CNN Special Examines Addiction In LDS Church

By McCarton Ackerman 10/09/14

The documentary special examines whether or not strict Mormon teachings can lead to substance abuse.

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A new CNN special took a close look at the surprising amount of drug abuse that has infiltrated the close-knit LDS Church.

The latest episode of the documentary series This Is Life with Lisa Ling, “Unholy Addiction,” examines whether the Mormon religion is indirectly responsible for the growing drug problem throughout Utah. The state currently has more prescription drug overdose deaths than almost any other state in the U.S.

But after speaking with numerous people in the Mormon community and being granted exclusive access to leaders within the LDS Church, Ling concluded that religion and drug abuse within the state are separate. The documentary also takes great effort to not criticize the church.

"There is a perception, I think, that Mormonism is a very strict religion and that there is this pressure to be perfect and live these sort of perfect lives," she said. "But what everybody told me is it’s not the religion that puts that pressure on people, it’s totally self-imposed…I really have to take my hat off to people in the church for giving us this kind of access and opening themselves up.”

Although the pressure might be self-imposed, the CNN special does hint that the traditional, family-values culture many Utah natives find themselves in could contribute to the issue. “There’s that pressure to be perfect,” acknowledged Kathy, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on rehab for herself and her daughter, Shannon. “And since we don’t drink, there’s always the pills, which we don’t talk about…I became addicted within a few weeks.”

Shannon’s addiction to prescription pills ultimately progressed into a heroin addiction, resulting in a DUI arrest and losing custody of her daughter. "I didn’t fit in the box of being, like, this housewife,” she said. “Everybody else in church gets married and has five kids by the time they’re 30. They’re not telling you to do that, but how do you feel when you go to church and you’re the only one who doesn’t?"

Last August, the LDS Church became the subject of online ridicule when they released a video dedicated to tackling pornography addiction. They use a 12-step program for pornography addicts that is based on the program used by Alcoholics Anonymous, but seem to disregard the fact that pornography addiction is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which does not consider it to be a mental health problem.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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