Last night I watched a programme called 'Autopsy.' It's a pretty ghastly series which looks at the controversial causes of death of various celebrities like Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe.
Usually I'd steer well clear of something so grisly and voyeuristic in favour of catching up goings on below stairs at Downton Abbey, but last night they were doing Amy Winehouse.
I'm rather obsessed by Amy. By her music, her tragic life, and her refusal to go to rehab.
Amy was plagued by demons. She did pretty much anything to take the edge off real life, and the huge pressures of fame achieved so young. She was bulimic. She cut herself, tattooed pretty much every inch of her tiny body, and took every drug available.
But it wasn't the heroin, the crack cocaine, the ketamine, or any of the myriad of illegal drugs that she'd taken over the years that killed her. It was the legal drug: alcohol.
It struck me that we talk about 'gateway drugs', and how smoking weed might lead to taking cocaine, which could end up leading to a heroin addiction, but what we ignore is that the real gateway drug is alcohol.
Can you imagine anyone snorting a line of non descript white powder (which could be anything from teething powder to rat poison) from the back of a toilet cistern in a grimy nightclub if they weren't already drunk? Does anyone ever have the nerve to inject heroin into a vein for the first time sober?
Isn't it alcohol - the legal drug - that gives society the taste for oblivion, and for false confidence?
Excessive alcohol use easily leads to illegal drug use, which then increases the alcohol use. Many heavy drinkers use cocaine, for example, for its ability to enable you to keep on drinking. And alcohol takes the edge off a drug comedown the following day.
Back in June I wrote a post called 'Relative Harms' (click here), about Professor Nutt's 2010 study, commissioned, then ignored, by the British Government, into the relative harms of various legal and illegal drugs.
Nutt concluded that alcohol was the fourth most harmful drug to the individual (after heroin, crack and methamphetamine), but was by far and away the most harmful drug to society as a whole, in terms of life expectancy, family disruption and road traffic accidents.
We look back at Amy's life and remember the pictures of her smoking a crack pipe, and stumbling along the road with bloodied feet from where she'd been injecting between her toes, and it's easy to assume that that's the behaviour that killed her.
But there were no traces of illegal drugs in her body when Amy died. Her GP says she'd been clean of drugs for two years. However, Amy's post mortem showed a blood alcohol level five times the drink driving limit.
Amy had managed, according to friends, family and doctors, to give up all the 'hard drugs'. The one that defeated her was the 'soft', sophisticated, acceptable drug: alcohol.
Alcohol destroyed Amy's final years. It ruined her voice, and her ability to perform. Remember her disastrous, drunken and incoherent last attempts at performing live in Belgrade? (I thought about posting a link, but it's too awful to watch) Friends say she became increasingly alienated and lonely.
Amy must have known that alcohol was destroying her, because she quit drinking for two weeks before her final binge, and was taking (prescribed) drugs to manage withdrawal symptoms.
Experts believe that, as a result, her tolerance to alcohol had decreased. That's why her final, lonely, binge killed her.
Here's to you, lovely, talented, haunted Amy,