Whitney Houston—the incredible vocalist and pop star behind famous songs like “I Will Always Love You,” “How Will I Know,” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”—was introduced to cocaine when she was 16 by a friend of her brother. Her addiction got worse and worse, eventually leading to her death in 2012.
Many factors contributed to Houston’s drug use, including the pressures of fame, enablement from those around her, and a history of sexual abuse that was revealed in the documentary Whitney. In February 2012 at the age of 48, she was found unconscious face down in a bathtub. The autopsy showed that she had cocaine, marijuana, Benadryl, Xanax, and the muscle relaxant Flexeril in her system. Alcohol bottles were also found near the scene.
A family source later said, “When she was using, she had no idea who she was or who you were.” At the 2000 Oscars, she was supposed to sing “Over the Rainbow,” but at rehearsals was confused and couldn’t remember the words. She ended up being replaced on the program.
Houston’s manager Clive Davis groomed her to be “the princess of pop.” As often happens when someone’s celebrity image is the creation of another person, the pressure became unbearable.
According to a close friend who was interviewed for People Magazine: “I think not being able to be herself 100 percent was a hell of a burden for her to have to carry. Someone may look good on the outside, sturdy and strong . . . [but] on the inside, you have someone who had insecurities and family issues and emotional, personal issues and struggles.” A record executive who worked with her for years later said she used drugs to escape her pain.
Industry insiders have suggested that Davis may have limited Houston’s interview appearances because her proudly Black manner conflicted with her white-friendly image. Houston dealt with racism, trauma, and people who tried to control her. She constantly had to compartmentalize who she was to fit a very narrow view of who she could be. At the same time, she had constant access to drugs, alcohol, and many enablers.
Houston’s struggle with addiction was very public, which brings added stress. She went into addiction treatment at least three times, the first in 2004 and the last in 2011. Treatment was often followed by a relapse, including a prolonged one that started in the period before her death.
This is likely because once she left treatment, she entered back into the same toxic environment and mounting pressures. Once people leave addiction treatment—where they are away from potential triggers—they should be set up with supports and an aftercare plan.
Only nine months after Houston left treatment the final time, she was flown out to Los Angeles a week early to perform at a pre-Grammy awards party; her hotel room would be the one in which she died. The musician Chaka Khan later said, “Whoever flew her out to perform at that party should’ve provided someone to be there…to keep some of the dangerous people away.”
Houston’s story is tragic and preventable. It shows the dangers of being enabled, shown a lack of support, and not allowed to heal. It reveals the problems of celebrity culture—or any facet of our culture that glorifies substance use. Had Houston left treatment with a team of supportive people who prioritized her recovery, she may still be alive today.
If you are struggling with addiction or a mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for substance use and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff will help you get and stay sober. When you leave our care, you will have a comprehensive relapse prevention and aftercare plan to set you up for success in recovery. To learn more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.