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Rethinking Rehab: Amy Winehouse and the Disease of Addiction

Occasionally, I remember the late Amy Winehouse (1983-2011). Amy rose to great international success with the release of her hit sophomore Grammy-winning album entitled Back to Black. Amy, a young British woman with a remarkable voice and unforgettable unique style was destined for even greater musical success but the world watched her during her later years as her addiction to drugs and alcohol plagued her life. That’s one thing that bothered me - all the world could do was watch. Watch as she became a spectacle, missed performances, and was featured in tabloids. The world stood and watched her become a cautionary tale of the dangers of drink, drugs, and fame.

Before the production of Back to Black, Amy’s label had suggested she attend Rehab, but she declined. In her hit song Rehab, the singer harmonizes about her refusal to remain in therapy, her reliance solely upon self-care (listening to the oldies in a safe space), her depression because of her heartache and the control depression had over her. The denial that the late singer held over just how big of a problem the disease really was is understood as the catchy Motown-inspired track plays on. I will always view this song as a cry for help, draped in pride and soulful singing.

At the age of 27, Amy, unfortunately, passed away leaving the world to rethink alcoholism and drug abuse and their effects on young musicians and young people. Several months ago, I was cordially invited, as a social worker to attend a wonderful lunch and learn by Alcoholics Anonymous Toronto. This year, I have really been thinking about how drugs and alcohol affect people in our society, and here are a few things that come to my mind.

1) A healthy environment is important. If a young person is often subjected to peer pressure and has toxic influences around them that are encouraging them to use drugs, this is certainly a risk factor. As a social worker, I always consider one’s environment in light of their struggles.

2) One’s family history is important. The past doesn’t necessarily have to indicate the future – but it can. A history of drug and alcohol addiction in the family is certainly a risk factor for future generations. Family values around drugs and alcohol matter. Intergenerational trauma and intergenerational curses are real (I will speak more about these issues in my blog and on social media in the coming year). Amy Winehouse asked her father if she needed to be in rehab and he told her that she didn’t but that she could consider it. Family and friends make a difference.

3) Drugs and Alcohol are spiritual practices. Why do you think they call some drinks spirits? As a faith-based social worker, and a Christian, I know that the Devil’s plan is to steal, kill and destroy. Drugs and Alcohol open their users up to the spiritual realm and I believe the best healing involves psychotherapy (individual and/or group) and a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

4) How one defines themselves is important. Those who attend Alcoholics Anonymous often refer to themselves as alcoholics (i.e., Hi, I am Jack, I am an alcoholic) at the beginning of each meeting with other recovering alcoholics. Some feel that it is important to remind themselves of the disease that they are fighting. I do wonder what this specific labeling does to the labeler, after all, words are spiritual. I believe in defining yourself with positive labels and giving your battles to the Lord. You are not your struggle. This is one way to externalize an issue.

Amy is gone, and each year we lose many to this disease, but this doesn’t have to be the case. If you or a loved one is suffering from a drug addiction or alcoholism, there are many more resources that can help ( It is never late to start a New Chapter and to sing a new Song.


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