Posts Tagged ‘Amy Winehouse’

Addiction — the Democratic Killer

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Amy Winehouse

By Bob Gaydos

Last week, fellow Zest columnist Michael Kaufman posed some questions about the death of Amy Winehouse — in sum, why was it “allowed to happen” — and suggested that, since I also write a published column on addiction and recovery, perhaps I might have some thoughts on the subject.

Which, of course, I do. They are not based on any special insight into the psychological makeup of the singer, nor any knowledge of her medical history or even a hint of the kind of environment in which she grew up. To some extent, all of this unique information may matter in trying to determine why Amy Winehouse died so tragically at age 27 (the precise cause has not been announced). On the other hand, hers has all the earmarks of a typical alcohol and drug-related death. Her celebrity made it newsworthy, but don’t for a minute think that the parents of other, less-talented young men and women who succumb to addiction do not understand and share the profound sorrow of Amy’s parents.

Addiction is a remarkably democratic disease, an indiscriminate killer. Could Amy’s death have been avoided? Possibly. There is always the chance with addiction that a person can be “saved” from himself or herself. Most of the time, this hope rests with the family and friends of the addict, the ones who bear the brunt of the pain of the addictive behavior. For her part, Winehouse seems to have bought into the stereotyped alcohol-and-drug-filled life of the tragic, young musician early on. Now she will live forever as the dark flip side of the sex, drugs and rock ’n roll theory of life.

She has company there, of course. In the immediate aftermath of her death, the internet was full of observers welcoming her to the infamous “27 Club.” These are talented, immensely popular young performers who died at age 27, all of whom led self-destructive lives fueled by alcohol and drug abuse. The most prominent other members are Jimi Hendrix, who choked on his vomit after combining sleeping pills with wine, Janis Joplin, who overdosed on heroin while drinking, Jim Morrison, whose cause of death was listed as “heart failure,” and Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide.

Addiction is obviously not fussy about the manner in which it kills. But truth be told, while thousands die each year from some cause related to excessive use of alcohol or drugs, many more simply live out their lives with untreated alcoholism or drug dependency. A lot of it is not pretty. Much of it is avoidable.

Most public discussion of addiction focuses on the behavioral symptoms of the disease. Most people still think of it as a cultural, social or criminal matter, rather than a health issue. Society for the most part treats it that way. We never ask why someone suffering from heart disease or cancer who refuses treatment can’t be “committed” for their own good. It’s their choice. Is a person in the grip of addiction capable of making a rational decision on receiving treatment? Maybe not, seeing as denial is a primary symptom of the disease. But there is no way to legally require an addict to get treatment, even if a crime has been committed. We tried committing alcoholics to mental wards for many years only to learn that it didn’t work.

What does work? Or, more specifically, what might have worked for Amy? Here’s where knowing her medical and family history could help, since science has established a genetic predisposition to addiction as well as identifying the likely center for this activity in the brain. But people without a family history of alcoholism or brains hard-wired to require more pleasure receptors also become addicts.

What science is also telling us now is that it is important to begin when children are young to establish a lifestyle that does not encourage the indiscriminate use of alcohol or drugs to “feel good.” One that does not glamorize or demonize alcohol, but rather offers an honest perspective on it. Kids’ brains are malleable. They mimic their elders and have little concept of their own mortality.

Amy’s parents may well have done this, but the key is to keep doing it even when the child resists. There’s no such thing as caring too much, of giving too much information. But the singer also had the burden of tremendous success, with the pressure to keep performing. The stress on young people in this situation is unimaginable to most of us. If she was inclined to use alcohol and drugs to deal with stress to begin with (and her music suggests as much), the inescapable presence of alcohol and drugs in the pop music industry could have been enough to drown out any voices of reason coming from loved ones. Amy Winehouse, while young, talented and vulnerable, was also a tremendously profitable business. Money talks. Business associates can be persuasive enablers. (Even Charlie Sheen has been offered a new TV sitcom.)

This is my personal opinion. I would say, given her history, Winehouse needed a lot of time away from performing and professional help in detoxing herself from alcohol and drugs — neither of which she got. She may well have rejected both. But if her music family had combined with her biological family and persisted in their efforts, if, say, they made performing impossible for her until she had received professional help in treating her addiction, Amy Winehouse might still be with us. People in recovery tell those who are still struggling not to give up before the miracle happens, because you never know when that miracle — the death of denial –may happen.

And as for her fans, rather than memorializing Amy Winehouse as the latest member of a foolishly glamorized group of talented dead addicts, how refreshing it would be for them to start honoring a different group — all the talented, clean and sober performers living in recovery. Talk about your miracles.

Questions on the Death of Winehouse

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

By Michael Kaufman

I don’t remember precisely how this aging Baby Boomer found his way to the music of Amy Winehouse. Maybe my daughter Molly suggested I listen (like she did with Ani DeFranco and Tracy Chapman).  I always pay attention when my kids tell me about music they like because—as I learned from my own father—it works both ways.  I still remember the Father’s Day when pop agreed to listen to Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father”…. and I opened my ears to his favorite Beethoven symphony. 

After opening my ears to Winehouse I bought her CDs and had been expectantly awaiting a new release said to be coming soon. Now there will be only the obligatory memorial album and perhaps a “best of” or two with some previously unreleased material thrown in to boost sales.

But the thing that bothers me most about her death at age 27 is that everybody in the world could see it coming.  It was impossible not to see. Video clips of her stumbling, pathetic, incoherent performances in Jamaica and Belgrade were all over the internet. It was just a matter of time before she would self destruct. 

My question is why was it allowed to happen?

Of course she had famously sung a resounding “no” to rehab. But how can someone who has a substance-abuse problem make a rational decision about entering rehab? Shouldn’t they first go through detoxification and then decide?  Am I missing something or isn’t this a “Catch-22” situation? Was there nothing her parents and others who loved her dearly could do? (Whatever happened to having someone committed?)

Maybe Bob Gaydos, my colleague at Zest who often writes excellent articles about addiction and recovery, can shed some light on this.  And perhaps among our readers there are professionals who would like to comment. Please do, either in the space below or via email. And of course feel free to add your thoughts even if you are no more informed than I am.

Meanwhile, for any fellow Boomers who may be wondering what I heard in Winehouse, here are links to a few of my favorites. The first two are her own edgy compositions (and please note that they include language some may find offensive). The last is a lovely–and now even more poignant–rendition of “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

And in case you were wondering, Pop’s favorite Beethoven symphony (and now mine too) was the Ninth.

Michael can be reached at