declared by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there is no cure for the disease of addiction,” said Rehabs.com.
“There are significant treatments available, however, in a wide array of styles and programs. With treatment, those individuals who have been affected by addiction can learn to readjust their lives to living without drugs or alcohol.”
In Weiner’s book, Allison Weiss attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings – abusers of prescription pain medication often relate more to alcoholics due to the legality of the substance being abused – and has a sponsor she calls when temptation arises.
The book appropriately does not conclude with a happy ending wrapped in a bow, which drew criticism from some readers. But the realistic depiction of sobriety drives the point home: it will be a constant fight, but it is worth it.
“Life on life’s terms,” Allison says to herself. “It was an absolute bitch. There was no more tuning out or glossing over, no more using opiates as Spackle to fill in the cracks and broken bits.
“We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it, The Big Book said … so I would try to be grateful that I’d stopped when I had instead of berating myself for letting things get as bad as they’d gotten. “I had learned what I’d needed to learn, and I knew now that I was, however flawed and imperfect, however broken, undeniably a grown up.”