Why Take Painkillers for Your Pain When You Can Take Up a Hobby Instead?


In the third season of the usually excellent Fox medical drama House, the writers bravely allowed the title character, the irascible diagnostic genius played by Hugh Laurie, to outsmart a vengeful detective (David Morse) who was determined to make him choose between his career and his Vicodin habit. House entered treatment but continued taking the pills, which he was using to treat chronic leg pain, on the sly. This season (the sixth), the writers seem to have chickened out, which is a shame not just because of the message it sends about pain treatment but because the developing story about House's drug use makes no sense.

Toward the end of last season, House had what looked like a psychotic break, featuring vivid, detailed hallucinations that included repeated visits by the ghost of his best friend's girlfriend and an imagined love affair with his boss. In the last episode of the season, he checked himself into a mental hospital. This season begins with House, still in the hospital, suddenly and dramatically withdrawing from hydrocodone, which is completely gratuitous, since even if there were a reason for him to stop using the drug he could have been tapered off. We are explicitly told that the painkillers were not responsible for the hallucinations, the exact source of which remains mysterious but may have something to do with House's lingering depression. Yet now House's psychiatrist (André Braugher), friends, and colleagues see him as an "addict" who must forever avoid "using." Worse, this is how he describes himself, even though the hydrocodone, which he really did need to treat his leg pain, improved rather than impaired his ability to function.

In this week's episode, House, on the advice of his psychiatrist after he's released from the hospital, quits his job and tries to find a "hobby" to distract himself from the leg pain, which is so severe that it prevents him from sleeping. He and his psychiatrist ultimately conclude that what he really needs is to go back to work, even though the stress and drug-associated surroundings may increase his risk of "using," because that is the only thing that will engage his mind enough to make the leg pain bearable.

This plot is stupid in several ways. First, unless House plans to diagnose disease 24 hours a day, going back to work is not a solution to the pain that keeps him up at night. Second, if all House needed to relieve his pain was his work, why was he taking the Vicodin to begin with? Third, we never get a clear explanation of why House is forever forbidden to use painkillers, no matter how much he is suffering, especially since he managed to do his job brilliantly while he was taking them. The message seems to be that people suffering from severe chronic pain should find engaging work (or a hobby!) to take their minds off their agony, instead of relieving it with medication designed for that very purpose, medication that can be taken indefinitely without serious complications. Why? Because drugs are bad, and if you take them long enough you will become an addict. This cruel, illogical message is guaranteed to offend anyone who has suffered from the kind of pain that afflicts Gregory House, and it only reinforces the misconceptions that, together with fear of legal trouble, already make doctors reluctant to prescribe narcotics even in situations where they are entirely appropriate. 

I was surprised once before by the direction this running plot took, so I suppose I should not rule out the possibility that the show's writers will somehow redeem the medically and psychologically senseless cliché to which they have resorted. But it's hard to see how that can happen, unless House wakes up one day to discover that his new drug-free lifestyle was all a bad drean.

I remarked on House's Vicodin habit here and here. More on the conflict between drug control and pain control here.

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  1. OT: Am I a racist because I’m glad Chicago lost the Olympics bid?

    1. No, because I was about to post the same thing and you beat me to it. Obama gets played on the international scene one more time.

      Those fucking racist Danes not giving in to Obama’s wishes!

      1. It’s FRICKIN’ HIGH-LARIOUS that Obama lost in the first round of voting — because it really was Obama, not Chicago.

        How long until the MSM spin it that the Republicans cost the U.S. the Olympics?

        1. The MSM is already trumpeting Jesse Jackson’s charge that it’s Bush’s fault because he wouldn’t sign the Kyoto treaty, and he misled us into Iraq. Remember, the Senate rejected Kyoto, 98-0, and bipartisan Congressional support for the Iraq invasion was overwhelming, but regardless of the facts, it’s all Bush’s fault.

    2. Racist? No. Insensitive and unpatriotic for being happy about a loss of billions of dollars and potential jobs? Maybe.

      1. The Olympics (with the exception of LA ’84) always cost the host city money, they don’t make money.

        Chicago taxpayers should be grateful.
        Oh, and the jobs are quite temporary.

  2. Jacob, what kind of pills would you recommend for treating the pain of a giant spoiler alert rammed up my ass?

    1. I think a joint should do, followed up with some Californication, Curb, or Mad Men.

    2. Youve had 4/11 days to watch this season’s episodes so far. Exactly how long do you expect people to extend spoiler alerts?

      PS – Klinger stayed in Korea.

      1. Gotta agree with healthscarequotes. Not exactly a burdensome request.

      2. “PS – Klinger stayed in Korea.”

        Dammit! I’ve had that saved on my DVR for 26 years and you had to go and ruin it.

      3. PS – Klinger stayed in Korea.

        Thanks for the morning giggle.

      4. Snape kills Dumbledore.

      5. Luke, I am your father

      6. The falcon they’d found was made of lead with no jewels. The hunt goes on.

      7. Jesus dies

  3. Jacob echoes my own thoughts while I was watching it, largely, WTF? Is anyone proofing the script for reality?

    I think this may be the last season for House.

    1. After the awful season opener, I’m hoping so.

  4. Why hasn’t David Morse played Bill Clinton in anything? He looks just like him.

    1. I take it you didn’t see 16 Blocks?*


      1. Morse played Washington. Isn’t that close enough?

  5. The message seems to be that people suffering from severe chronic pain should find engaging work (or a hobby!) to take their minds off their agony, instead of relieving it with medication designed for that very purpose, medication that can be taken indefinitely without serious complications.

    Uh, not really, for temporary use, OK and for terminal patients OK, but they are not really a good idea for chronic use in non terminal patients because they are addictive. NSAIDS, Tylenol or for neuropathic pain, Neurontin, Tegretol or Elavil is a safer choice for this, albeit possibly a less effective one. We really need to put some research into finding safe and effective, non-addictive painkillers for long term use.

    1. I tell you three times opiods are safe. Not kinda safe, not safe for short term use. Safe.

      There are people all over this fair land who have been living on opiods twenty four hours a day for decades. And they are healthier, more productive, happier, and better off than they would be without the meds.

      I also tell you three times that long term users form a tolerance and become physiological dependent they generally do not become addicted when taking them for pain.

      It is not like any of this is news either. It has all been known for decades.

      And Neurotin or Lyrica are only “safer” if you don’t count in the increased chance of the patient going narcoleptic behind the wheel of a car. Have you actually lived with someone being treated for sever chronic pain? I have.

    2. Please learn what you are talking about. Opiates are NOT “addictive,” implying that anyone who uses them becomes addicted. NSAIDS kills thousands of people every year, and they’re useless at any dose for serious pain. Elavil is a Tricyclic antidepressant. Would you treat the pain from a broken leg by cheering the victim up, chemically enforced if necessary? Newsflash: it doesn’t work. Neurontin is a SCARY damned drug; check into Columbine style shootings for that one – and SSRI’s. I’ve had to try all of those, though I refused Neurontin. And screw you and the ignorant and fanatic damned government: READ THE SCIENCE! Opiates can only “addict” about 1 1/2 % of the population – those who are predisposed to addiction. (THey can also get “addicted to fingernail biting, pulling out their own hair [trichotilomania] and a lot of other things. It’s a suspected to be a type of obsessive/compulsive disorder. I’ve been in pain for 25 years! ONE TIME, just ONCE for a little while, after 6 failed back surgeries, homelessness and losing everything, I was given enough OPIATES to actually function and began rebuilding a life. Of course someone panicked, it was removed, and now I’m back to too little; just enough to barely survive.

      Read the blasted textbooks, find the research and find out the truth. Your ignorance and the cop’s ignorance-by-intent is KILLING me and about 70 million other people.

  6. Jacob –

    Did you mean “irascible diagostic genius”

    Or “irascible diagnostic genius”?

  7. Although I agree, a hobby to relieve pain is a bunch of ridiculous nonsense.

  8. The writers on the show often seemed to confuse addiction and dependency.

  9. My wife, who’s a biochemist specializing in pharmacology, always thought House was unbearably stupid.

    Just sayin’.

    1. im pretty sure house finds her unbearably ugly

  10. To be fair, while House did indeed do his job brilliantly while on drugs, he was also spinning increasingly out of control in his personal life, and it was starting to cross into his job. He was addicted, not merely using.

    That said, the bit about going back to work to kill the pain didn’t make sense to me either, and for the same reason — it didn’t help him before, why does it now?

    And besides that, wtf is up with Foreman? He begs for House’s job, then has his first case solved for him by internet, while reducing the department to just himself in the space of a day, and he’s still there?

  11. All the good drugs are addictive and they are addictive because they are effective and good. Compare adderall to provigil, or hydrocodone to its lesser analogues.

    Why do a few trouble-users get to ruin to fun of using good drugs for all of us? Responsible use is good use.

    wanna get high?

    1. Tolerance and dependence are not the same as addiction.

  12. Isn’t there a greedy doctor out there that wants to profit from amputating that leg? After the beating they put on that cop, I’m hoping the writers will side with the paikillers in the end.

  13. I’ve only watched bits and pieces of House, but it always seems to go something like this:

    Dr. A: He’s metacarpolizing! We should defibrilate the hoozitz!

    House: (mutters something sarcastic)

    Dr. B: We need a rebostat! Stat!

    House: (rolls his eyes and mutters something sarcastic)

    Dr. A: But what about the femaflobber?

    House: (mutters something sarcastic and leaves the room)

    1. Can’t forget the dramatic sequence featuring a horrible alt-pop ballad about three-fourths of the way into each episode.

  14. @ @:

    Yes, you can set your watch by House. As someone here once said, it’s Gilligan’s Island.

    However, you don’t watch it to see if they get off the island. You watch because it’s a compelling show for characters and dialog. And House is such a bad boy, stickin’ it to da man.

  15. Recent (last week) facebook post of mine:

    I just had an idea for a TV show. Its an “IT Drama”. Its like House, only a server is behaving strangly and no matter what they do, it only gets worse, then just before it crashes (after 55 minutes of show time), the hero realizes the obs…cure problem, pops open vi, and fixes the typo. Repeat next week.

    1. I copied directly off of facebook. I think this site put the … in the middle of obscure, it isnt in the original. Stupid reformat.

      1. With the right actors and actresses, this could actually work. Of course, you’ve got to have a kick-ass theme song.

        1. I figure you can have some great quirky characters, what with the way the IT community is. Some “Big Bang Theory” types, an aspargers (sp?) type, a few other oddities.

        2. You also have to include the line “I’ll build a GUI interface to traceroute the firewall” at least once a season.

  16. I dunno, I love House. However, I’m a DVD viewer, which means that I’m still on the fifth season. So la-la-la I’m not listening or reading.

    What I like about the show–among other things–is that they’re pretty loyal to House’s brilliance. If he loses a battle of wits, he usually didn’t really lose. He’s Sherlock Holmes, so his true defeats you can count on one hand. That takes some balls in these days of everything is gray and nuanced.

  17. It’s not lupus.

    1. After 6 seasons they’re rapidly running out of ridiculously rare diseases for House to diagnose. I expect to see a nasty case of lycanthropy to show up this season.

      1. Actually I’ve seen one case of lycanthropy. Scary stuff. Impossibly strong, and took two ambulances worth of restraints. A hayseed friend who got bitten was kinda worried for a while there. No joke, though. This guy went through a THICK plate glass door and barely even slowed down. Then he went through the city’s police force before about fifteen of them tackled him and got him hogtied. And I got to be the attendant on the transfer to Kern County nuthatch. I decided that if he looked like he was getting out of all that leather, a E-tank of O2 was going to fall off that wall clamp. Accidentally, of course. We were forbidden to use choke-outs by then, but nobody ever said squat about a good old-fashioned club! We got there okay, though. I understand the idiot resident psych had him UN-hogtied. Bad move, that. They had a few injuries, I guess.

  18. The message seems to be that people suffering from severe chronic pain should find engaging work (or a hobby!) to take their minds off their agony, instead of relieving it with medication designed for that very purpose

    Therein lies your problem, because you are fan of the show and because some previous plot lines reflected some of your thoughts, you think there is a message. Maybe they are just tired of doing the pain killer story line and just decided to write it out of the script. Maybe there is no message beyond, “Hey advertisers people are still watching my show, bring that truck load of money over here”

  19. A reminder that Klinger was back in the US for After M.A.S.H., along with Potter and Mulcahy. Some purists do not consider this Canon, but Larry Gelbert was involved in the writing.

  20. It’s not lupus.

    Has it ever been lupus?

  21. “PS – Klinger stayed in Korea. ”

    Um, no.


    1. Im well aware of AfterMASH, but he stayed in Korea at the end of MASH, if just for a short while.

  22. Hmm. Is this the episode of “House” where a patient comes in with some crazy illness that no one understands, and House does something completely random and figures it out, while almost getting fired because he’s such a big jerk to everyone? I think I heard about that one.

  23. Does anyone actually watch House for the character development? I suspect that this post is just an attempt to convince yourself that you’re motivation for watching the show doesn’t have to do with Cameron and 13 being total babes and Cutty having some nice assets as well.

  24. House is not primarily about plot, it’s about character, mainly House’s. It’s also about watching Hugh Laurie’s finely wrought abuse of other characters.

    The finale of House, when Laurie finally quits, should involve House deciding to leave medicine to try his hand at comedy in the U.K. Guest-starring Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry.

  25. Season premiere was cliched as hell in the plot line but the cast ensemble put together for the mental ward was one of the best, much better than the regular cast with the exception of the little Jewish guy who never moralizes are unbearable to watch.

  26. Does anyone actually watch House for the character development? I suspect that this post is just an attempt to convince yourself that you’re motivation for watching the show doesn’t have to do with Cameron and 13 being total babes and Cutty having some nice assets as well.

    Cutty is drop dead gorgeous, yet her give and take with House got old a long time ago. The actress that plays Cameron is one of the more convincing babes on TV playing a high IQ professional, whereas 13, is not only unconvincing, she doesn’t belong on the show. A Gray’s Anatomy miscast.

    1. A Gray’s Anatomy miscast.

      I originally thought the writer’s brought her on to parody Gray’s, but it has been apparent that over the past two seasons they take that character seriously.

    2. 13 can be as convincing or unconvincing as she wants…she’s so hot that I do not give a shit about any other aspect of her character and I’m perfectly okay with that.

      1. I admire your fidelity, and I only wished Show Time soft porn discovered her before House did.

  27. I suspect that this post is just an attempt to convince yourself that you’re motivation for watching the show doesn’t have to do with Cameron and 13 being total babes and Cutty having some nice assets as well.

    That’s a feature, not a bug.

    Why can’t we watch for both?

  28. The show is a police procedural with doctors instead of cops. It has the exact same M.O. as Law and Order, for fuck’s sake. That being said, it has interesting characters and is well written. Well, it was…I’m starting to seriously lose interest with the addiction crap and House becoming sort of nice.

  29. Not to mention, pain killer addiction and the supposed horrors of pain killer withdrawal amounts, largely, to horseshit. As an avid pain sufferer for many years and a user for extensive periods of vicodin and the like I can attest to the fact that stopping taking it, even after taking large amounts of it for long periods amounts to almost nothing – as long as you consider enduring the pain you were taking it for in the first place to be almost nothing. Drug hysteria lies are so deeply entrenched that most people can not ever bear to consider that 99% of it is complete BS. Now, getting off of SSRI’s, that can be a serious nightmare.



  31. I’m starting to seriously lose interest with the addiction crap and House becoming sort of nice.

    Give it time youngling. The producers know that if people want nice, they’ll watch CBS.

    That said, I maintain that this is the final season. It’s getting thin.



  33. My wife, who’s a biochemist specializing in pharmacology, always thought House was unbearably stupid.

    I’m not even a doctor, and I think that show is unbearably stupid.

  34. Not only is House kind of crappy this season, I’ve been disappointed with Always Sunny’s new stuff (last season’s opener was a fucking classic); Fringe hasn’t been impressing me, or even Supernatural (and they are dealing with the fucking Apocalypse! For real!). Plus, the season opener of Dollhouse was hella weak.

    1. You’re kidding, right? Charlie’s pear-eating adventure was classic and a half. And any excuse for drunk Dee is A-OK with me.

      “You can’t throw pee out the window!”
      “Well maybe I can and maybe I can’t, it’s up for debate.”

    2. The “episode plot” part of dollhouse was weak, but there were some good bits. The Dr and Topher bit was very good. Stupid bar in the ceiling obscuring the good bits of Amy Acker’s ass.


    * * *


  36. Epi–Don’t forget Stargate: Universe! I’m really ‘meh’ abou thtat, but I’ll watch, just the same.

    I think the Clone Wars 2nd season looks to be the best thing on in comparison.

    My son is ready to explode on the spot with anticipation of tonight’s Clone War premier. Literally. He vibrates.

  37. JW, when does Stargate start?

  38. 9 PM EST, I believe.

  39. Some of us haven’t watched “this week’s episode” yet, and would have appreciated a “spoiler” warning on the article. I was able to avert my eyes at “In this week’s episode…,” so thanks at least for that. Since I didn’t read what follows, maybe you didn’t “spoil” the episode, but I didn’t want to take the chance. We’re serious about Dr. Greg at my House.

  40. And besides that, wtf is up with Foreman? He begs for House’s job, then has his first case solved for him by internet, while reducing the department to just himself in the space of a day, and he’s still there?

    They wanted to get rid of 13 and the Jewish guy and bring back the old cast members, and not taking a fucking lot of episodes to do so.

    It’s not that complicated.

    It’s called willing suspension of disbelief, so you can move on to enjoying the witty dialogue and character development (or complete lack of development, if you believe House’s thesis that people don’t change)

    Yeah, the drug thing was ‘tarded, but the episode was really about a libertarian’s struggle with an authority figure.

    Still the best show on TV by far.

    1. my theory, some of the earlier writers must have been libertarian oriented given the show reflected this with adults behaving like adults and not nannies for a change on an American drama. Newer additions to the writing staff likely included both conventional MSM mind scrubs, and Scientologist.

  41. P.S. I think it’s hilarious that even Foreman refers to his bi girlfriend as “13”.

  42. Haven’t seen this week’s episode, yet, but that sounds like a decent plot development. I use to be a fan of Foreman’s character in the first season, but he got whiny, constantly telling House, ‘I don’t want to wind up being like you, so I quit. No, I’m staying. I’m staying but I’m going to mope about it.’ Fuck you, Foreman.

    Speaking of suspicion of disbelief, if actual work places were this nosy, and that constantly judgmental towards one another, hitman price rates would be going through the roof with the paranoia that kind of hostile working environment generates. Hence, why I like the Jewish guy, he doesn’t give a shit about your business and he would like you to stay out of his.

    1. err, ‘suspension’, Mr. Freud?

  43. Suspension or suspenison?

  44. “Usually excellent.” This shit is no better than a 21st century Quincy M.E. Sure, Hugh Laurie is a better actor than Jack Klugman but come on. . .after six episodes you can predict the next six seasons. More Jeeves and Wooster I say. eh what?

  45. the media loves to portray the use of life improving drugs that can potentially cause physical dependence. the government and media together love to demonize a good drug and harm drug companies and the patients who stand to benefit from its use.

  46. *I meant that they love to portray those drugs as evil.

  47. Isn’t there a television or a House blog somewhere? This subject (pain treatment, not House) is kind of important to some of us. About 70 million of us who can’t get treatment because doctors are scared shitless they’ll be attacked and imprisoned by the DEA/DOJ in their extended War On Compassionate Doctors and their patients. House is an okay show, but it pumps out the same politically correct brainwash crap that’s killing people in pain out here, and you people mostly just parrot it back.


  48. Heard elsewhere that the DEA was putting pressure on the network and producers to make script changes. These are the results.

  49. Thanks for sharing this interesting and informative blog !

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