Neil Kaltenecker On Amy Winehouse and Addiction

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Amy Winehouse died of addiction. Though toxicology reports are so far inconclusive, we can look at her life and know the cause of her death. Many of us know what addiction looks like up close and personal and most, if not all of us know what addiction looks like from the gripping images of famous people struggling in front of us. Hopefully, we can convert this recent casualty into an opportunity  for  learning, and strive to create a better way to prevent this treatable chronic health condition called addiction. We know that people can and do recover!

Those who do not survive addiction leave behind grieving families, friends and communities who may question what they could have done differently. To this tremendously agonizing question there is no single or simple answer. We can, however, start to look at addiction differently and recognize that with support, awareness, allies and hope — recovery is possible and it benefits everyone. We know from the National Institute of Drug Abuse and others that:

  • About 570,000 Americans die each year from the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs
  • Genetic factors account for 40 percent to 60 percent of a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder
  • In 2009, some 2.6 million people received treatment for substance use disorders at specialty facilities, yet 20.9 million people aged 12 or older still needed treatment but had not received it in the previous year
  • Those who begin drinking at a later age are less likely to develop a substance use disorder than those who begin before age 21
  • Individuals treated for alcohol misuse are approximately 10 times more likely to commit suicide than those who do not misuse alcohol, and people who abuse drugs have about 14 times greater the risk for suicide
  • For every $1 invested in treatment, taxpayers save at least $7.46 in costs to society
  • About 20 million Americans are living in long-term recovery

Addiction, left unaddressed, will and does kill. Opportunities for recovery should be readily available in a variety of settings. If you have questions about how the tragedy of Amy Winehouse could have been averted, ask someone in long-term recovery. We are your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members. We are community leaders, doctors, therapists, laborers and teachers. What you may find is that there are many ways to recover. Recovery is a life-long process, and people in recovery can experience improved relationships, better mental and physical well-being, and newfound abilities to deal with problems in a healthy manner.

Recovery from addiction is about recognizing that each person must be a central participant in his or her own recovery. There is hope for everyone. Although types of treatment and recovery services may look different, all services should offer choice, honor the individual’s potential for growth, focus on their strengths and attend to each person’s overall health and wellness.

Seeing active addiction played out on the public stage conjures up many feelings -– enthrallment, disgust, pity and compassion, just to name a few -– and it may be argued that public scrutiny and pressure can render recovery even more elusive.

We can all agree that last week we lost an incredibly talented young person to addiction.  Let’s use this tragedy to focus on ways that we can support those who need help. And we can begin by looking to those of us in long-term recovery and identify and explore the opportunities we were afforded that helped us get well. We recover, we get better, we thrive and we live to tell our tales to help others.

September is National Recovery Month where millions of people in recovery and our allies celebrate recovery and educate communities about substance use disorders. For more information, go to


One thought on “Neil Kaltenecker On Amy Winehouse and Addiction

  1. Thank you so much for this beautifully written article. I read so many comments in the Social Media along the lines of, “Big deal…self inflicted” and, “We have our troops dying, who cares about Amy”. Well, I care. And…I have enough room in my heart to love & care for our troops, AND for Amy and for many, many people and causes! Two years clean for me. (Became addicted to prescribed drugs after my son died).