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Treatment professionals react to Whitney Houston's death

February 14, 2012
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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While I remind myself that we must use caution before drawing immediate conclusions about a celebrity’s death, I also have to take note of the many thought-provoking comments that have come in on our Addiction Professionals LinkedIn group in the days since the news about Whitney Houston.

Addiction professionals are a passionate group that take ownership of their helping role, so it didn’t surprise me that strong responses followed when a LinkedIn group member asked the group if the singer’s death was the treatment profession’s “fault.”

Some cited Houston’s treatment history as offering evidence that the system did not adjust to her needs, while others argued that the ultimate responsibility for success in treatment lies with the individual. Here is a sampling of some of the posted comments:

“Of course I don’t know the facts but I doubt that Whitney was on maximal available treatment for whatever addictive disorder she had. Perhaps this is her fault, but certainly some blame lies with the treatment community, as I do not see us being all that good at letting patients know all the treatment options that might be available to them.”

“Are we meant to walk beside them day in and day out to be sure they are compliant … for a lifetime? Where does personal responsibility for one’s own program of recovery come into play?”

“With many treatment centers it appears that after the 28 or whatever magic number of days has passed there is often no continuity of care, and the patient is thrown back into the community with advice to go to 90 meetings in 90 days.”

“I think the danger is to assign blame, especially to people or ourselves for the actions of a person afflicted with the disease of addiction. … I think it’s tragic anytime someone succumbs to this disease but it happens every day, to people who don’t get headlines.”

What have your thoughts been in the aftermath of the weekend’s news?            



At some point people do have to assume their own responsibility and leadership for their recovery. The community is just that: a community available when people need help, but it can't force someone into a sober lifestyle.

I agree. It is the individual's responsibility However, the nature of addiction often prevents the individual from seeing the progression of their illness and the "seemingly irrelevant decisions" such as using other substances like alcohol or benzodiazapines when you're a cocaine addict.The people around you such as family and friends, co-workers,and especially doctors need to know this is not in your best interest and openly confront the individuals' decisions to engage in high risk behaviors. Where's self-help ? where's therapy? where's development of coping skills to replace the drugs? This is not an overnight takes months & years to get well & truly engage in recovery. But back to work they go... Too many people in the entertaintment business prefer to be 'on the payroll' and don't confront, don't want to make them angry and go along with the high risk behavior until it snowballs out of control.

All those folks that were more concerned with their payroll......those thst stuck their head in the sand lokked the other way.....were to spineless to confront.....didn't care enough to confront God help them.they have to live with what they have done or better yet what they didn't do. To tied up in payroll....well now their payroll is gone for ever.......
its time we as human beings begin to show empathy and concern for others......addiction is to powerful for one to single handedly fight.......strenght in systems not enablers. My heart goes out to her daughter she has truly suffered more than is being said

I spent 30 years as a counselor in a variety of high end residential treatment centers. I gave up the predicting game many years prior to retirement. I believe there are treatment failures, and I believe there are individuals who truly are "constitutionally incapable". Until the mental health and chemical dependency fields declare a truce and combine their vast stores of knowledge to work toward a common goal, until the treatment field does more than give lip service to one size does not fit all, I believe that many more people, both high profile and average citizens, are going to die. I know this disease inside out and backwards and forwards, and, if I had all the time and money in the world, I do not know what I'd do to solve the drug problem in this country. We've already lost a couple of generations and are well on our way to losing the third one. I know that what's currently passing as treatment is working for a minority and not for a majority. I don't know about anyone else, but that isn't good enough for me.

I wonder if Diane Sawyer and Oprah Winfrey asked Ms. Houston about her experiences at the two rehabs. What tools did she come away with to maintain abstinence and move towards recovery? I know one of the Rehabs was in Atlanta, Ga. Ms. Houston chose that one so she could bring her daughter along with her.

We don't know if a true therapeutic alliance was formed between client and counselor?

In order for treatment to flourish, owners/administrators must incorporate genuine warmth, and empathy for their staff which trickles down to the treatment between counselors and clients.

My experience working in Methadone, Chemical Dependency Detox, Outpatient and Rehab exposed me to most administrators, supervisors, and line staff to treat one another in an unprofessional manner demonstrating coercion, control, scare tactics creating a hostile environment. In addition, I had the President scream at me at the top of his lungs stating,"one more mistake and your out of here." I left the field many years ago.

I couldn't help but Lol after reading your comment! I am a licensed counselor as well & I have not found a treatment center that is professional or practice professional boundaries!! I recently interviewed with a potential employer and the team had just finished with a teen crisis and the counselor was crying in the interview with me about her job!! I didn't walk away from that place...I RAN!!! (So sad for the clients)

I have a tendency to question things like depression & anxiety along with substance abuse which in my opinion is simply a mask to deeper issues being ignored...just my opinion. How can we addiction professionals separate a person's mental health from substance abuse? It makes no sense to me...

Treatment centers in this country are behind the eight-ball having bought into old literature disease focused techniques in hopes of doing the same thing over & over & expecting different results...Would you want your cardiologist to use the same procedures to fix your heart as used 4-5 even 6 decades ago?...Something to think about...

Our industry is an art, not a science. It's an art influenced by research, but still an art. Were it any other way, we'd all be doing the same thing. We all have treatment failures. Some of that may be a poor match between the addict and the program. Some of it may be that the addict wasn't ready, wasn't willing, or more likely didn't "need" to change. By that I mean that the consequences of their addiction hadn't risen to a point where they could effectively surrender. I don't know Whitney Houston, and I don't try to analyze people I don't have contact with. It's unprofessoinal. But my observations when a celebrity succumbs to their addiction usually focus on those around them that allowed the addiction to proceed unfettered. People who sit idly by while someone of stature self-destructs because it's in their best interest to keep their mouths shut, i.e. they don't wan't to risk killing the goose that laid the golden egg. I suspect there were many people who failed Whitney Houston. And AI think it's fair to surmise that she failed herself. Whether or not the treatment industry failed her is an exercise in futility. If you feel guilty about the treatment you provide, do something else. If you believe someone else is providing sub-standard treatment, do something to make them better. And if you don't know anything about the treatment she received, keep your mouth shut. There's little vallue in canabalizing ourselves.

Spot on. One only has to look at the many examples, sadly lost, and painfully continuing their addictions in the public eye. The goose that laid the golden egg effect plays out on our tv screens daily i'm afraid.

What an honorable response!!!! Thank you. You said it all.

My first reaction was the possible culpability of the doctor or doctors who prescribed a narcotic to an addict?

i agree with that question.what incopetency!clearly not the standaard of care in our field.other prescribers of benzos,stimulants and often opiates need to learn how to asses and not be causitive in the death.thats malpractice if not criminal.thats why the dea and governments want these providers to take courses for competency.this is just one case. i see them all day long and it is shameful.

I am In the addictions profession and sadly I see doctors/Psychologists and prescirbing nurses handing out narcotics to drug addicts on a daily basis. As a result I have seen parents loose their children, clients going back to prison and DEATH. I just dont understand It. It is criminal. I have a saying "It is never a good idea to give a drug addict drugs" There is always other options and much helathier ways to treat patients other than using medications/drugs. These so called professionals justify and minimize why they do it, often referensing that this is how we treat this or that, totally ignoring the person and circumstances. Has anyone ever read the side effects of these medications, REALLY!!! The harm to Benefit ratio just doesnt add up, not when there are so many other proven healthy options that have no side effects are not dangerous,do not promote dependnecy and cost no money they are free. Yes free, using a coping skill, accepting life,letting go, stop controling, taking personal responsibility, and changing the way we think and behave is all free.......

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than it is for a drug addict with lots of money and fame to stop using.

Gary Enos


Gary Enos

Gary A. Enos has been the editor of Addiction Professional since its inception. He also...

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