Artist Addiction: Why do authors, actors, and musicians have drug problems?

Whether you’re a musician, an author, or if your canvas is actually, well, canvas, addiction is a serious problem in the artistic community.  Drug use is increasingly in the public spotlight as celebrities speak more candidly about their lifestyle through social media. I grew up thinking that I would never have a successful music career because I didn’t want to do drugs. I actually thought that the only way to unlock the secret to rock stardom was a path through drug use. Like somehow my music wouldn’t be as legitimate as that of my drug using peers. Little did I know, I was on my way to a problem of my own.

One thing that’s important to realize is creativity isn’t spontaneous. There is a process(link back to the writing process) to follow and it’s different for everyone. The notion that drug use makes people “more creative” is highly subjective and often the person under the influence only believes that while they are under the influence of the drug. What drug use just changes how we feel about whatever situation we find ourselves in.

To be creative, one needs to be introverted and introspective. Not as a permanent character trait, but during the process it often requires intense focus and thought. Having a lot of people around distracting you is not the best way to get this done – thus the introvert. Being a performer (which all artists eventually are in one way or another) requires extroversion. Talking and mingling with others is crucial to connecting your artwork with other people. These two personality traits can be hard to reconcile – maybe insurmountable for some.

Enter substance abuse: drugs and/or alcohol. Often times these things are used to alter our perception of the situation  – to change the way we feel about it.

Earlier I said I had a problem of my own brewing. I’m an alcoholic – I’ve been sober for over four years and with the clarity I’ve achieved in this regard I can see my behaviors for what they were: self medication. I consider myself to be very introverted, it’s one of the reasons I’ve pursued writing the older I’ve gotten. This served me very well in the practice room where I could sit down and focus on my craft and ignore the outside world while I absorbed myself in the richness of my craft but the performance aspect of it turned into a horror show.

I never would have considered myself to have stage fright. Quite the opposite. I can turn it on when I need to and be charismatic around a group of people – but a group of people specifically there to see me or watch my performance made me anxious. I never medicated myself to go on stage – I always did after I came off.

Artist AddictionWe see self medicators on all ends of the spectrum. Keith Richards was a notorious heroin addict. He talks in his autobiography “Life” about getting high before he composed music. Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta was recently in the news for kicking a $1000 per week marijuana addiction (Yes Marijuana is addictive, there just aren’t the physical withdrawal symptoms usually associated with “addiction”). The list is endless from Actors to authors to musicians.

Stevie Ray Vahn used to spike his coffee with Jack Daniels and cocain.

Writers of the Dawn

David V. Stewart and I talked at length about this subject on our Podcast, check it out!

One final thought.

While older studies of addictive behavior were thought to be genetic, more recent research has linked childhood trauma to increase risk of addictive behavior.

In Vietnam an estimated 20% of the American infantrymen were addicted to heroin yet three years later that number dropped to 5% as the active service men left the hostile environment.

Substance abuse is a mechanism for self medication. Only when the problems facing the individual are addressed can the addiction be dealt with. Addiction is a symptom of trauma that can only be characterized by a behavior set. When our veterans returned from Vietnam they were mostly able to kick their addiction because they were no longer in a traumatic environment. W

The clarity you need to find the trauma behind the behavior will not be clear until you are able to detox. Notice the things that set you off  and find some time to reflect on the reasons for that. No
two situations will be the same and professional help (therapy) is always a consideration.

The road is hard to recovery, but it’s well worth it.


It’s important to mention that infrequent or occasional actions are not addictions. I have a deadline to finish my book staring me in the face and I drink three pots of coffee in a night to get it done, that isn’t an addiction. So long as it is an infrequent occurrence.

If I drink a pot of coffee every morning, two Rockstars, and three cans of cola equaling out to approximately 780 mg of caffeine per day: that’s an addiction (real life example). You may be happy to hear I’ve cut myself off of caffeine and am on day 11 as of this writing – hopefully a reset will allow me to have a more stable relationship with my stimulant of choice.

You don’t have to be an addict to enjoy my novella Cloaked in Darkness but I certainly think it will leave you wanting more.

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