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The Day the Music Died: Musicians and Addiction

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July 20, 2021

The band started playing a familiar tune from years past. What was the name and who sang it? A friend knew it was “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin and added that this artist died from a drug overdose. Jimi Hendrix did too. Jim Morrison was another. Elvis, Kurt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse – the roll call of musicians who lost their lives to substance abuse goes on and on.

Why is that? Is it just a coincidence? Do we know of their fates only because of their fame? Or is it something else? Is it related to what they do for a living or to the lifestyle of those in the music industry? What do the experts have to say about this?beer on drumset showing link between musicians and addiction

A bit of searching comes up with an initial clue. There is an organization called MusiCares. As its website explains, “MusiCares helps the humans behind music because music gives so much to the world.” The group “provides a safety net of critical health and welfare services to the music community.” One way is through its Mental Health & Addiction Recovery Services. Several years ago, American Addiction Centers (AAC) made a donation to MusiCares. This nationwide network of recovery facilities offered 30 days of inpatient rehab to a dozen musicians who were uninsured and thus unable to cover the costs of their own.

There must be something to this.

The Mix: Musical Artists and Substances

Let’s go behind the scenes with The Future Muse as it answers “Why Do Musicians Use Drugs?” This opinion piece offers several suggestions, all related to the “vulnerability” of being in the industry. A career in music comes with a range of challenges, from artistic to personal and financial. These may serve as triggers for substance use for the following reasons:

  • Help managing emotions – A career in music is filled with uncertainty. Success does not necessarily lead to other successes. A dip may occur at any point. How do those subject to these relentless concerns cope with them? They may turn to alcohol and drugs to quiet the head noise. Substances temporarily may keep these troubling distractions at bay. However, the more often they use them, the more likely they are to become addicted.
  • Assimilating with others – Like most of us, musicians long for acceptance by those around them. In these circles, that may mean gravitating to drugs and alcohol like so many of their peers on this career path. If a role model in the business or someone of influence uses substances, it creates a strong pull to do the same. There’s also the FOMO factor – fear of missing out – that kicks in when substance use is a common occurrence.
  • Getting creative juices flowing – A perception in the musical world is that substance use heightens the creative reflex. Is that true? Although this concept exists and some cling to and abide by it, this post labels it a “false notion.” Instead, the content advocates that “the most important aspect of your creative life is consistency.” What’s more, if drugs or alcohol do contribute to inspiration, there are dangerous downsides to it.

Other Thoughts: Link between Musicians and Addiction

Why Are So Many Musicians Drug Addicts?” That’s the question Thought Catalog tackles by consulting with a number of musicians with firsthand experience. Ozzy Osbourne is one. And, by way of explanation, it lumps alcohol into the overall category. This post lists eight possibilities:

  • Surroundings – Many musicians earn their living by performing in clubs; these establishments and the patrons who frequent them represent a perfect storm for indulging.
  • Money, money, money, money – Better known musicians make lots of money. They have resources and tons of disposable income. And they can use it at will.
  • Targets for substances – Drug dealers prey upon musicians for several reasons. They have the means to purchase products as well as rich friends and connections.
  • Immaturity – Many musicians are young. As such, they may not have experience nor exercise the best judgment. They may experiment and spend money recklessly.
  • Blind eye – Fame and fortune afford musicians a free pass in many instances. Those around them let things go by, don’t get involved in what they may be doing.
  • On the road again – Musicians tend to live like nomads, traveling much of the time for gigs. This way of life promotes instability and opportunities aplenty for substance use.
  • Laissez faire – Do they need to be in tiptop condition to perform all of the time? Not necessarily for musicians. This lack of rigor opens the door to using substances.
  • Do unto others and be like them too – This point parallels one raised earlier about fitting in with peers who may be users. Musicians want to be accepted.musicians and addiction recovery group therapy

Substance Use by Musicians: Not Isolated Incidents

This turns out to be a big topic. Substance use and abuse in the music industry is not a random occurrence. It exists at an estimated rate of 11-12 percent. If there’s any doubt, see the piece on an American Addiction Center’s site on “30 Famous Musicians Who Have Battled Drug Addiction and Alcoholism.” And if you or a loved one is struggling with an alcohol or drug problem, know that help is available. Find out how American Addiction Centers can help by clicking here.

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