What can we learn from the tragic death of Amy Winehouse?
Perhaps the most striking lesson is that the public’s perception of rehab is formed almost entirely by the media – through celebrity scandal and, in this case, death.
Detox is not the same as rehab
Amy’s short stints in the Priory, or the disgraced (and now closed) Causeway clinic, can only have allowed enough time for a detox. A detox is the initial – and sometimes very tough – stage of rehabilitation when a patient gets the poisonous drugs out of his system.
In fact, detox is just the first step of a long process of physical and psychological rehabilitation. During rehab the person needs to look honestly at their alcohol and drug use and understand the seriousness of their condition. Every alcoholic or addict is, to some degree, in denial. In many cases the root causes of addiction, such as trauma, must be addressed if there is to be any chance of recovery.
So detox isn’t rehab, even though the media often present it as such.
Rehab is not about exclusivity
Another popular misconception about rehab is that it is something luxurious. The media often paints a picture of an overworked celebrity escaping into an exotic retreat where they can swim, relax, do some gentle therapy and catch up with their sleep. But if you speak to people who have gone through residential rehab they will tell you that it’s one of the toughest experiences of their lives, as they have to face their own demons.
Full and proper rehabilitation happens when you start looking into your self, when your therapist and group enable you to deal with the deep psychological reasons that drove you to drink or drugs in the first place. It’s not easy, comfortable or luxurious but it can be the turning point for the addict, the point when things start going right.
Residential rehab is best
The other fallacy about rehab is that it can be managed at home on an “outpatient” basis (Amy Winehouse was receiving outpatient care at the time of her death). This approach works for some but is dangerous for hard core addicts whose lives are totally controlled by drugs or alcohol.
Experience shows that rehab only works when people are within a closed community, where rules apply and where the triggers and temptations of “usual routines” are not visible. It is only within a structured “residential” setting that hardened addicts have any chance of full recovery.
Addiction is a disease
Behind the sad story of Amy Winehouse’s death is a greater tragedy – that of thousands of other drug and alcohol addicts who are caught in the same trap. They are dying every day. The health services need to face up to the terrible impact the disease of addiction has.