Thursday, 28 July 2011

Addiction: Illness or life choice?

The news that dominated headlines at the weekend is that of the death of singer Amy Winehouse at the tender age of only 27. As famous for her public breakdowns, alcohol and drug abuse, just as much as her dark, solemn lyrics and impressive voice, her songs were full of soul, all relevant to the kind of person she was. But, as talented as she was, she is now just another statistic of a young life snatched by addiction.

I find that I am unsympathetic, to a degree, to those who have an addiction, whether it be drinking, smoking, even sunbed use, that the indivdual knows is putting their health at serious risk. So when I heard that Amy Winehouse had died, I wasn't completely sympathetic towards her. She took drugs and drank like it was going out of fashion, despite health experts and even her own friends and family, telling her that it was slowly killing her. And although her post mortem results haven't been confirmed as of yet, I can only imagine her addictions played a large part in her death.

With anyone, their death is, on the most part, a sad event. Whether they died of old age or from an addiction. I find that my sympathy lies, in the case of addicts, not only with their family and friends who will have no doubt tried their hardest to help their loved one, but with the addict themselves. For example, a heroin addict I do not feel sorry for. However I do feel sorry that they are an addict. I can only assume, having never tried any drug in my life, merely because it has never appealed to me, that it is all too easy for some people to get in with the wrong crowd and to feel pressured into trying things, whether they do or don't want to try them. The more they try, the more involved they get. They may start smoking cannabis in the park. The same people may end up doing lines of coke or injecting themselves with heroin not long after.

Obviously, I don't mean that that 14 year old kid you saw at the bus stop last week smoking weed is going to become a hard-faced cokehead. But for most people who become drug addicts, it starts, as it does with any addiction, small. A few spliffs here and there, a couple of E's at a party, you then start to develop a curiosity and an itch for more. The previous no longer satisfy your needs so you need to move onto the stronger stuff. As I have already said, I have never taken drugs, and never will. But I can imagine that in a way, it is like alcohol, when you start off the night on some kind of alco-pop until you realise that it is doing nothing, so you start on double vodkas. But of course, on a much larger scale. And once you know that harder drugs are much more effective than the soft ones you used to take, there's no going back. Why would you go back to the drugs that now seemed dull in comparison to the ones that can take you off into some other dimension and make you feel blissful and unaware?

This is what I find sad. That some people, whether they have been dragged in or have gone willingly, can end up so addicted that there is no turning back. Many people dabble in drugs and can give them up easily, as they only really use them socially. Others do them regularly but realise that they're harming themselves, that they can no longer seperate reality from their comatose hallucinations and that they could be killing themselves. And these people will ask for help to quit, get themselves into a rehab and try their absolute damndest to "get clean" so they can live a healthier, drugs free life. Take Russell Brand, for example. A well known celebrity (and one of my favpurite comedians) who's life of sex, drugs and alcohol is as famous as he is. He was into heavy drugs and was a sex addict. After being in and out of rehab, he finally got clean, at the age of 27, the same age Amy Winehouse lost her life, and he is now extremely succesful, married and even starring in Hollywood movies. It will not have been easy by any means, to get to where he is today. Because addiction is an illness, and like any other illness, if you do not seek to get it treated, it can spiral until it is no longer treatable and will kill you.

But is it a mental illness? Are people who take drugs just hiding from reality? Do they just have demons that they want to be rid of and so numb their minds with drugs and alcohol? Not on the most part, in my opinion. I know that people drink and take drugs, simply to try and forget about a memory or an event that haunts them. Perhaps someone was abused as a child or they are an ex serviceman who has come home from war. There are many reasons why someone would turn to an addiction, it isn't simply just because they thought it looked fun. And for those people, I feel deeply sorry. To feel you have nowhere left to turn. It must be dreadful to say the least. But just as we cannot group all addicts as just people who've gone a bit crazy as kids and mixed with the wrong crowds, we cannot group them all into being emotional recluses. What we can group them as are those who want help and those who don't.

I have the utmost respect for those who say, no, this has to stop and fights until they no longer have to rely on drugs. I have considerablely less for those who say, I could stop but I don't want to. I'm sure that most addicts would like to get clean but they feel they can't and give in even trying. And I can only find these people as weak. If you really don't want your addiction to kill you, if you want to live a long, healthy life, you need to be strong and determined. If you can't fight your addiction, I can't help but feel that sometimes it's because you don't have the willpower to do so, even if part of you wants to. And it is for those people I feel the most sympathy of all. Not because they're "poor little addicts with no hope in the world" but because they have no means to better themselves. Perhaps I am being naive. I know alcoholics who have been given plenty of opportunity to stop, been in rehab, even had liver transplants so that they can start their new lives with a healthy organ to give them the best chance. And what have they done? They've carried on drinking regardless. Something I find extremely irritating and almost disrespectful, that there are no doubt much more worthy candidates on the transplant list that could have had the liver that is now being abused. It makes me think why? Why, after being given a second chance, would you throw it all away for a a few bottles of vodka?

I suppose I would have to delve into the psychology of an addict's mind, but of course, I don't have that capacity of information. All I know is that there are some people willing to be helped and those who aren't because they aren't willing to help themselves. A sad but true fact that will continue to take the lives of people before their time. So what I have to say is this. Not all addicts are the ones you picture in your mind when you hear the word. Those dirty people who reside in doorways or filthy run-down flats, spread across the floor surrounded by empty bottles and used syringes. Some are people who are crying out for help and feel they have no other way out and no other means of escape. Normal people, like you and I, who take a bad path and can't seem to find a way to back track. Some do and they grab that second chance with both hands. Some, however, are like those people you picture. Addiction is a terrible thing. It consumes people so entirely that there is often no light at the end of the tunnel. And more often than not, it claims lives. And it is this and this alone, that I find the most tragic of all.

RIP Amy Winehouse


  1. Enjoyed reading this at lunchtime. Quite thought provoking, and potentially contentious thoughts in there as well. What's the next topic going to be?

  2. Thank you. I'm not sure what my next topic will be yet.