Deadly Cocktail of Xanax and Alcohol Claim the Life of Whitney Houston, Early Reports Suggest
Too many of us have been guilty of making cruel and insensitive jokes about Whitney Houston since the late 1990s, taking shots at her frail frame, the loss of her golden voice, her wild, drug-laced marriage to singer Bobby Brown, their short lived reality series that first raised eyebrows and speculation of Whitney’s drug abuse, and her famous Diane Sawyer interview where she first proclaimed the since widely parodied “crack is wack” mantra. She even went on air with Oprah Winfrey in 2009 and explained very openly the hows and whys of lacing marijuana blunts with cocaine – her favored drug combination.
But on Saturday, the world lost a true and rare talent – an unparalleled vocalist – perhaps the most awarded female performer of all time – to what appears to be drugs and alcohol.
Anyone who has been following Whitney Houston’s drug and alcohol history over the past 10 to 15 years would say that her death was “shocking but not at all surprising”. Her reported behavior in the days leading up to her death was nothing short of bizarre including handstands by the hotel pool, roaming the halls aimlessly dazed and confused and starting a public fist fight with a judge of the X Factor.
People are comparing Whitney’s death to other high profile drug related cases in history including Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley and more recently Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. Reactions range from tears of sadness and prayers to the family – to “another drug addict bites the dust” – and pointing fingers at her treatment team, questioning their competence, and implying that they may have had a role in her death by not directing her to more effective treatment alternatives.
It will be weeks before the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office will have Whitney’s toxicology report written – determining an official cause of death – and releasing it to the public. Early reports from her family suggest that her death may have been caused, in part, by a combination of prescription medication and alcohol. According to law enforcement officials, medications found in Whitney’s Beverly Hills hotel room consisted of ibuprofen (painkiller), Xanax (benzodiazepine), Midol (for menstrual cramps), amoxicillin (for treating bacterial infections) and more.
Xanax (Alprazolam) is a benzodiazepine used to treat panic disorders and anxiety disorders. Common side effects are skin rash, dry mouth, difficulties concentrating, drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, and a dissociative feeling. Overdose reactions to Xanax include sedation, low blood pressure, shallow breathing, impaired motor functions, fainting, coma and death. In combination with alcohol, the effects progress to severe sedation, behavioral changes and intoxication.
Many celebrities use benzodiazephines to counteract the severe amount of stress and anxiety that a life under public media scrutiny often entails. Tours, contracts, labels, agents, tabloids, and the superhuman expectations placed on an individual to consistently perform up to and exceeding the standards placed on them, have contributed to a good number of celebrity meltdowns, suicides, and drug addictions over the years. When your entire life seems to be under the watchful eye of an industry that wants to see you fall equally as much as they want to see you shine, it is enough to make any flesh and blood human being lose their mind.
Could anything have been done for Whitney from a treatment perspective that would have insured that she would be alive and well – healthy and sober – today? Maybe, maybe not. We have no understanding of the type, duration, or intensity of her treatment plan. Drug addiction and alcoholism can make any treatment professional or treatment program look horribly bad. Family members will say, “What did they do in that rehab?” or “All the therapist did was sit and listen!” Friends will say, “Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t work” or even “Talk Therapy just didn’t help.” When someone does not want to change there is little friends, employers and loved ones can do. All we can do is try. We can offer resources, challenge the addict or alcoholic, set limits, let them know we care and then beg, plead and cajole. We try whatever we can think of and hope something works.
I do believe this story (and others like it) should serve as a wake-up call for Hollywood that the people in contract with you are just that, people – not robots or commodities. Yet we can’t blame Hollywood any more than we can blame an addict or alcoholic even though we desperately want to blame someone to make sense of tragedy. We all have a duty to take care of each other and look out for each other and a small amounts of love and compassion can saves lives. We wish healing to her daughter, mother, family, fans and loved ones.
2 thoughts on “Deadly Cocktail of Xanax and Alcohol Claim the Life of Whitney Houston, Early Reports Suggest”
Great article and interview Dr. Frank….
Addiction and Treatment: Celebrity vs. Civilian
While everyone grieves Whitney and all the creative people lost to addiction we have to ask the question about addiction in our own families; How do we know, when do we intervene when our children, partners and/or parents are struggling with substance abuse? It really seems people in her family and entourage knew Whitney was struggling but felt often at a loss to help and tried to simply monitor and manage her.Ultimately, there was no fail safe way to do that as we all knew in the field of addiction. Recovery is the only answer. But in our “civilian” and not celebrity families we certainly have more leverage then when the addict is one of the rich and famous! So, it is important to not parallel Whitney’s family’s experience with the power the average person in our community may have with its’ addicted member. The point here is that although it is important to take the celebrity experience as fair warning…..in OUR world…..we DO have much, much more leverage to get any suspicious member of our family to treatment…in-patient or therapy. Let’s make sure we professionals continue to work together to make sure OUR clients are learning and recognizing the symptoms in themselves and their family members as early as possible with the understanding that their love of that person may be just enough leverage to help….it is very different than trying to help one who the entire world adores!
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