Drugs didn't kill Carrie Fisher, mental illness did

With actress Carrie Fisher's autopsy report being made public earlier this month, one fan had the perfect response: "If an autopsy report makes you feel differently about Carrie Fisher, you never deserved her in the first place. Many people with mental health issues use drugs to cope. We shouldn't think any less of them. She fought a tough battle. Let her rest in peace. Carrie Fisher was a bad ass. The end."

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), people who suffer from mood and anxiety disorders are twice as likely to be addicted to drugs than the general population.

Despite being diagnosed with anxiety disorder myself, I, thankfully, have never had an addiction (unless you count coffee). But, this doesn't make me any stronger than those who do suffer from addiction. If I had the access and wasn't prescribed with my FDA-approved meds, drugs could have been a very real possibility for me. I can see, as someone with a mental illness, the allure of drugs and their ability to help you escape from your disorder.

Both drug use disorders and mental illnesses are developmental disorders. Developmental disorders often begin in the teen years or younger, when the brain experiences dramatic developmental changes. But it is unknown if mental illness makes drug abuse more likely or if it's the other way around. According to NIH, "Early exposure to drugs of abuse may change the brain in ways that increase the risk for mental disorders. Also, early symptoms of a mental disorder may indicate an increased risk for later drug use."

Mental illness isn't something you can get rid of on your own, just like you can't wish away a tumor. Mental illness isn't something you can just "deal" with. You would never call a person "weak" if they lost their life to leukemia or lung cancer. The same goes for Carrie Fisher. She didn't die because of drugs; she died from an illness.

Fisher was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was in her 20s — but, about 10 years prior was when she started using drugs. According to her autopsy report, she had cocaine, heroin and other drugs in her system when she died. But, like her daughter Billie Lourd said in a statement, this wasn't what killed her. "She died from her lifelong battle with addiction and mental illness."

Emily Bradley, a writer on TheMighty.com, has always looked up to Fisher during her own journey of recovery from drug addiction, and Fisher's cause of death doesn't change that.

"A friend said to me, 'I guess she’s not your hero anymore. ... To assume she couldn’t relapse would be to assume she was infallible," wrote Bradley. "Addiction can rob you of everything. For me, it’s always there in the background, waiting for me to drop my guard. There have been so many times in my few short years of recovery that I’ve almost blown it."

Bradley said that she can't pretend to understand what Fisher was going through. None of us ever will. But she does know that Fisher was a strong person, and she still considers her her hero.

"(Fisher) was brave enough to share her journey with us, and speak out against the crushing stigma. She was so beautiful, wise and talented. It was almost easy to forget she was also human. A human who struggled with addiction."

To find a recovery center near you, visit www.recovery.org.

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  1. Beautifully written, as always. You are such an important voice for suicide prevention. Your writing resonates with the reader because of the honesty and vulnerability of the personal experiences that you share.