Amy Winehouse and the bystander effect part deux

Amy Winehouse

Image via

So the verdict is in. Singer Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning. The Grammy award winner had fallen off the wagon again after a short period of abstaining from alcohol and her relapse killed her according to the coroner’s report. Her blood alcohol level was tested as more than five times the legal limit.

Most people assumed that Winehouse died from some illicit or illegal substance. Crack or heroin are drugs she has been rumored to have used in the past. This belief allowed people to distance themselves from her issues. Amy is on drugs and I don’t do drugs hence I cannot relate to her problems.

I believe the news that Winehouse died from the legal, but equally deadly addiction of alcohol poisoning is a wake up call for all of us. Amy is not unlike many of us. Alcohol poisoning isn’t all that uncommon and her death should be a warning that we need to both be self aware but also assist any friends or family members who may have issues with alcohol before it’s too late.

Back in July, I wrote that Winehouse’s death is part of the phenomena known as the bystander effect.

The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present. The probability of help has in the past been thought to be inversely related to the number of bystanders; in other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.”

Many of you disagreed with my premise and that’s fine. But I think the news that she died of something you can buy legally at the local liquor store and not from some unnamed drug dealer makes her death all the more relatable. Alcohol poisoning is common. Especially among young people. The social acceptance associated with binge drinking extends across cultures. Winehouse is no longer in another category of addict. She is us.

Her issues were not dealt with properly but it’s not because she refused to get help. Many reports say she was on medication for alcohol withdrawal in order to assist her when she quit drinking. Withdrawal from alcohol is surprisingly more dangerous and difficult than withdrawal from heroin. Once she had stopped drinking and then as many addicts do, fell off the wagon and relapsed, her body couldn’t handle it. Addiction is like a terminal illness with no cure. It’s only treatable.

Unfortunately for Amy she couldn’t be helped but I’m sure as you are reading this you can think of someone in your life who can still be helped so go make a phone call.

Join the Conversation