Death of Amy Winehouse Reveals Alcohol Abuse

As one of the great singers of her generation, the death of Amy Winehouse (14 September 1983 – 23 July 2011) to alcohol toxicity caused by extreme alcohol intoxication was a tragic loss. Given how Winehouse’s death was caused by a combination of co-occurring disorders that ranged from alcoholism and substance use disorder to bulimia nervosa and anxiety, this loss should be a wake-up call for both parents and teens. If treatment is not accessed, one disorder will aggravate the next, leading to a catch-22 of deterioration and destruction. As the different challenges being faced worsen, the difficulties speed up and intensify, until a snowball rolling down the hill becomes a deadly avalanche that cannot be avoided.

Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms

Amy Winehouse had just relapsed after three difficult weeks of sobriety, doing it on her own with tightly clenched fists. Sadly consistent with the majority of relapses, the disease resurfaced with the force of a tidal wave that ended up killing her. Small traces of Librium, used to treat alcohol withdrawal, were found in her blood by the coroner, but no illegal drugs.

The alcohol poisoning symptoms were on the table when the hospital coroner Dr. Shirley Radcliffe revealed that the young star was more than five times the legal drink limit when she died. Given that the legal driving limit in Great Britain is 80mg, and she had over 400mg when her blood alcohol content was tested post-mortem, Winehouse disastrously drank herself to death by generating an alcohol toxicity in her body that almost nobody could survive. Indeed, the post-mortem examination further showed that she probably suffered a respiratory arrest. There was no other result but a fatal outcome for an ultra-thin bulimic in poor health. Her poor health and appalling end were also caused by a lack of nutrition due to eating disorders and extended alcohol abuse.

In the inquest about her death, Dr. Radcliffe explained that the star died from “death by misadventure” due to “alcohol toxicity”. She added that it was “a level of alcohol commonly associated with fatality.” She also noted that “two empty vodka bottles were on the floor” beside the bed where Amy Winehouse’s body was found. As opposed to self-destruction, misadventure is such a polite British way of describing an ugly end to a poignant life that had touched so many.

Battling an Eating Disorder and Alcohol Intoxication

During her final days, Amy Winehouse experienced a horrific struggle between her co-occurring disorders, compelled to drink excessively while hopelessly trapped by untreated bulimia nervosa that catapulted her into destructive cycles of binging and purging. When caught in a binge-purge cycle where food is vomited up, people suffering from bulimia nervosa often replace the calories and dull the lingering pain through excessive drinking. Binging on alcohol replaces binging on food. Such extreme alcohol use also drowns out the viciously negative voices in a sick person’s head — with many long-term costs. This deadly “replacement” logic fueled by abuse seems to have added up to a grisly end for Amy Winehouse.

Image Credit: Paul O’Mara

Without question, Amy Winehouse was very unwell with the co-occurring disorders of alcoholism and bulimia nervosa. Most people, however, do not associate co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis with eating disorders. People tend to connect alcoholism or substance use disorder with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In actuality, eating disorders quite often are co-occurring with alcoholism, drug problems, depression, and anxiety. Since Amy Winehouse suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety, substance use disorder, alcoholism, episodes of self-harm, and eating disorders, she gives a foreboding meaning to co-occurring disorders.

Warning Signs for Teens Regarding Bulimia Symptoms and Alcohol Toxicity

In the case of Amy Winehouse, her tragic ending can be heeded as a real warning sign for teenagers and their parents. Mental health challenges, alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, and eating disorders need to be addressed without hesitation. Amy Winehouse had a long history where one disorder fueled another, generating such chaos within that the singer could not imagine any external treatment option. Indeed, Amy Winehouse was resistant to treatment for both her alcoholism and her bulimia nervosa. For someone who was so obviously ailing, she refused help time and time again.

Although the singer’s general practitioner Dr. Christina Romete claimed the young singer wanted to live, the doctor also highlighted how during her battle with alcohol toxicity and bulimia, “She was genuinely unwilling to follow the advice of doctors, being someone who wanted to do things her own way.” Despite her struggles with eating disorders and the obvious signs of bulimia that made her physically ill, Winehouse would not accept treatment. Moreover, she continued to abuse alcohol and drugs, leaving rehab early with little or no lasting effect each time she went. Given such an ingrained resistance to being helped, despite attending rehab multiple times, treatment never worked for Amy Winehouse.

Why was Amy Winehouse so resistant to receiving the help that she needed? Recovery begins with willingness, and many factors went into the singer’s lack of it. A major factor was her extreme fame. In Great Britain, Winehouse was in the cross-hairs of the paparazzi with headlines splashed in the tabloids about her excessive drinking and the physical consequences of her eating disorder. Given such negative and overwhelming attention, her desire to withdraw into her own world is not surprising, even if that world was highly toxic and hopelessly diseased.

Image Credit: Greg Brummel 

Combined with her desire to withdraw, Amy Winehouse also had a real desire to fight. Combative by nature, she reacted to the paparazzi’s taunts with curses and a “couldn’t care less” attitude. Such bravado revealed the courage that was behind her incredible artistry. Like any powerful attribute, her natural instinct for being brave could cut in both directions, not only fighting off the negative forces, but cutting off the positive ones as well. Winehouse’s daring proved to be part of her undoing as she brushed off those people trying to help her and blindly followed her own ultimately fatal path. After all, in the end, this poor young lady drank herself to death.

Amy’s mother Janis Winehouse provided insight into the tragedy of her daughter’s death, saying, “Amy didn’t like to talk about her addiction, but it was there for all the world to see. To everyone else, it was Amy Winehouse, but all I could think was: ‘That’s my baby.’ She used to say to me, whenever there was something about her in the papers, “Look, Mum, I’m still here! They said this and that, but look, I’m still here!”

Teens Should Get the Help They Need

In the end, however, at the very tender age of 27-years-old, Amy Winehouse was gone. If her death is to have any real meaning and lasting impact, teens and their parents must realize that such a tragic outcome can happen to them as well. Amy Winehouse’s boldness and refusal to be treated led directly to her death. Whether it was the fame that fueled her ego or just a broken young woman overcome by so many co-occurring disorders, Amy Winehouse was overcome in the end by alcoholism and bulimia nervosa. Her body simply was too weak and compromised to survive—and she died. Please do not let what happened to Amy Winehouse become the tragic fate of anyone close to you. It is imperative to take action before it’s too late and learn about teen bulimia treatment options as well as the risks that come with eating disorders and alcohol toxicity. Take the lesson learned from the tragedy of this young woman’s life lost.

Feature Image: Rama