The High-Functioning Alcoholic

Understanding this Hidden Class of Alcoholics from a Professional and Personal View

Whitney Houston’s Interview on "Oprah" Revealed Common Misconceptions About What it Means to Be Sober

Whitney Houston: admitted drug addict is not TRULY sober…

The Oprah Winfrey Show aired a 2-part interview with Whitney Houston on Monday, September 14th and Tuesday, September 15th. This revealing interview covered topics that the public has been waiting to hear about-from her relationship with Bobby Brown, to her daughter, to her career hiatus, to drugs. The striking part of this interview personally was the discussion about the chaos in her life, tumultuous marriage and Bobby Brown's alcoholism and drug addiction. At times it felt as though Houston's drugs addiction was the "white elephant" in the room only to be acknowledged as an issue when Oprah asked the following questions.

Oprah: Tell me how bad did it get, the drugs?

Whitney: When you don't speak and you live in the same home and you're sitting right next to that person and you're not saying a word for a week? You're just sitting there? And you're just watching TV? That's bad.

Oprah: You're just watching TV and doing coke? Or are you smoking?

Whitney: We were lacing our marijuana with base. We weren't on crack. We weren't on no crack stuff. We weren't buying $20 jumbos. We were paying money. We were buying kilos and ounces and ounces. We would have our stash.

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Oprah: But you were freebasing cocaine.

Whitney: Basically. ... We weren't doing pipe smoking. We didn't get that far.

Oprah: Did the drugs give you any sense of relief?

Whitney: At times. Don't forget, there were some times we'd laugh our tails off. We had a ball. Sometimes you do have a good time. But when it gets to the point where you're sitting in your home and you're just trying to cover what you don't want people to know. It's painful. And then you want more just so that you don't let anybody see you cry. Or anybody to see we're not happy. ...

(Source: http://www.oprah.com/article/seriesandspecials/previousshows/pkgscreeningroom/20090831-tows-whitney-houston/15)

Given that she began using drugs in 1996, the statements above about her drug use, admitting that she attended rehab at least two times and was intervened on by her own mother-the following part of the interview was somewhat shocking.

Oprah: Does that mean your drug free?

Whitney: Yes maam- I mean, y' know- don't think that doesn't mean I don't have desires for it. There are times it take a minute to cleanse- get off, get off me- I have to pray it away.

Oprah: Absolutely.

Whitney: I have to pray it away. I have a drink now and then, don't get me wrong. If you see me at a bar, don't think...

Oprah: Don't think she's gone back.

Whitney: Please don't do that to me.

Oprah: Because drinking wasn't your issue.

Whitney: No, that wasn't an issue for me- but no week, no coke, no.

Oprah: Do you think you ever will again be tempted?

Whitney: Oprah, I can only take today, one day at a time, one day at a time. Right now no.

Oprah: Right now no.

Whitney: No.

Houston reported attending several rehab facilities in the past few years, where she would have learned that she would need to abstain from both drugs AND alcohol in order to be sober and to maintain long term recovery. The message that Houston gave viewers in this interview is that if you are a drug addict, then you do not need to abstain from other mood altering drugs such as alcohol (with the exception of medications that are taken AS PRESCRIBED by a medical professional). She appears to justify drinking "now and then" because alcohol "wasn't an issue" for her. However, it is known within the addiction treatment and recovery world that in order to be truly sober, a drug addict would also need to abstain from alcohol-even if they did not consider themselves an alcoholic. The same applies for sober alcoholics who report that they do not have a problem with marijuana-it should be understood that sobriety will involve abstaining from marijuana as well.

You may ask, what is the rationale for this sobriety criteria?
1. Addicts and alcoholics often return to their drug of choice when they are not fully sober: For example, a cocaine addict reports not having a problem with alcohol, drinks "occasionally" and abstains from cocaine. Drinking alcohol lowers inhibitions, and this greatly increases and almost guarantees a higher chance of turning back to using his or her drug of choice- in this case cocaine. The same applies for the alcoholic who quits drinking but smokes marijuana because they report that they do not have a problem with it. While high on marijuana, judgment is impaired and inhibitions are reduced, therefore leading him or her closer to or to the point of relapse.

2. Alcoholics and drug addicts may become addicted to a substance that they were not originally addicted to: If a Vicodin (pain medication) addict abstains from that drug and reports "not" having an alcohol problem but occasionally drinks alcohol, he or she may develop an alcohol problem. Addicts or alcoholics turn to outside substances to fix internal problems and also have addictive tendencies physiologically and psychologically. Therefore, to use alcohol or drugs that they claim "not" to have a problem with, opens the door to developing a new addiction.

3. True recovery from addiction involves learning to live life without drugs and alcohol: Alcoholics and drug addicts wreak havoc in their lives and those of their loved ones. Therefore, why would they take a chance that they may relapse or start a new addiction? Only an addict would even want to take that chance. Recovery is the process of an alcoholic or drug addict finding physical, psychological and spiritual balance in their lives without the use of mind altering substances (with the exception of medications that are taken AS PRESCRIBED by a medical professional) and by living their lives consciously. Alcohol and drugs are an escape that prevent the alcoholic or addict from learning to appropriately cope with life stressors and to tolerate pain and discomfort without trying to escape.

So the following questions remain: Why would Whitney Houston, after all of the pain, embarrassment, damage and danger that her addiction has caused her and her loved ones, consider going to "bars" in the future and choose to drink alcohol? What message is she sending to all of the sober or active alcoholics and drug addicts who saw that show? These are questions that she should honestly ask herself. In addition, assuming that she has some form of ongoing treatment team and/or recovery program should be addressing with her. Maybe because Houston was able to remain somewhat "functioning" despite her drug addiction due to her financial status, she did not hit a bottom low enough to take her recovery seriously.

A majority of The Oprah Winfrey show interview with Whitney Houston is available in transcript form at: http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahshow/20090831-tows-whitney-houston

For information about high-functioning alcoholics and alcoholism treatment resources, please visit www.highfunctioningalcoholic.com

 

 

Sarah Allen Benton, M.S., L.M.H.C., LPC, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and author of Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Professional Views and Personal Insights.

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