Famous musicians like Elton John, who recovered from their addiction to cocaine and heroin, became legendary performers. These musicians’ stories and recovery provide us with a glimpse at the possibility of full recovery and musical success. If you dig through the stories of those who have survived long enough to tell them, you’ll see that a combination of factors contributes to recovery. There is no magic formula behind kicking the habit; instead, it’s about work, love, and treatment. Determination is as crucial as support.
How Heroin and Cocaine Hook Musicians
Creatives like artists, musicians, and writers seek to push boundaries, looking for new experiences to explore constantly. That’s what makes them creative. Drugs and rock ‘n’ roll have gone hand in hand for decades, dating back to Jazz musicians sniffing substances in nightclubs. The connection between drugs and music has become so ubiquitous that it’s even become its trope in popular culture — see movies like “Almost Famous” or “High Fidelity,” both of which explore the relationship between music and drugs.
However, the same qualities that push artists to be innovative — a desire for new experiences and a willingness to take risks — also predispose them to drug addiction. Other reasons for their susceptibility to drug use include:
The answer to “why” may lie in many people’s brain chemistry. Research has found that individuals with higher levels of creative achievement in music, visual arts, or science have an increased risk of developing bipolar disorder and schizophrenia compared with less creative people. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), such severe mental health disorders leave individuals susceptible to developing substance use disorder (SUD) due to seeking relief from their mental health issues.
Musicians need to be creative at all times. They’re constantly writing songs and coming up with new material. Some artists believe that drugs can help them achieve this creativity and block out the stressors of their lives. In actuality, drugs often stunt artists’ vision and growth.
Fame and fortune can be overwhelming for some people. A young musician may feel pressured to perform at specific standards and get caught up in the fast life of touring and recording albums for fans. Sometimes these pressures can lead to substance abuse to cope with the workload and fame.
Because of the nature of their jobs, musicians have a lot more disposable income. They also have more time to kill, especially off the road. That makes it easier to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
Healing From Pain
While many musicians have had long careers as sober artists, others have turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with the demands of fame or to deal with past trauma. Many people who experience childhood abuse turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the pain of their past so they can function daily. Though some find temporary relief in their drug use, often, it’s not enough.
Working on the Road
Life on tour consists of waiting around between gigs for many musicians. There are hours spent traveling from one city to the next, then long stretches of downtime before going on stage each night and performing for an adoring audience. It’s no wonder that many turn to substances.
Musicians Who Kicked Addiction and Why They Did It
It’s no secret that the music industry has a sordid history with drugs. In particular, cocaine and heroin have wreaked havoc on the lives of countless musicians. Some of them managed to get clean, while others fell victim to the grip of addiction. Not only did they experience a lot of pain and suffering because of their drug use, but they also caused a lot of pain to others, like their families and friends.
Here are 12 musicians who finally beat their cocaine and heroin addictions:
#1. Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, admitted to using cocaine and drinking heavily. She attributed her SUD and mental health issues to her traumatic upbringing, including sexual abuse. While she calls herself lucky to have been able to seek help from trained professionals, she cites Whitney Houston as one of her great idols for helping her get sober and clean. Since her recovery, Mary J. Blige has released several platinum-selling albums and pursued acting roles.
One of the most famous rappers of the 21st century, Eminem has openly admitted his struggle with drug addiction, particularly in his song “Drug Ballad.” The rapper has been open about his troubles with prescription drugs, particularly Vicodin and Valium. Vicodin is a prescribed opioid. Heroin, also an opioid, is cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioids in some communities because the two substances are chemically similar and produce similar effects.
He said that he started using it to self-medicate for depression and insomnia. He took up to 10 pills a day at the peak of his addiction. He said he didn’t realize how severe his problem was until after an overdose in 2007. Eminem is now sober, which he has attributed to his daughter Hailie motivating him to get clean. He also dedicated his album, Recovery, to his struggles and triumphed over addiction. Today, Eminem continues to dominate the hip-hop world with his music.
#3. Keith Richards
Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones has lived life on the edge, with a death-defying heroin habit. The Rolling Stones’ guitarist was a notorious junkie in the ’70s, and his heroin addiction seemed to be pushing him into an early grave. His brush with the law sent him into rehab in 1978. Richards, who once admitted to snorting heroin to deal with exhaustion, credited rehab and clean living for helping him battle his addiction. He says he now focuses on staying sober, spending time with friends and family, and making music. Richards’ transformation from addict to rock god is nothing short of miraculous.
#4. Steven Tyler
Aerosmith — led by its addicted frontman Steven Tyler — dominated the Billboard charts throughout the 1980s. Despite the raging drug use of all its members, Aerosmith reigned over the Billboard charts and TV screens with many classics throughout the 1980s.
Sadly, Tyler struggled for years with heroin addiction and would often relapse. However, with continued persistence and support from his loved ones, he lives a sober life. At 71-years-old, Tyler holds nine years of sobriety. He credits his initial intervention for saving his life and enabling him to quit drugs for good. We can learn from Tyler’s story that staying the course will eventually help you reach the destination.
#5. Eric Clapton
Clapton stood as an evident music genius from the start. However, Clapton’s addiction to heroin nearly shattered his legendary influence in the music world. The iconic singer-songwriter spent decades in the depths of heroin addiction. Fortunately, in the grip of severe addiction, he entered rehab in 1982 after a near-death overdose. Eventually, he learned to transmute his pain and stressors into his music rather than drinking again or heroin use.
Clapton credited his continued sobriety to his music and spirituality, giving up heroin after a near-fatal overdose. For instance, he wrote Tears in Heaven, a song about his loss that became one of his most famous songs after the death of his four-year-old son. Clapton’s music continues cross time, culture, and genres.
#6. Mick Jagger
The Rolling Stones have been one of the world’s most famous rock bands. Jagger’s flamboyant singing and dancing style, lanky frame, and long-tongue facial expressions make him a pop culture icon. However, Jagger has also generated controversy with his offstage lifestyle.
Jagger claims that he did not become fully addicted to cocaine until 1978. The addiction lasted seven years and caused considerable damage to his relationships. A sober Jagger now follows a healthy diet, runs, and works out frequently.
Macklemore – a well-known rapper and artist – produces socially-conscious music which supports those in recovery. His support comes from his years battling addiction throughout his teenage years and into his 20s. His song “Kevin” details his struggle with a painkiller addiction. The story is raw, even uncomfortable, but it is accurate.
Macklemore’s addiction started early. He started with alcohol at age 13 or 14. Eventually, his addiction progressed to prescription opioids. Opioids share the same family as heroin. In August of 2008, he entered rehab, and for three years afterward, he remained sober.
Unfortunately, in 2011 he experienced a relapse. However, he refused to let the disease of addiction defeat him. Instead, he recommitted himself to sobriety. Recently, he announced that he relapsed during the pandemic. Today, he continues to work on his music while also remaining sober.
#8. Lou Reed
Singer-songwriter Lou Reed, the lead singer for the Velvet Underground, is known for his heavy heroin and cocaine use. His addiction resulted in songs such as “Heroin” and “Candy Says.” After 30 years of sobriety, Reed has become an advocate of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and has helped countless other people struggling with addiction seeking recovery. He credits songwriting, performing, and the love and support of his wife and fans as his relapse prevention methods.
#9. Elton John
It’s no exaggeration to say that Elton John is a living legend. The musician has sold over 300 million records and has been a part of the fabric of pop culture for six decades. In his memoir, Elton John describes his descent into addiction and his path to recovery. John discussed how he became addicted to alcohol and cocaine at the height of his career in the late 1970s. With efforts of rehab and continuous recovery work, John lives a sober life. He continues to influence others to pursue recovery.
Slash is an American musician who has led a storied career, first as the lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses and later as a solo artist and member of Velvet Revolver. Slash has also been open about his struggles with addiction to heroin throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, eventually getting clean after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and finding out that he needed a heart transplant.
Slash, a celebrated musician, has described how heroin quickly grew to consume his every thought and action. Slashentered rehab on July 3, 2006. He credits the treatment program as the reason for his recovery. From that day, he surrendered to the fact he was struggling with addiction. Today, he holds over 15 years of sobriety. He credits his wife and children with preventing any further relapses.
#11. Anthony Kiedis
Anthony Kiedis, frontman of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, launched the band in 1983. In 2004, he published his autobiography, Scar Tissue, which narrates his long-term drug use and recovery. He had tried heroin at the age of 12 after being introduced to the drug by his father.
Kiedis’s journey to recovery included multiple relapses. In 1988, he got sober. However, he soon returned to his drug-using habits because of the stress of losing a friend and band member, Hillel Slovak, to a heroin overdose. After being sober for several years, he was filled with grief and loneliness and turned to drug use. He depicts this relapse in The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ popular song “Under the Bridge” from the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991).
#12. Bobby Brown
Bobby Brown first gained prominence as a member of New Edition– a “teen idol.” As his fame increased, so did his self-destructive behavior. Bobby Brown’s addictions cost him his marriage to Whitney Houston, cost him his career and reputation, and even cost him time with his children due to the danger he posed to him at the time.
At one point, Brown faced legal problems associated with his cocaine addiction and drinking, including multiple arrests throughout his life. He agreed to enter rehab under a plea deal for a DUI conviction, but it seems that he only attended rehab long enough to fulfill the requirements of the deal, which led him to relapse. Studies show that prolonged and more involved stints in rehab improve long-term recovery odds.
Eventually, Brown received a jail sentence for driving under the influence in 2013. After a long, tumultuous relationship with alcohol, drugs, and the law, Brown finally got sober following that brief jail stint. He credits his family and this second chance as his motivators to remain sober.
Treatment Options for Musicians at White House Recovery and Detox
At White House Recovery and Detox, we’re dedicated to helping you overcome addiction and get back on track with your artistic aspirations. We offer a range of treatments, including a focus on music, to help you do just that. Our holistic treatments can help heal the body, mind, and spirit. We’ll do our best to build you up and restore your confidence as a musician.
The primary services provided by White House Recovery and Detox include detox, residential treatment, and aftercare services such as sober living, outpatient treatment, and alumni support. Most of our clients choose to attend our residential program because it offers the best chance to recover from drug or alcohol addiction fully.
Our detox program includes 24-hour medical care and supervision from a qualified medical team and counselors during the critical initial stages of withdrawal from drugs or alcohol to minimize risk and reduce discomfort. After detox, clients receive individualized support for their effective transition into daily life without substances. We work with each person to create a customized treatment plan that meets their unique physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. We also help our participants develop coping skills to prevent relapse in high-stress situations often encountered in their creative or music careers.
For those struggling to overcome an addiction, the example of these artists is one to hold onto. If they had the strength to choose life over addiction, then so can you. White House Recovery and Detox offers a unique, music-focused, and trauma-informed approach to addiction treatment that will appeal to creative individuals. As a community of supportive, qualified clinicians, we thoroughly understand the lives of creatives and addiction. Because we firmly believe that the creative spirit can thrive when free from drugs and alcohol, our success rate is among the highest in the industry. With an array of treatment models at our facility, we provide each person with an individualized, tailored treatment program that best meets their needs. We can offer you compassionate support as you work to achieve a sober lifestyle and heal from mental health issues. Call us today at (800) 510-5393 to discuss our treatment programs.