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Amy Winehouse: A Hilarious Tragedy?


What is Addiction? According to many professionals and organizations, addiction can be classified as a disease. This mean that addictions of all types fit into the definition of what a disease is. According to Merriam-Webster.com, a disease is defined as, “a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.”

Addiction seems to fit this definition, but the relationship is debatable due to the nature of the impaired body part in question: the human mind, which, at this moment, is not fully understood by scientific standards. With the recent death (likely substance abuse related) of another famous musician, Amy Winehouse, I’ve been questioning the ridiculous opinions many seem to have regarding addiction. So what do most people think addiction can be classified as? According to a recent pole at gamespot.com, 28% agree with the disease model, 11% don’t know and the majority of participants, 60%, don’t think of addiction as a disease.

So what do the 60% think addiction is? Many think it’s a habit and that the addict can make the choice to not act on the impulse to use drugs or engage in compulsive behavior. A common argument is that it is ultimately a single decision that must be made: to engage in the addictive behavior (drink, smoke, gamble, etc.) or simply not engage in this behavior. The problem is that addiction has been shown to change the way an individual’s mind is wired, causing cravings for the substance or behavior. While it is technically possible to abstain from the behavior, it’s difficult to understand this type of compulsion if you have never been an addict.

Many members of the scientific community, particularly those who deal with addiction, have long maintained the ‘disease model of addiction.’ The observed changes in an addict’s brain chemistry appear to cause cravings, reward compulsive behavior and cause anxiety (among other symptoms) when the addiction is not satisfied. The compulsive behavior is generally viewed as detrimental to an individual’s health and social standing and changes to brain chemistry could be said to impair normal functionality (and therefore fit the definition of a disease).

The news of Amy Winehouse’s death has been circulating the Internet recently and many people have been making fun of the musician for her substance abuse and addiction issues. Her death was nothing other than a tragedy. When people make fun of an individual for issues they have that appear to be related to substance abuse, it sickens me – addiction is clearly not funny. People should be giving Amy the respect she deserves as a great singer and songwriter who had a serious problem with addiction – a life threatening issue.

“All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill. We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care.” –Russell Brand from www.russellbrand.tv/2011/07/for-amy/

Russell sums it up perfectly in his recent blog about Amy. There is a lack of public understanding regarding the disease aspect of addiction. It seems that only those who have recovered (as Brand has) or attempted to recover from addiction, or work in the field of recovery, have a true understanding of addiction as a disease. Treatment for addiction is a relatively new, and constantly changing, field of research and practice; I hope that as we progress in our scientific understanding of addiction, public opinion will begin to shift.

Currently, most health care providers do not cover treatment for addiction. This is likely due to the fact that so many people do not understand its cause. Perhaps this is part of the reason that so many addicts are members of the lower middle class or poor; they cannot afford the treatment they require to overcome this disease. While it is true that many do not want to enter treatment, there are those who would if only they had the financial means to do so. If public understanding of addiction were to radically shift, not only would health care providers be pressured to cover this disease, but those who have it may be able to recognize the fact that they have a problem earlier. Individuals suffering from addiction may also be more inclined to seek help if the social stigma currently associated with addiction did not exist.

I challenge those with real knowledge of addiction as a disease to inform anyone around them who appears to have a callous and/or irrational view of addiction. Too many people simply don’t understand the changes that occur in the mind that effect the everyday decisions of an addict. People need to be aware of how powerful the urge to use drugs can be. They must also understand that the human mind will review its past decisions on a daily basis, constantly challenging any past resolve (such as a decision to no longer drink or use). Together we can shift public opinion.

Symptoms of addiction can have horrible consequences, starting with health, legal and financial problems, and in many cases leading to institutions and/or death. Poking fun at someone who’s tragic death was caused by addiction is indicative of an ignorant and naïve individual. Someone who died from any other disease would not be ridiculed for contracting it; I doubt that Amy made a conscious decision to become an addict. A health problem that could end in death (as it may have in Amy’s case) should be taken very seriously.

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