March 1, 2012
Addiction is a cunning, powerful and baffling disease.
For those who are in recovery or are new in recovery, you have heard this saying countless times, and while it may seem cliche it is absolutely true. Addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer of lives, and it doesn’t discriminate. No matter you age, sex, cultural background or socioeconomic status, anybody can become addicted to drugs and alcohol at any time. The effect on the addict, their family, loved ones and a community at large can be devastating.
The sad and sometimes deadly consequences of drug addiction are brought to our attention when a much-loved celebrity falls victim to this disease. A tragic example of this was seen with the death of pop superstar Whitney Houston on February 11, 2012. While the official coroner’s report found that the singer died of accidental drowning after she was found unconscious in a bathtub of a Beverly Hills hotel, prescription sedatives, and other paraphernalia were found in her hotel room suggesting a possible overdose. Houston had a long history of struggling with substance abuse and her death extinguished a phenomenal talent and leading light in the world of entertainment.
A History of Substance Abuse
Houston’s struggles with substance abuse had been well chronicled for well over two decades. The public first heard of her problems with drugs in 1992, which was the year her career was at its apex. In that year, she starred alongside Kevin Costner in the film The Bodyguard and won a Grammy for the soundtrack for that movie. She also married R&B singer Bobby Brown, who had a reputation for substance use. While the early stages of their marriage were seen as happy, problems slowly came to the surface in the following years.
In 2000, Houston’s bag was seized in an airport in Hawaii after airport security found 15.2 grams of marijuana in her handbag. She was presented with a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge, which was dropped months after the incident. In the following year, her thin and frail appearance increased speculation of substance abuse. In a 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, Houston was asked if she thought of herself as being an addict or being addicted to drugs. Houston replied that she didn’t think of herself as being addicted, but she did say that she had “a bad habit”.
In that same interview, Houston had explained how she hadn’t had time to party early in her career and because of that she had rebelled as she grew older and when her career was well established. She had emphasized that she was not shooting heroin as she was rumored to be doing, but when Sawyer asked her what type of drugs she took–listing alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and pills as options–Houston admitted to experimenting with all of them at one point or another.
She entered drug rehab for the first time in 2004 and again the following year, only to check out on both occasions after a short period of treatment. When she divorced Brown in 2006 and won full custody of their daughter, news reports, and fan speculation swirled that the divorce was a result of issues stemming from her drug addiction. In a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey, the singer opened up about her substance use and admitted that both her and Brown had used drugs during their marriage and she turned to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain of their often tumultuous relationship. Among the drugs, she abused where alcohol, cocaine and prescription medications.
In the last couple of years of her life, Houston attempted to revitalize her music career but was marred by erratic behavior and bad concert reviews. She entered drug rehabilitation for the third time in 2011 on an outpatient basis. Until her death in February 2012, it was believed that she would be undergoing continuous drug treatment as part of a long-term recovery plan.
What Can We Learn About Whitney Houston’s Death?
There are many things that we can learn in the tragic overdose death of Whitney Houston.
First, and most obvious, Houston had a long history of substance abuse and have several failed attempts at drug rehab. Secondly, like many victims of a drug overdose, Houston clearly misused drugs and alcohol and there had been reports that circulated a few days before her death stating that she was drinking to excess. Drinking alcohol is highly discouraged for people who have recently left rehab. For many addicts, alcohol increases the risk for relapsing back into active drug use if there were other drugs of choice.
Houston’s problems with addiction also clearly outline the typical profile of those who overdose on drugs and/or alcohol. There are certain age groups in which the risk of overdose is the greatest. The first stage is when the user is inexperienced which is typically seen in a drug user’s younger years. The second time period of substantial risk occurs after the drug user experiences a period of abstinence, whether it is voluntary or forced due to legal issues. Periods of abstinence reduces the tolerance to drugs that people build up during addiction, and as a result it leaves them at a greater risk of overdose from the same amount of drugs that they formerly took safely. The third stage occurs during middle age with the age group experiencing the highest rate of overdose deaths occurring in the 45-54 age group.
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