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Whitney Houston, Xanax And Alcohol – A Fatal Combination?

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Watch Whitney Houston's official cause of death video here

Whitney Houston – A celebrity overdose?

The cause of Whitney Houston’s death, aged 48, has fuelled bulletin boards ever since it was announced on 11 February. Whilst the exact cause of death is unclear, evidence gathered from her hotel room indicates that Houston was a regular user of prescription drugs such as Xanax and amoxicillin.

Did Whitney Houston drown or overdose?

Houston was found submerged in a bathtub in her suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, reportedly surrounded by bottles of both prescription and over-the-counter medication. Whether Houston drowned after becoming unconscious or was dead before she slipped under water has yet to be determined. It seems likely, though, that the root cause of her death was the combination of alcohol and one or more of these drugs.

Xanax – legal but deadly

Xanax is a benzodiazepine sedative, the same class that includes Valium and Klonopin. Usually prescribed for anxiety or panic disorders, Xanax is frequently used by performers for its relaxing effect.

Xanax works by depressing the central nervous system, reducing the activity of mental functions such as memory, coordination, cognitive ability and respiration. In a similar way to alcohol, it numbs the senses and takes the edge off.

Xanax is an effective medication for symptoms of anxiety but it can be highly addictive. However, when combined with alcohol it can become deadly.

A fatal combination – Xanax and Alcohol

Both alcohol and benzodiazepines, like Xanax, have the same effect on the body’s central nervous system. When combined they have an additive effect, which massively increases the potency of alcohol ingested. The reduction in mental functions is far greater than with just drinking alcohol alone. This can cause respiratory problems as well as amnesia and cognitive difficulties.

The combination of lowered cognitive ability and memory loss is extremely dangerous when drinking alcohol and taking drugs for the simple reason that the individual often forgets how many drinks they’ve had or pills they’ve taken. Accidental overdoses of drugs such as Xanax causes over 25,000 deaths in the United States every year. Many of these deaths are due to fatal respiratory depression – when the body is unable to inhale air and exhale carbon dioxide. In many drug overdose cases especially when alcohol is combined with opiates, barbiturates and benzodiazepines, respiratory depression quickly leads to respiratory arrest, where the individual stops breathing.

Whitney Houston and drugs

In the case of Whitney Houston, all of the ingredients and behaviour for a drugs overdose were present. Toxicology tests conducted by Los Angeles police will reveal what drugs were present in Houston’s body when she died. Given her history of alcohol and substance abuse it seems likely that Whitney Houston will join the list of celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe whose premature deaths were caused by the misuse of prescription medications.


10671 Revised November 2012

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