The Death of Amy Winehouse

July 25th, 2011

As you may have heard, British pop star Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home on Saturday. An uproarious social media response to her death revealed much about our attitudes toward those struggling with substance abuse.

It’s an unfortunate coincidence that Winehouse, who struggled with heavy drinking and hard drug use, was most famous for the song, “Rehab”, which contains the refrain “They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no'”. Even though details of her autopsy have not yet been released, many a tweet/blog post/status update has been posted proclaiming that Winehouse should have, in fact, said “yes, yes, yes”.

To be sure, the way in which Winehouse was portrayed in the media (read: poorly) is partially responsible for these cavalier responses. It seems that, with enough tabloid fodder, a public figure can be reduced to a circus act. Nonetheless, if Winehouse had been found murdered, the collective response would have been much different.

Yes, drug use is a choice in a way that being murdered is not, so this isn’t a parallel comparison. However, if we find that Winehouse’s death was in fact caused by substance use, the details of her death would in many ways be the same as if she were killed: in either case, a young, talented human being suffered and died as a result. We lost her possible contributions, a mother lost her daughter, friends lost their confidante…it goes on.

I think it can be comforting to point at a deceased drug user and attribute their demise to bad choices, because it solidifies one’s sense of control over one’s fate. However, following that impulse only makes it more difficult to identify and eliminate the reasons for drug use. If we allow our tendencies toward blame and criticism to get out of hand, the war on drugs will forever be a stalemate.

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