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The Freedom Model

Dax Shepard, You Never Have to Worry About Relapse Again

Michelle Dunbar is the co-author of The Freedom Model for Addictions: Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap and The Freedom Model for the Family.

The news broke last week that actor Dax Shepard, who reported he was 16 years in recovery from addiction, had relapsed on pain medication after a motorcycle accident earlier this year. According to a CNN report, Sheppard admitted to overusing his pain medication on his podcast, Armchair Expert. 

His TV star wife Kristen Bell explained in an interview that they had developed a system whereby she would keep his medications secure and dole them out to him as prescribed to try and keep him from overusing them, and “relapsing”. He joked that clearly they will need a better system in the future. This is a prime example of the true power of free will and autonomy, and why addiction treatment fails more than 80% of the time.

The reason Bell and Shepard’s system didn’t work is because when someone wants to use substances, when they believe they need it for some reason, they will always find a way to use them. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying anything about addiction. I’m not saying that Shepard’s relapse is proof of any disease, nor is it proof that a class of people called addicts are destined to use drugs again when triggered. It isn’t proof that Shepard was out of control or that he couldn’t not overuse his medications. Remember, he claims that he and Bell’s system had worked in the past. So what happened this time?

If you believe in the addiction disease theory, here are a few questions you need to be asking. Do some people become mind-numbed drug-taking zombies when they use drugs, even for medicinal purposes, while most others do not? And does the same person, like Shepard, become out of control on one day taking his medications but not on another day? These two questions should make you skeptical about the addiction disease theory that is so prevalent in our society today.

There is a system that can help Shepard so he never has to worry about having a drug problem again. He can completely move past his addiction just like more than 96% of heavy, chronic opiate users do according to the largest epidemiological studies that have been done on addiction to date, NESARC I, II, and III. Here’s the rub: most have never been to treatment, and likely don’t consider themselves as being “in recovery”. And further, people who haven’t been taught that they are powerless over drugs and alcohol, which is taught in all addiction treatment, have higher rates of long term success and lower rates of dangerous binge usage.

The system that can help Shepard is unlearning what he has been taught in the addiction rehab and recovery world. The truth is, many people go through phases in life where they engage in behaviors they find appealing that are risky and are unacceptable in our culture. Once they have become proficient at the behavior, they understand the risks and also that the behavior may be seen is wrong by their loved ones. That is why many will go to extremes to hide the behavior. For some this is all part of the allure. It certainly was for me. When they are caught, as Shepard was, especially if they have been a part of the recovery subculture, they will parrot the accepted narrative. For opiates that narrative has become a cliche, “I had surgery or was in an accident and was given opiates.” Or, “I was going through a rough patch and fell off the wagon.” And while these common themes may be, in part, true, it’s only a very small part of the truth why people return to heavy use, and the part that’s missing is the key to solving the problem once and for all. 

It’s estimated that nearly 100 Million people are prescribed opiates annually, and just 2 Million have an opiate problem. That’s just 2%, so we can set aside the mantra that opiates are “highly addictive”; clearly they are not. Instead, for a very small percentage of people that use them, they really like them. And when they keep using they develop a tolerance to them, which means to feel the same effects they have come to love, they must use more and more. This can be true for other drugs as well as alcohol. They develop a habit by using regularly, and sometimes they come to believe that they need that substance to feel better, good, or happier in some way. When this happens, we call this an addiction. A similar thing happens when you fall in love with a person. You want to be with them more and more, and you come to believe you need them in your life.

Sometimes romantic relationships become toxic, much like relationships with substances. The reason people stay in toxic relationships is much the same as the reason some people continue heavy substance use or go back to it after a break from it — because they believe they can be happier with it than without it. The key to leaving the relationship once and for all is to open yourself up to the possibility that you truly can be happier leaving the relationship and moving in with your life.

If Dax Shepard wants to solve his problem for good, then he first has to learn the truth about addiction: it’s not a disease, he’s not weak and powerless, and that he’s always been in control of his behaviors. It’s likely he already knows that, but there can be some great benefits to playing the addiction disease charade, especially for someone in Hollywood. Once the addiction disease mythology is thoroughly debunked, then he has to identify why he still likes opiates so much. Only then will he be able to evaluate if he’s actually getting what he thinks he is from using them, and if he can truly be happier without them.


Michelle Dunbar is the co-author of The Freedom Model for Addictions: Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap and The Freedom Model for the Family. She is the Executive Director of the Saint Jude Retreat. If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use problem, there is an empowering solution that has proven to be three times more effective than addiction treatment and twelve times more effective than 12 step meetings. Go to for more information or call 888-424-2626.


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