Amy Winehouse: Addiction, Mental Illness, and Early Death

Amy Winehouse Addiction drugs alcohol death

Amy Winehouse - Image via Wikipedia

Update (Oct. 26, 2011):  Amy Winehouse’s blood alcohol level was 4 times the legal limit at the time of her death.  Her death has been ruled the result of alcohol poisoning.

Update (July 25, 2011):  Amy Winehouse was found dead in her bed, alone, with no sign of drugs nearby.  She was reportedly receiving treatment from her doctor who was very happy with her progress.  An autopsy is scheduled for later today.

Update (July 26, 2011):  Autopsy came back with no known cause of death.  A toxicology screen  has been ordered and will take a couple of weeks to get back with results. Cause of death is still unknown.

Update (Aug 23, 2011): Toxicology report showed no illegal substances in Amy Winehouse’s system.  A small amount of alcohol was present, though it’s not clear if that contributed to her untimely death.

News of Amy Winehouse’s death came to me in the form of tweets and facebook posts yesterday. The first of which I saw read:

“They tried to make her go to rehab, and she said no no no….RIP Amy Winehouse”.

I chuckled to myself. After all, Amy did it to herself, right? It’s like poetic justice or something…

*face palm* I’m such an ass hole. I live with mental illness every day. Someone very near and dear to me struggles with addiction. How dare I judge someone I don’t even know and laugh because she died due to her addiction!

It would be like laughing because someone with chronic depression commits suicide. That’s not funny! So why is news of Amy Winehouse dying funny or less tragic?

Answer: It’s not!

Related: RIP Kurt Cobain – Let’s Talk Suicide Prevention & Drug Abuse

What is Addiction?

Here’s a tweet that explains it perfectly:

“The problem is, addiction is the only illness in existence that tells you that you haven’t got it.” – @TheGraspGroup, a twitter profile for a gambling addiction support community.

When most people are told that they have asthma, they don’t generally deny it and refuse to use an inhaler.

How many smokers have said, “I can quit any time that I want! I just don’t WANT to!

Denial affects all of us in some form, but for some people the denial is life threatening.  Such is the case for Amy Winehouse and other people in the world suffering from a substance abuse problem and addiction, whether they seek help and go back to using, or refuse rehab (“no, no, no”) because they don’t think they really have a problem.

Addiction is very real.  “Just stop drinking!” isn’t necessarily all that is needed, depending on the root of the problem.  It’s like telling someone with depression to “Just stop feeling depressed!” – it’s not that simple for some.  Some people need help.

Am I making excuses for people suffering with addiction?  No way!  Addiction can be controlled with a great deal of effort by seeking help, resolving to become well, going to therapy, going to meetings, and getting support from loved ones. Using the “I have a disease” card as an excuse and “I can’t help it! It’s not my fault!” over and over again isn’t okay either.  So please don’t think that my little rant here is about giving addicts a free pass to just do whatever they want to do and continue their destructive behavior.  I’m not doing that.

I’m just saying that when someone dies because of their addiction, the compassionate response isn’t “They had it coming.”  Most likely we’re talking about a tortured individual with low self-esteem, possibly depression or some other form of mental illness, who was trying to cope with their feelings and turned to drugs and alcohol for help.  Coming from someone with 15 years of depression and anxiety under her belt, I can say that I understand the temptation to do something that I know isn’t healthy just so that I can “get through the day”.  I’ve never turned to illegal drugs, but I have done other things:

I used to be a heavy drinker.  It took a lot of willpower to not go out and get drunk when something really horrible happened.

I only crave cigarettes when I’m having a panic attack.  “If I could just smoke a cig, I would calm down and feel so much better!”

When I was a teenager, on my really really hard days, I would take more of my anti-depressant than what was prescribed to me.  Instead of 1 pill, I took 2. I worked my way up to 4 pills all at once and spent the day at school completely messed up, laughing uncontrollably, and nearly running into walls. (On a side note, I’m surprised that not one single teacher noticed, especially when other students I barely knew approached me with, “Whatever you’re on, I want some!”)

I was a cutter, and that’s addictive behavior as well.  I haven’t cut in over 10 years.  I haven’t had the desire to cut for about 5 years.

I’ve torn my bathroom apart looking for pills when I felt like I was “losing it”.

So, I get it.  I get the draw of drugs. I understand the temptation of a quick and easy fix to my problems and my feelings.  I get it.

And yet I was quick to judge, just like you probably were.  Shame on us, right?

My heart goes out to Amy Winehouse’s friends and family.  Please, if you are reading this and are struggling with addiction, seek help immediately.  If they try to make you go to rehab, consider it – don’t say “No, no, no…”  Say, “Okay. I’ll try,” and save your own life.

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