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Drugs & Health Blog

Whitney Houston: Cocaine and Heart Disease

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

In March 2012, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office reported that Whitney Houston’s official cause of death was accidental drowning. Cocaine use and heart disease were contributing factors in her death.

The coroner believes that cocaine use caused Whitney to suffer heart problems (she already had heart disease), which led her to become unconscious. Bruises on her forehead, chest, and upper lip suggest that she fell into the bathtub, where she drowned.

The six-time Grammy winner also had marijuana, the prescription drugs Xanax and Flexeril, and the over-the-counter medicine Benadryl in her bloodstream, though the coroner does not believe they played a role in her death.

Cocaine Can Lead to Scary Side Effects

Cocaine is a stimulant—a class of drugs that elevate mood, boost feelings of well-being and euphoria, and increase energy and alertness. Stimulants make a person feel good by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain, but they also have some nasty side effects. Short-term effects can include increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure; dilated pupils; nausea; blurred vision; muscle spasms; and confusion.

With repeated use, cocaine can lead to addiction (something Whitney struggled with for years), which changes how the brain works and makes it more difficult to feel any pleasure at all. People who abuse cocaine are forced to take more and more of the drug to experience the same effects as they did at first.

Regularly snorting cocaine can lead to other long-term effects such as a hoarse voice, loss of the sense of smell, nosebleeds, and a chronically runny nose. Whitney’s famous voice was noticeably damaged in recent years, and the autopsy showed she had a hole inside her nose from repeated cocaine use.

Cocaine and Heart Disease

Another long-term effect of abusing cocaine is heart damage. Stimulants cause the body’s blood vessels to narrow, limiting blood flow and forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. It also restricts blood flow to the heart, killing some of the heart muscle.

Because the effects of cocaine are worse on arteries that are already damaged, people who have heart disease—like Whitney did—suffer most from the effects. The chance of having heart trouble, such as a heart attack, also increases.

Unfortunately, Whitney’s cocaine abuse ultimately led her to suffer the worst effect of the drug: death. We hope that people can learn from her experience and avoid the same tragedy.

Did Whitney’s death change the way you or your friends think about drugs? Tell us in the comments how her death affected you.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


It was a shock to hear that Whitney Houston had died. When I look at the beginning of her life, it is hard to imagine that her life drifted in such a tragic way. I believe that Whitney got caught up in a bad relationship and drugs that redirected her life down a bad path. Many people that I know personally who have encountered drugs such as cocaine states that it is a constant desire to get that first high and unforuntatley it leads into a addiction. I believe in Whitney's moments of quietness that she had time to reflect back over her life and was desperate for a change. I hate that this woman did not get the chance to achieve it. I heard a statement of Donnie McClurkin that said that Whitney wanted to prove to her fans that she could come back. I wished that Whitney would have focused less on what people wanted because at the end of the day; she was left standing alone and apparently died alone. The effects of drugs is real. I hope others learn from this woman's tragedy and get help before it is too late. We will miss her yet never forget such a legend.

yea i feel u but rip whitney
she is so popular but now just sad i will miss her
yea i feel u but rip whitney

so very sad .. R.IP

I feel the same way

i agree with hotels stratford england! whitney knew that taking drugs was very dangerous and risky. she also knew that she had a heart disease, and yet she continued to take the drug. she ruined her life with one stupid and irresponibe choice... RIP whitney

I think that she was smokin all that stuff and she passed out and then Bobby Brown drowned her to gain all of her wealth but he aint get nothin

So sorry for Whitney and her family to go through this. I suffer the same problem, I hope this has opened not only my eyes but a lot of others I know who are going through the same addiction.

I do miss witney,if she had known how much we love her i dnt think she would have done that.all the same she is my role model

Whitney Houston died way too quick!! I bet if she was here today she would be miserable with all these rumors. No one will know the truth about how she died. Or her secrets. Rest in peace whitney
I.lpI love and miss her soooo much is like i knew her personal, it's not a day that goes by i don't think of her,my stomach gets sick to know it's real she's gone if i could bring Anyone that's gone back she will be here.I love you Whitney .
i loved her music but she took to many pills she started and she couldn't stop herself from the drugs but she rests in peace
i loved her music but she took to many pills she started and she couldn't stop herself from the drugs but she rests in peace
oh oh bad cocaine
im sorry for the lost
im sorry for the lost
She in my heart a Black women who knew her strengths and her weakness, May she be With us .. <3
Whitney had her demons in which all of us have some. Whitney soul is at rest!!! Love you whitney!!
Whitney had her demons in which all of us have some. Whitney soul is at rest!!! Love you whitney!!
love whitney, but its sad to see that the person we knew lived a dark secret. as bad as bobby was, her brother said she was doing it in the 80's when they were young.
Love u Whitney ur the greatest I just had a drug addiction I heard it's hard to quit