Could Amy Winehouse Have Been Saved? The Power Of Addiction

Amy Winehouse
Buzz, Self

The singer's unfortunate struggle reminds us that we need to understand the danger of this disease.

When the tragic news of Amy Winehouse’s death was announced, her family, friends, fellow artists, and fans were all devastated. Although the cause of her death has not officially been confirmed, most assume she lost her life as a result of her tumultuous history with drugs and alcohol. It's highly possible that this young talent lost her life due to addiction.

Unfortunately, as we saw in Winehouse's experience, no amount of money, talent, accolades or admiration can avoid addiction, and its insidious, all-consuming nature makes it very difficult to treat. The only way to recover from this otherwise destructive and deadly disease is to undergo intensive, long-term treatment that is accompanied by a life overhaul. It's critical that those suffering from addiction, or know someone who is, understand the seriousness of the affliction in order to inspire and facilitate recovery. 

The Causes Of Addiction

Addiction is typically born from a number of complex and unfortunate factors. Some causes are biological, as research has shown that sufferers may have a genetic predisposition to the disease. For others, the familial nature of addiction may be to blame—past studies suggest that an estimated 40 percent of alcoholics have had an alcoholic parent, and that the alcoholism rate is much greater in relatives of alcoholics than in relatives of those who don't show signs of addiction. Research Finds Breakups Are Exactly Like Cocaine Withdrawal

There are also certain psychological factors that contribute, such as a history of trauma, various psychological disorders like depression and anxiety, a lack of impulse control, a lack of coping skills and more. An addict may be suffering from some sort of intense, all-encompassing psychic pain that is so unbearable, drugs and alcohol become the only way to quell it. These substances work very well to suppress such feelings, but once they wear off, an addict becomes even more desperate to bury their pain now that they have found a way that works. 

After a while, the body becomes addicted as well. It needs the drugs and/or alcohol in order to avoid withdrawal, which is characterized by nausea, restlessness, sickness and pain. And so, the vicious cycle begins—addicts spin deeper and deeper into a world of total dependence and are rendered unable to help themselves. The only way out is treatment, and even that is not a guarantee.

So, What Happened To Amy?

This sad journey is likely what happened to Amy Winehouse. There was probably a harrowing combination of factors that made her susceptible to addiction, and fame didn’t help. Fame comes with an interesting set of dynamics: the pressure to do well, always be producing, stay relevant, etc. On one hand, this immersion in adoration and adulation from fans and media can feel extremely gratifying and heady. On the other hand, it can feel empty and hollow. Amy Winehouse's Ex-Husband: "I Watched Her Die In My Arms"

To be loved by so many people who do not truly know one's real, authentic self can actually be a very lonely feeling. All of us crave the experience of being truly known for all of our foibles and strengths, and perhaps Winehouse was frustrated by people not seeing or hearing the "real" her. The loneliness that can come from this complex dynamic may have exacerbated her desire to use substances as a way of escaping the pain derived from that sense of loneliness. 

To deal with her addiction, Winehouse reportedly tried in-patient rehab several times (even though in her hit song, "Rehab," she said "No, no, no"). So, what went wrong?

Well, addiction happens to be exceedingly difficult to treat and devastatingly subject to relapse. So, in a certain sense, Winehouse was just like the millions of other non-celebrity addicts who don't benefit from rehab, and are more likely to relapse. However, there is another component to consider, both for celebrities and non-celebrities: enabling.

The Role Of Others And Enabling

Enabling occurs when those around the addict continue to engage in behavior that either encourages or fails to discourage the use of drugs and alcohol. Enabling can take many forms: giving the addict money, allowing access to a place to stay, a car, family, children, or other resources. It can be in the form of failing to create boundaries or consequences when the addict exhibits bad behavior.

To be clear, those around the addict are not responsible for the addict's behavior. However, they are responsible for their own behavior and should seek to minimize, and ultimately eliminate, enabling.

In Winehouse's case, it's easy to see how that enabling behavior was rampant. There were so many people whose lives depended on Winehouse, the singer, continuing to function and perform as an artist. If Amy Winehouse, the person, abandoned the music scene and truly committed to recovery, many would've surely lost their jobs. It probably would've taken years to treat her accordingly.

If she made it past that recovery hurdle, it would also mean she would have to seriously overhaul her whole life. She would have to surround herself with sober friends and employees and stay out of the partying scene. Her brand, image and demeanor would've been significantly shifted as a sober Amy Winehouse. I fear that, as a result, some of the people in her inner circle enabled her. They did not encourage her to go to rehab, they didn’t draw boundaries for her poor behavior, and they didn’t provide consequences for her using. Instead, they attempted to prop her up so she could continue being Amy Winehouse, the singer.

It's important to note that ultimately, addicts are responsible for their own behavior and their own recovery. No one can force them to seek help. Unfortunately, we lose many to addiction every year due to this fact, coupled with the fatal power of the disease. But, we should never stop trying to help those around us who are suffering. Whether the addict in your life is a famous celebrity like Amy Winehouse, or a beloved friend or relative, it's critical to do everything you can to minimize enabling behavior and to urge them to get help. Understanding the danger of the disease, as well as the need for a call to action to address it, may just help save them.

Dr. Hillary Goldsher, MBA is a licensed psychotherapist. She has a private practice in Beverly, Hills, CA. To learn more about Dr. Goldsher and her practice, please click here.