Drug Addiction & Brain Injury – Amy Winehouse, Learning from Tragedy

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The shock of Amy Winehouse’s death is, no doubt, attention-grabbing news. However, the valuable lessons we can learn from the publicized tragedy of such a notable figure sometimes get buried deep below the bold headlines. Of course, Winehouse’s struggle with addiction has been made quite public over the past several years. In 2008, reports surfaced that the singer, after suffering from two major overdoses, might have had brain damage that impaired her judgment, affected her behavior, and even made her a suicide risk. Other reports have also said she was attempting to detox on her own.

As we’ve discussed, brain injury is a known consequence for individuals with substance abuse issues. We also know that people with brain injuries can have difficulty thinking and can experience changes in their personalities and behavior. They can feel more irritable, become frustrated easily, experience mood swings and depression,
Amy Winehouse Drug Addiction, Alcohol Abuse and Brain Injuries
have trouble controlling their impulses, and become less concerned about their relationships with others. Also, patients who suffer from brain injuries and addiction are more prone to seizures and additional brain injuries. They will also have more problems managing their “cravings”—even years after detox and treatment, the desire to use drugs and/or alcohol may persist. Still, some patients will self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol in order to cope with the depression or other mental health issues they experience following their brain injury. However, brain-injured patients’ ability to recognize the consequences of their substance abuse is further complicated by the impaired judgment they can experience—they may not even remember using any drugs or alcohol, or if they do, they may not remember how much they’ve used. This behavior lends itself to the vicious cycle between substance abuse and injury, as the brain injury interferes with patients’ ability to maintain their sobriety, but the use of drugs and/or alcohol makes them more likely to sustain another brain injury.

Though Winehouse’s exact cause of death is uncertain at this point, it is hard to imagine that her history of drug abuse and possible brain damage didn’t play a role in the deterioration of her health. However, what we do know for certain is that her story is heartbreaking, and the struggles she and her family dealt with should be treated with the utmost sensitivity—anyone who has experience with addiction and/or a brain injury knows that the road to recovery is often bumpy and full of complicated twists and turns. Unfortunately, the complex, underlying challenges Winehouse likely faced due to her longstanding issues with addiction seem to get lost in the headlines. Sadly, her story isn’t unfamiliar—many “everyday” Americans battle with addiction and the harmful effects it can have on the brain’s ability to function. Though it was a life ended too soon, perhaps Amy Winehouse’s passing will help shine a light on the devastating impact continued drug use can have on the brain and the underlying mental health issues that make the struggle with addiction seem even more challenging.

Despite how challenging it may be, there are ways of getting help. If you find yourself or a loved one in a similar situation, reach out to a health care professional or treatment facility so that you can get the care you need.

About Rolf Gainer Ph.D.

Dr. Rolf Gainer is the founder of the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookhaven Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well as the Neurological Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Gainer is a psychologist with more than twenty-five years of experience in the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. Dr. Gainer has designed and operated innovative rehabilitation programs in the United States and Canada for individuals who have been regarded as difficult to serve. He is currently involved in conducting two outcome studies related to the long-term issues faced by individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. He has presented papers throughout the United States and Canada in many professional conferences and educational forums.

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