Why Do So Many Musicians End Up Addicted?

Rock musicians performing on stage

For years the music industry has been plagued by drug addiction. Decades ago we had famed artists such as, trumpeter Chet Baker, Billy Holiday, and a number of others. Following the emergence of the drug culture of the late 1960s, drug abuse among musicians became even more widespread. Superstar bands such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Doors made no secret of their use and sometimes glamorized it, increasing its appeal among their fans and upcoming young artists. In recent years we’ve seen the downfall of great artists such as Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson and more recently Prince. While Prince’s addiction to painkillers may have stemmed from injury, it was allowed to continue unchecked until it finally took his life.

Setting the stage for addiction

The nature of the music industry, especially for those performing live or on the road, creates an environment that makes it all to easy to fall into a life of addiction.

Wealth and fame

These are two key factors that can lead artists to get involved with drugs. The rich and famous are targets for drug dealers. Aside from having enough money to support any habit they choose—keeping the dealers pockets well lined—this connection to the star often comes with entrance to their social circle.

Party atmosphere
Wild party crowd at a concert

Concert halls and nightclubs are popular settings for alcohol and drug consumption. Music, dance, alcohol and drugs often go together, so at these venues you’ll often find drugs passed around like candy at a kid’s birthday party. It’s expected, it becomes the norm. And there is plenty available for after the show.

Fewer influences to deter the user

Unlike a star athlete, whose performance will suffer, fail a drug test and likely get cut from the team, a musician can continue drug and alcohol abuse for years and still perform in some capacity. Sure we’ve all seen the deterioration of talent of such stars as their addiction grows, but they can often ride the wave of their initial rise to stardom for quite some time. There is nothing to discipline them or provide pressure and incentive to stay clean.

Protected by their peers

Often a big star has people close to them who could get them to seek help and get clean. But those same friends or employees are often unwilling to confront them for fear of being fired or shunned by the artist. Power and money can be a strong influence over one’s decisions and integrity. The value of a musician to the band, for keeping the show on the road, is often another incentive to turn a blind eye.

Jazz musician playing the saxophone

Our musical performers are valuable to our culture. They are also role models for young people so what they do affects many more lives than their own. As the environment which they live and work certainly does not contribute to a life of abstinence, extra effort must be made to help steer them away from drug abuse. This includes reaching out when one is in trouble, no matter the personal risk, and helping them get rehabilitated. In this way, we can save lives and preserve the talent and creativity they provide to our culture and society.


Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.