The sad news about Peaches Geldof– that the young model and TV personality probably died of a heroin overdose–will surprise virtually no one. The circumstances surrounding her death were strange and yet all too familiar: famous, healthy 25-year-olds rarely drop dead at home during their leisure hours. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman–another vital, celebrated victim of heroin’s deadly grip–Geldof left behind a spouse and young children. Both Geldof and Hoffman had meddled with drugs in the past. Hoffman had admitted to full-blown addiction in his younger years and took his sobriety seriously until his relapse. Geldof’s youthful dalliances with drugs were treated more cavalierly–the expected experimentation of a privileged youth–but she, too, was a professed non-user not long before she died. And her health was demonstrably real enough that she was able to give birth to healthy children, the youngest of which was only 11 months old at her death.
Celebrity, privilege and the fast lane life were doubtless contributing factors in Geldof’s troubles–that’s who she was, so it’s undeniable. But heroin addiction doesn’t require any of those things–heroin is cheap and you don’t need to get through any velvet ropes to get some. Heroin isn’t fancy. But it is, science says, choosy: what probably played a greater role in Geldof’s problem was heredity. As a study available at the National Center for Biotechnology Information reminds us: “Heroin addiction is a chronic complex disease with a substantial genetic contribution.” Peaches Geldof’s mother, Paula Yates, died of a heroin overdose when Peaches was 11. Yates was 41. Science is making great strides in identifying the genetic markers which put a person at greater risk for addiction–and there may come a time in the future when each of us knows our risk profile intimately. For now, though, addiction remains wedged in the middle of that thorny old argument about nature versus nurture. It’s helpful to remember that while a decadent lifestyle may lead us to bad water, it’s often DNA that makes us drink.