A Double-Edged Sword: Amy Winehouse and the Dangers of Addiction and Withdrawal

On July 23, 2011, millions of her fans were shocked to learn of the death of British singer–songwriter Amy Winehouse at the age of 27.  Some in her immediate circle, however, were saddened but not particularly surprised.  According to Winehouse’s family and friends, her problems with substance abuse and addiction were deeply rooted, and many believed it was only a matter of time before she lost the battle.  It was no secret that Winehouse was using a number of substances for years before her passing. Her parents were very open about her struggles and their attempts to get her help (Read What to Ask a Rehab Facility and The Cost of Rehab: Is It Worth It?). Her song “Rehab” – which won her Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year in 2008 and includes the lyrics “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, ‘No, no, no’” – gave her fans insight into the extent of her problem.

Over the past few years, a number of other celebrities have died from drug overdoses including Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and Anna Nicole Smith (Read Michael Jackson & Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse and Sleeping Pills: A Wake-Up Call).  Although toxicology reports have not confirmed an exact cause of Winehouse’s death as of the time this article was written, it is certainly possible that Winehouse overdosed; there were reports that she purchased cocaine, MDMA (Ecstasy), and Ketamine on the day prior to her death, and that she had been depressed since her break up with Reg Traviss (Read Overdose: Why It Happens & What to Do When It Does, Suicide and Substance Abuse: Know the Risks, and Club Drugs: Time to Stop the Party?).

However, her family proposed an alternate possible cause of death: alcohol withdrawal. According to those close to the late star, Winehouse decided to stop drinking without tapering her use, which had been advised by her physicians, and without being in a medically monitored detoxification program (Read Why You Shouldn’t Fight Addiction Alone and The Whole Truth: Why You Should Be Honest with Your Doctor).

Most people realize that alcoholism can lead to serious medical problems and death (Read Alcoholism from the Inside); it is clear that sobriety is a far healthier, safer option.  However, withdrawal from alcohol, especially after prolonged heavy use, can also be deadly – a reality that may now have been brought to public attention through the unfortunate loss of the pop sensation (Read Withdrawal and Detox: Get the Facts).  Other possible symptoms that are associated with alcohol withdrawal include insomnia, anxiety, tremors, visual or tactile hallucinations, convulsions, delirium tremens (going in and out of consciousness), extremely fast heart rate and extremely high blood pressure. 

If you or someone in your life is an alcoholic (or a suspected alcoholic), do not attempt or allow them to attempt to stop cold turkey (Read Alcoholism: What Are the Signs?).  Remember that doctors are required to maintain confidentiality and have taken an oath to help those who are ill; getting professional help through alcohol withdrawal could be the difference between life and death.

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