People who remember Whitney Houston’s beautiful singing voice likely also recall reports of her alcohol and substance abuse problems over the years. Recent toxicology reports from her autopsy confirm that chronic cocaine use contributed to her early death, because of its ill affects on her heart.
Mixed in with all the reports surrounding her life and her passing, we find a common thread of her faith in Jesus Christ. Her musical talents began to be noticed as a pre-teen singing gospel in a New Jersey Baptist church. Her faith was heralded at her “Going Home” service as various well-known Christian leaders, singers, and Hollywood celebrities made statements about her faith in Christ and her eternal dwelling place in heaven with God.
Whether spoken aloud or simply pondered, some question how a faith-filled person could live a lifestyle of chronic cocaine use. As a former cocaine user and a blood-bought child of God, I think some confusion needs to be cleared up about cocaine.
Myth: Cocaine addiction is worse than other addictions.
Truth: An addiction of any kind wreaks havoc on a person’s body, mind, and soul. An alcoholic is no less addicted to alcohol than a cocaine addict is to cocaine. Just because alcohol is a legal substance in our society doesn’t place it in a less harmful category. Same goes for prescription drugs, nicotine, heroin, morphine, methadone (meth), etc.
Because of the enormous cost to our society from abuse and addiction to alcohol, nicotine, and illegal substances, the medical community has been diligently seeking to understand addiction. Studies have identified a reward pathway in our brains. The NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) states, “Humans, as well as other organisms engage in behaviors that are rewarding; the pleasurable feelings provide positive reinforcement so that the behavior is repeated. There are natural rewards as well as artificial rewards, such as drugs.” Natural rewards include food, water, sex, and nurturing; while artificial include drugs. In a non-medical nutshell, we all crave pleasure and some people find it in drug use. Addiction happens when the compulsion for the pleasure drives a person to lose control over how much and how frequently they want that pleasure. It’s complicated, but addiction does not necessarily happen because a person has moral flaws or a lack of willpower. Much goes on in a brain to increase a person’s chances of having an addiction.
Myth: If you use cocaine, you are addicted to cocaine
Truth: Just because cocaine is an addictive drug doesn’t mean all users become addicted. (NIDA) Lots of factors come in to play, such as environment, personality, and heredity. The more frequently a person uses any addictive substance, the greater the chance the person will develop an addiction. However, occasional use of cocaine does not equal addiction.
Myth: People who use cocaine are crack addicts.
Truth: A person can use cocaine and never use crack.
WebMD explains how there are two forms of cocaine use:
“1) The white crystalline powdered form can be sniffed through the nose (snorted) or dissolved in water and taken through a vein (intravenously, or IV). It can also be taken by mouth or rubbed onto the gums.
2) The freebase form, which has had impurities removed with solvents, is smoked. Crack is a smokable, freebase cocaine made from powdered cocaine hydrochloride. It is also called chips, chunks, or rocks. The name crack came about because of the crackling sound that it makes when it is smoked.”
People who use cocaine are keenly aware of this distinction and generally speaking, snorting it is considered the least hard core by those who partake. According to the NIH (National Institute of Health), when cocaine is snorted, it’s absorbed in the bloodstream via the nasal tissues, takes longer to take effect, and lasts longer and with less intensity than the other two methods (injecting or smoking).
For those who are familiar with this distinction, Whitney Houston’s comments in a 2002 primetime interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, make some sense. She said, “Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let's get that straight. OK? We don't do crack. We don't do that. Crack is whack.”
Myth: Cocaine is like heroin
Truth: Cocaine is a stimulant and heroin is an opiate. In street terms, cocaine is an upper and heroin is a downer.
Myth: Why does it matter – nobody should be doing illegal drugs anyhow?
Truth: Illegal drugs are part of our world. That includes people of faith. Regardless of how a person became involved with cocaine, if they are using it, they are at risk.
It is not anyone’s place to judge. Sin is sin. A cocaine addict is no less of a moral or righteous person than a gossip. Remember Christ’s words in Mark 2:17, “Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners." Accompany that with Romans 3:23, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard.” We are none worthy of the grace given us by Jesus Christ.
Using cocaine or any recreational drug demonstrates a lifestyle of risky behavior, often leading to regrettable consequences (heart problems, jail time, financial ruin, death, to name a few). At least Whitney Houston owned her behavior. Lying about one’s behaviors to cover up the shame of being judged by people just adds another sin to the list. Let’s be honest. It’s always the best policy. Let’s get or give help, whatever the case may be.