No other industry has seen a greater percentage of its best and brightest stars fall from grace at the hands of drug and alcohol addiction. Sometimes it seems like drug abuse is almost a prerequisite to rock and roll stardom.
From Janis Joplin to Amy Winehouse; from Jim Morrison to Kurt Cobain; drug addiction has destroyed many celebrities and music’s most beloved figures over the years, either directly or indirectly.
Drug and alcohol abuse has been part of the popular music scene since at least the roaring 20’s, when jazz musicians enjoyed notorious reputations as bad boys living alternative lifestyles. After an unabated century-long love affair, musicians and drugs are simply part of the cultural landscape, walking hand-in-hand.
In fact, drug abuse among popular musicians is often seen in a tragically romantic light, and it can even be a desirable quality. That jazzy bad boy image in 1920 is alive and well as we approach 2020. Fans almost seem to want their rock star to openly flaunt–and even sing about–their drug use.
Why Do So Many Musicians Have Drug and Alcohol Problems?
When a teenager falls victim to drug addiction, the parents tend to ask a few basic questions, such as: How did this happen? Why did it happen to my child? Is this a normal phase, just part of growing up? Where can I go to get help for addiction? Is it time to start looking for a drug treatment center?
When it comes to musicians, those same questions are silenced by a feeling of trite familiarity. Today, drug abuse in the music scene is so prevalent and so commonplace; rarely does anyone seem surprised when addiction brings a musician to his or her knees. No one bothers to ask those same basic questions that anyone else would ask about a friend or family member.
Perhaps this is because there is a popular belief that musicians–and artists in general–are attracted to drugs and alcohol by their very nature. There’s a sense of inevitability about it. While there is no scientific proof that artists are inherently predisposed to drug addiction, the notion nonetheless rings true to our collective common sense.
Musicians are naturally creative types, always seeking to try something new. Their trade requires them to push boundaries and attempt novel ways of using their gifts to satisfy an easily bored populace that enjoys living vicariously through celebrity mayhem.
Then there are the physical realities of the music industry. Anyone who has played in a fledgling band knows that the paying gigs are at parties and in nightclubs. If a band gains a small following, they upgrade to larger music clubs. If they become one of the very few musical acts that makes it big, the party will follow them wherever they go, whether they want it to or not.
The most famous musicians are also the most susceptible to experience the terror of an uncontrollable downward spiral. Their financial success makes extremely rampant drug use possible because they are unlikely to experience the drug-related financial ruin, which so often acts as a catalyst for a ‘regular’ person’s decision to enter recovery.
Wealth also attracts sycophants. These “hangers-on” usually form a loose social circle around the artists, becoming just another part of the scenery; many have connections in the illegal drug market and happily act as suppliers. They eventually settle into co-dependent relationships with the musicians, each enabling the other’s drug-addled lifestyle.
Nobody calls the musicians out on their drug use even when things get out of control, because they are generating tons of cash, which trickles down to the whole group. And when everyone is using, no one is going to stand up and say, “I think you have a drug problem” to the person who is facilitating everyone’s rock and roll lifestyle.
Touring musicians often rely on stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamines to gain an energetic edge prior to going on stage, and continue using throughout the performance. They then need depressants to come down after the show. Elvis Presley rode this seesaw for years before drugs took his life in 1977.
Myth: Drugs Enhance Creativity
A trickier question to answer might be, “Is this normal?”, because in the music industry, drug use is virtually everywhere, and many people assume that drug use actually helps musicians.
This is a complete myth. Like other professionals in any other industry, musicians are usually at their best when they are clear headed and focused.
Even the most notoriously hard partying bands like the Rolling Stones would generally show up sober and ready to work during recording sessions. Several songs on the Stones’ albums “Sticky Fingers” and “It’s Only Rock and Roll” were recorded entirely without guitarist Keith Richards, who was in the throes of heroin addiction during the early 1970’s. It’s difficult to make a case that drugs were helping his creativity when he couldn’t even show up at the recording studio.
The difference between the poppy teenage love songs of The Beatles’ early years, versus their later, seminal works, is often cited as ‘Exhibit A’ in the case for drugs being beneficial to musicians. The truth is that the Beatles were naturally creative and talented songwriters who became desperate to break away from their early, bubbly style. This desire just happened to coincide with the start of their heavier drug use.
While the drugs that The Beatles were taking may have made certain kinds of creative connections that would not have been made otherwise, the end result was simply the creation of drug-influenced music. Their songs would have gone in a different creative direction without the use of drugs, and they might well have been even better.
There are hundreds of examples of drugs providing a short-term creative boost to musicians, only to completely ruin–or end–their lives shortly thereafter. It’s not the drugs that make musicians creative; it’s their inherent gift of creativity.
Drugs always end up taking far more than they give, and that’s true with anyone in any profession. In the music world, using drugs as a creative fuel is dangerous, destructive and unsustainable. When drugs kill talented musicians in the prime of their lives, the argument that they benefitted from their drug abuse reveals itself as an utterly ludicrous position.
Musicians in Recovery
Musicians face some particularly difficult challenges re-entering society after rehab. While this process is never easy, most normal people can safely and easily avoid their old acquaintances in the drug scene or stay as far away from bars and liquor stores as possible.
On the other hand, many musicians who enter addiction recovery centers often find themselves right back in the boiling pot of bars and nightclubs when rehab is over. Their more casual friends often don’t understand or even care what they are going through – especially if they are heavy drinkers and drug users themselves. Temptation looms everywhere.
Luckily, there are specific avenues just for musicians to help them along the road to recovery. For example, the Grammys organization has created an outreach program specially targeted to help the unique challenges that musicians face when trying to recover from all forms of drug abuse.
All of Cornerstone Recovery Center’s addiction treatment programs are largely dedicated to addressing relapse prevention – one of the biggest issues that all recovering addicts and alcoholics face when they try to stay sober in an un-sober world. If you have any questions about Cornerstone’s recovery programs or you just want to talk with someone about your situation, call us at 888-711-0354 or contact us online.
If they try to make you go to rehab, just go, go, go.