When I was a teenager my mother was a mess. She was mixing prescription pills and alcohol before it was the hip Hollywood thing to do. I like to say she is a trendsetter--I think my mother signed up for a Xanax drug trial before it was FDA approved and never stopped. My mother has 19 lives and is a professional addict. So, maybe that’s why all this Whitney Houston business is weighing heavy on my heart.
People like Bill O’Reilly on Fox News will say things like “she was self destructive” and basically she chose to die. People on shows like Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight will analyze how it all went down and how prescription drugs are an epidemic in Hollywood.
But here’s the thing...Hollywood is late to the game on this one. This whole prescription drug problem is so much more than celebrities. One in 20 people will misuse or become addicted to medicine prescribed by a doctor.
I get all kinds of fired up when a celebrity dies from an overdose of prescription pills. The media coverage is nuts for a couple weeks. Then it goes dark. Until the next celebrity dies.
But here’s the thing, addiction is the great equalizer. Rich, poor. Fat, thin. Good looking, not so good looking. A celebrity, a nobody. Everyone can be an addict.
We throw it around pretty loosely in our society. “I’m addicted to shopping.” “I’m so addicted to chocolate.” “Crackberry, I mean Blackberry.”
Addiction is funny, until it’s not.
Here's how it gets personal
My mother kicked her addiction to alcohol 20 years ago. Yay, right? Well she still refuses to acknowledge her addiction to prescribed opiates, the Home Shopping Network and nicotine.
Last year, as I was trying to get my own mother to go to rehab for her 25+ year addiction to prescription drugs, the whole Charlie Sheen fiasco was playing out. Everyone was looking to Martin Sheen for an interview to explain it all and tell the world he was going to go get his son and take care of it. But he didn’t. He said “I’m praying for him.”
Sitting in my hotel room after a very long day helping my defiant and angry mother go through a forced hospital withdrawal from some of her pills, I watched Martin Sheen say those words and I cried. I cried because I finally got it. As much as you want to explain it and take care of it, you can’t.
Many of these addicts also suffer from mental issues such as anxiety and depression. Others like my mother also suffer from more extreme mood and personality disorders which complicate things. A lot.
Over the next few weeks, while we watch everyone ask questions like “who were Whitney’s enablers?” and “What will Hollywood do about the pill epidemic?, “ I hope the conversation gets bigger.
Take the blame off the “enabling family” and the addict themselves. After so many years of watching my mother doctor shop and letting her addiction win, I hope the conversation changes. I hope for compassion for the addict themselves--sorrow and empathy for the lives they give up to the disease that is addiction---and the family and friends who feel so powerless. I hope for anger directed at doctors who overprescribe and prescribe without a full medical history (and you better believe there are so very many out there).
I also hope for activism--do something--you see a friend taking too many Ambien or Xanax and then god forbid drinking, tell them to stop. Or stop yourself. Read labels. Don’t mix drugs. And don’t be in denial.
Whitney may or may not have died from a prescription drug overdose. But let’s make the conversation bigger.