Friday, August 19, 2011

The Impact of Intervention in Addiction Through an Amy Winehouse Scope

Today's post in a guest post courtesy of Allison Gamble, a writer for 

“They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, "No, no, no"

Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know

I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine

He's tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, go”

           ~ "Rehab" Amy Winehouse

The late singer Amy Winehouse released “Rehab” in 2007, a now haunting song that revealed her struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, her reluctance to seek help, and the role her family and friends played in her life. Some attempted to push her towards treatment, while others seemed to enable Winehouse's destructive behavior and ignored warning signs that may have caused her sudden death. While Winehouse’s plight has gained media attention, her celebrity is one of the only factors that separated her situation from the problems that many individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol deal with every day.

Like many other families who have loved ones with a substance abuse problem, Amy’s family is placing fault on others for her sad demise. It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to smell the denial in the air. Interviews with her parents show they lay blame for her death on detox methods instead of also looking at both their behavior and having not intervened in time to possibly help Amy.  Of course, losing a child is awful enough, but they are likely also feeling tremendous guilt that they had not taken more steps to try to protect her from a fate no one wanted to believe would come to fruition.

In American and the UK alike, due to the absence or failure of family members and friends intervening, many addicts like Amy are left to cycle through pricey rehab clinics and wind up taking endless supplies of anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds and more. Gaining the approval of doctors, rehab clinics and pharmaceutical companies, families are held harmless as they look at addiction as a disease. With this medical model, the one loser winds up being the addict.

While little has been revealed about Winehouse’s upbringing, it is known that her parents separated when she was 9 years old. Father, Mitch Winehouse, claimed in a 2008 interview, titled “How my affair made Amy suffer,” with British newspaper The Daily Mail, that a longstanding affair with a colleague was an open secret in their home. Winehouse’s paramour was even known by Amy and her siblings as “Daddy’s work wife.” Mitch Wineshouse claims he never realized that their family’s dysfunction had impacted Amy so negatively until years later when he heard her song “What it is About Men” that the line “all the shit my mother went through” referred to his deception.

Amy’s mother Janis claims her Amy had always been a rebel but that her defiant streak intensified when Amy became a teenager. In an unusual move by Janis, Amy was allowed to leave home to live with a friend at the age of 15. "It would have been fine but she moved out for her own convenience. She wanted to live with a friend. Perhaps she wanted her mum to fight to make her stay. But I felt she had grown up by then,” her mother said in a January 2008 interview, eerily titled “Amy Winehouse’s mum says she’ll be dead in a year,” with the Sunday Mirror. This is not to say that Janis is solely responsible - there are surely hundreds of children who move out early without overdosing at 27. But could a firmer hand have helped steady the wheel? We’ll never know.

Janis went on to say that she while she doesn’t feel responsible for Amy’s decline into drugs, she reveals being lackadaisical when Amy started running into trouble. "Amy was never an easy child and she was always open to any new bad influence. Her life became a bit muddled when she left home. She started smoking marijuana and got her first tattoo - a Betty Boop on her back. I just said, 'Oh well.’”

Amy’s family always seemed to have a disturbing dynamic. Janis was unhappy; Amy was rebellious, but always trying to please her out-of-the-picture father Mitch. "I don't do happy. [Amy] doesn't, it seems, do emotion either. But it's just her way of coping,” Janis explained.

As a Amy became an adult, her family unit added another dysfunctional member: ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil. A self-admitted addict, Blake claims to have introduced Amy to narcotics usage. “I’m not trying to defend his behavior and I know him for what he is: he’s an addict and he has done some terrible things. He feels enormous grief and responsibility for some of the things that have happened, as well he should,” Fielder-Civil’s mother, Georgette, told the Daily Mail in “Don’t blame my son for Amy’s death: Blake Fielder-Civil's mother's plea as she insists the couple were still in love.”

Although some families shift the blame for a substance abuse problem on medical issues, they are often the ones who have, perhaps unwittingly, facilitated the problem to a significant degree. In 1991, The Journal of the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported that researcher James R. McKay and colleagues had studied adolescent substance abusers and confirmed what we know anecdotally: that greater perceived degrees of dysfunction were linked to increased levels of substance abuse prior to hospitalization.

With modern medicine focusing on the disease model of addiction, pharmaceutical companies have been instrumental in keeping substance abusers like Amy addicted by flooding the market with painkillers and psychoactive meds, while also profiting from drugs to counter addiction.

In July 2011, financial website This is Money reported that one such company, Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, was delighted to announce that its newest delivery system for the heroin addiction drug, Suboxone, would now be a big moneymaker. “As is well known, our Suboxone tablets can become subject to generic competition in the U.S. at any time, and moving more of our business into the film remains a key priority. At the end of June 2011, the Suboxone film had captured a 41 per cent volume share of the U.S. market,” he said.

Talk show host and former journalist Piers Morgan knew Winehouse and told Entertainment Tonight in “Piers Morgan hits out at Amy Winehouse’s record company after singer’s death,” that while the troubled singer ultimately succumbed due to her own addictive behavior, others in her life failed to take responsibility. Echoing a common question, Morgan wanted to know where everyone was when she needed help. He stated, “I do blame people. Where were all the people making money out of her when it mattered? Really, where were they? You know, it's just not good enough that they're all going to make millions out of it now she’s dead.”

Blake Fielder-Civil’s mother seems to agree. “We all played our part in what happened to her. I have had to look deep into my heart and wonder if I could have helped, done things differently,” she said.

While we may never know what caused Amy's death, ultimately she was responsible for her actions. However, family members, “friends,” doctors, rehab centers and pharmaceutical companies must also accept responsibility for the role they played in her destruction. We need to move towards a more cohesive model that merges psychology and psychiatry to prevent more parents from losing their daughters.


  1. Great post. The biochemical model of the so-called "disease" conveniently lets families off the hook, preventing them from examining the way their own patterns of behavior contribute to the problem. However, rehab, by and large, is not known to have a high success rate. I am not that familiar with what goes on in rehab for addictions, but from what I have read, rehab considers addictions like alcoholism a "disease" and therefore do not emphasize serious one on one therapies that probe family dynamics. I read an excellent book about alcoholism and addiction, written by the founders of Passages in Malibu CA, that discusses the problems with conventional rehab approaches to treatment.

  2. Not sure how much the family could have done to help. Not only was she and adult, she was a wealthy adult. One of the things that addict celebrities have going against them is that their money often buffers them from hitting "rock bottom." Their "rock bottom" instead becomes death.

    I don't defend what many perceive as an overly medicalized model of addiction, but I don't know any details of Ms. Winehouse's case that implicate it as a major cause of *her* demise. Like most illnesses, I find that addiction has biological components in addition to psychological, environmental, etc., and have found some medications helpful during recovery (though never to the exclusion of AA/NA and counseling).

  3. Does AA get to the dark bottom of the reason someone tries to destroy her/himself? The addiction is not the cause. It's the symptom. Isn't AA really group reinforced do's and don'ts, with a spiritual component there for the taking if someone wants it? My limited experience with my own son's "demons" (not addiction) taught me that the psychotherapeutic way to go is through really intense family therapy, not mere counselling. There are other intense therapies that I have heard good reports about that don't involve dragging the family to the meeting, but this conventional rehab doesn't do these kinds of therapies. And, niacin works very well to stem addictions; it's not perfect, but people who have tried it say it works. In the case of addictions, why put neuroleptics (more chemicals) in your body if there is a natural remedy? Most families have trouble helping because they are routinely told that addiction and other mental health problems are life long and "science" hasn't figured it out yet. They believe the doctor. I believe, perhaps naively, that even Amy's dysfunctional parents would have done anything they could to keep her alive. But, yes, celebrities are money makers for all the hangers on.