News of Whitney Houston’s death has exploded my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the last 12 hours. Her epic voice was part of my middle school soundtrack, and I didn’t know any girls who didn’t want to sing just like her. I know I did, much to the chagrin of our family dog – the only creature I was brave enough to let witness my high notes. Her songs moved many hearts, including mine. All I remember after that Kevin Costner movie is that Whitney fell into a bottle, turned into tabloid fodder, and just kinda disappeared.
Her struggle with addiction and domestic violence was tragic. The fact that it was so public makes it even more difficult to process. She must have been really miserable. It is sad that the world doesn’t get to hear her sing again – but then, the voice we loved has been gone for years.
Whitney Houston’s battle with drugs and boozes isn’t necessarily any more epic than the same struggle experienced by not-famous addicts and their families every day. Her death isn’t more tragic than the death of a guy who lost his family and friends years ago and froze to death under a bridge. Addiction is non-discriminatory, but which lives we value more than others is a completely different story. Innate gifts, nurtured and developed through community support and given room to shine can create beauty. Innate gifts suppressed by abuse and badgered by mental illness can’t do the same. Whitney got to sing before she got really sick. Not everyone is so lucky.
It’s my opinion that we as a society would have an easier time understanding and handling addiction if we could dig past our stigma against mental health issues and start addressing them more directly.
Here are a few fun facts:
- Alcohol or drugs are often used to self-medicate the symptoms of depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, substance abuse causes side effects and in the long run worsens the very symptoms they initially numbed or relieved.
- Alcohol and drug abuse can increase underlying risk for mental disorders. Mental disorders are caused by a complex interplay of genetics, the environment, and other outside factors. If you are at risk for a mental disorder, drug or alcohol abuse may push you over the edge.
- Alcohol and drug abuse can make symptoms of a mental health problem worse. Substance abuse may sharply increase symptoms of mental illness or trigger new symptoms. Alcohol and drug abuse also interact with medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, and mood stabilizers, making them less effective. (read more about co-occurring disorders here…)
So basically, the (oversimplified) cycle could look something like this:
- Suzy Cream Cheese is depressed and kinda manic. She can’t concentrate, she feels crappy all the time, she has no energy to take care of things, and she has turned into even more of a short attention span/short-tempered spaz than she was before. She doesn’t know what to do about it, and everyone tells her to snap out of it because there’s really nothing wrong. She just needs to “pull herself together.”
- Suzy Cream Cheese goes to parties to hang out with her friends and feels a lot better when she has a few drinks in her because she finally perks up and starts acting like herself again.
- Then she decides to keep more boozes around the house.
- Then her husband, Dirk Square Jaw, gets concerned. It seems like something has changed and she’s spending a lot of money on this boozes thing and she forgot to pick the kids up at daycare which made him miss an important meeting at work.
- Dirk gives ultimatums. Suzy cries and promises to get better.
- Suzy starts to hide the boozes and maybe pinches dollars from her friends so Dirk doesn’t suspect she’s still drinking.
- Dirk finds out. Suzy freaks. A friend gives her a few pills to perk her up more so she can get her life back together. She takes them and gets hooked immediately.
- More taking pills, hiding drinks, stealing. Dirk freaks and tries to get her into treatment.* She refuses to go because she doesn’t want anyone to think she’s crazy, especially not her parents.
- Then the real fighting starts. Suzy’s mental health is now becoming even more compromised: instead of just depression, the constant presence of alcohol and pills in her system throws her brain chemistry into mania. She goes after her husband with a pair of scissors one day after he dumps a bottle of her pills down the toilet.
- Suzy crashes the car through the garage door. Dirk kicks her out and tells her not to come back until she gets her shit together.
- Suzy overdoses. No more Suzy.
Would Suzy have become an alcoholic if her depression had been treated effectively in the first place? Possibly.
Can addiction and alcoholism occur if no mental health issues are present? Yes.
Is it sad that Dirk lost his wife and the mother of his children? Yes.
Should Suzy have consumed the boozes and the pills? No.
Did she feel like she had any other choice? No.
It’s complicated, isn’t it? So here are a few resources for good measure.
For number crunching research on Alcoholism and a really interesting quiz about alcohol and your health, check out the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
To find an AA meeting in your area: Alcoholics Anonymous
And finally, if someone you love is struggling with addiction or alcoholism and you want someone to talk to, consider: Al-Anon Family Groups.
(P. S. – entering in Yeah, Write this week! Go vote for me!)