Who among us hasn't lost a friend, colleague, or relative to substance abuse?
Without an autopsy report, no one knows for sure what killed singer Whitney Houston. But for now, it seems logical to suspect the alcohol and drugs she has admitted to using over the years.
Her death reminds us of people, including both celebrities and our own loved ones, who left this world prematurely because substances gained the upper hand in their lives.
A short list: Heath Ledger, Janice Joplin, Elvis Presley, River Phoenix, Chris Farley, Marilyn Monroe, Billie Holiday, Jack Kerouac, John Belushi, and Amy Winehouse, whose "Rehab" lyrics included "…[my daddy] tried to make me go to rehab, but I won't go go go."
Many families – including Houston's – try intervention. The singer even talked about it on Oprah Winfrey's show, saying that her mom arrived with sheriffs and said, "I want my daughter back."
But as anyone who has witnessed a failed intervention knows ("Will you get help?" "No."), the power of love can be no match for the power of alcohol and drugs.
Abusers self-medicate because they want to feel good, albeit temporarily. In the process, they squander their talent and break their friends' and relatives' hearts. We think, "How could they choose a substance over us?"
But that's not it. It's more like Lord Voldemort has cast a spell on them. We can safely guess that Houston didn't intend to pick alcohol or drugs over her 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown.
Many substance abusers agree to enter treatment – but fail because do not fully commit to never drinking or using again. Houston appeared to fall into this category. And so her mother (singer Cissy Houston), her godmother (singer Aretha Franklin), and her cousin (singer Dionne Warwick) all outlived her. And, we can be sure, wept for the beautiful church choir girl with a voice from the heavens.
In 1992 Houston starred in "The Bodyguard." She needed one. So do most substance abusers. They try to pull the wool over loved ones' eyes. They sneak alcohol or drugs into purses or briefcases. They disguise their use of it by mixing vodka with orange juice, covering broken capillaries on their noses with makeup, or taking the red out of their eyes with drops.
Still, abusers – many of them naturally attractive and delightful – eventually lose their looks and charm. All we can do is try to think of them when they were at their best, before substances robbed them of their natural personality.
Fatal attraction – and fatal mistakes
Unfortunately, whether substances are legal or illegal, they're easy to get — and hard to quit using. Mistakes – fatal ones — can happen too easily. Remember Heath Ledger?
All we can do is try to set a good example for our own kids. Tempted to consume too much beer or wine in front of them? Don't. Worried that an underage child is drinking? Do something. (Nearly three-quarters of high school students have tried alcohol, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey. And in the 30 days before the CDC evaluation, 24.2 percent of the teens had five or more drinks in a row.)
Concerned that someone is an alcoholic or drug addict? Do something. Among other things, look at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration's treatment facility locator. Try some of the screening quizzes available online. Visit the websites for the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Even if our efforts fail, we'll know we tried our best. And our loved ones will know it, too.
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