Bands & Drugs: Talented Musicians Falling Into Addiction

Band Concert

Drugs and rock and roll seem to have gone together throughout the generations of music lovers. In an interview with Q Magazine, Damon Albarn reported, “Once I’d tried [heroin], I found it initially very agreeable, and very creative” [1].

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 105 individuals die each day due to drug overdose within the United States. It is estimated that over 6,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for misuse of drugs and abusing substances [1].

What Addiction Does to Body and Brain

It is no secret that drugs and alcohol alter your brain, and a person can feel various emotions and increased feelings of euphoria. This is dangerous because drugs do decrease your inhibition, reaction time, critical thinking, and judgment.

Repeated drug and alcohol use bring tolerance, which means the next time a person uses, they need more of the substance to receive the same high.

Heroin, which is a common substance used by musicians, can bring new experiences of how a person perceives things, and it forges new connections in the brain that would not necessarily happen when sober. Often, many songs are created while musicians are under the influence of heroin, but there are major life-threatening risks that occur with this drug use.

There seems to be a pop culture view within the music industry that musicians are attracted to substances because of this very effect. Musicians are creative by nature, and seeking to grow in their work. Often, playing in a band means playing in nightclubs, bars, late night jobs; when they grow in fame, so do the groups of people who also follow with a party-type atmosphere [2].

With music industry success also brings increased financial success where substances, like heroin, cocaine, and alcohol, are readily available. Once the drug of choice is tried, it can be a way for musicians to ‘ramp up’ with stimulants before a show.

Creativity and Substance Abuse: Is There Really a Connection?

Many musicians want or need to create new music and different ways of being [3]. Creating can be soothing and addicting at the same time because it establishes a sense of pride and self-identification in being a musician.

Genetics also play a role in addiction. Research has shown that if one parent or immediate family relative has a substance use disorder, then their offspring are at a higher rate for developing an addiction, as well [3].

Often ,substance use is a way to manage feelings of obsessive thoughts, anxiety, social anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders and attention deficit disorder. It can calm the brain to the musician and create a sense of calm within the body and mind.

In the 1920s in the United States, drugs were introduced to bands and musicians.

In a review of 40 well-known Jazz musicians, research showed that they had similar prevalence to drugs and alcohol as compared to other creative genres [4].

For some jazz musicians, the images of a smoky bar or club became part of their sound in earlier generations. It was tempting for many of these famous bands to succumb to substances to maintain this image that sold records.

A more modern musician, Amy Winehouse, died of a drug overdose like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison before her [5].

Genetics Behind Substance Abuse in the Music Industry

There is no definite link between addiction and creativity, but there is a link between addiction and qualities that are a prerequisite for creativity.

40 percent of addiction is genetically determined when looking at heritability in families [5]. We do know through research that drugs and alcohol connect to the reward and pleasure parts of our brain that send musicians back for more to gain the same high or feelings that come with repeated drug use.

As continued use does occur though, the same pleasure for the drug decreases. This is called the ‘blunted dopamine’ hypothesis and has been studied with brain-imaging studies in animals [5]. These studies are showing low functioning in the dopamine system, especially D2.

This means if a person has low functioning dopamine, they may be more likely to be risk takers, novelty seeking and compulsive in behavior, which tend to lead to more creativity and thinking outside of the box.

Jimi Hendrix t-shirtIn conclusion, bands and musicians turn to drugs and alcohol for various reasons. Some may believe that it keeps up their image as a great performer on stage, or increases creativity in making new music or lyrics. Other musicians feel that drugs and alcohol are part of the ‘party’ that fans expect when listening to their music.

Regardless of the reason for drug and alcohol abuse, addiction among musicians has been an issue since the 1920s in the United States. Even though it is highly prevalent, it is treatable.


Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.
Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] S. (2015, October 25). Science Reveals What Drugs Really Do to Artists’ Brains. Retrieved June 09, 2017, from
[2] Musicians & Drug Addiction | South FL Drug Rehab. (2016, June 28). Retrieved June 09, 2017, from
[3] Tiger, P. (n.d.). Retrieved June 09, 2017, from
[4] Adams, P., & Chief, E. (2009, June). The lost years: The impact of cirrhosis on the history of jazz. Retrieved June 09, 2017, from
[5] Biello, D. (n.d.). Is There a Link Between Creativity and Addiction? Retrieved June 09, 2017, from

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published July 23, 2017
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 23, 2017.
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.