It is not uncommon to hear stories of well-known musicians going to rehab, or talented, enigmatic musicians dying of a drug overdose. This is a sad reality of music celebrity in our culture, but what exactly is the connection between musicians and addiction or substance abuse? The answer is complicated.
The latest bio-chemical studies of addiction indicate that those who are prone to addiction do not create as much dopamine as the average person. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that tells us when something is pleasurable. In order to achieve this enjoyable chemical, people who are prone to addiction need to go to further extremes than the average person. Often, addicts are also high functioning persons who enjoy taking risks, immersing themselves in their endeavors and approaching life with large amounts of energy; all things that satisfy them on a psychological and a biochemical level. This applies to creative people as well.
This type of personality can focus itself down a healthy, productive path if the person has good decision making skills, or it can be snared by an unhealthy path that wreaks havoc on the person’s life. Because this kind of person tends to seek out higher stimulation than others, they can be a highly effective person or a highly addictive person.
This is very often true of the mentality of a musician. Music creation is an excellent use of a high-functioning brain, and some of the best music in history has come from artists who write and perfect their craft tirelessly. This kind of productive activity is what nature intended for high functioning persons. However, addiction often gets its foot in the door when a person has psychological, environmental or emotional problems to deal with. Because many musical artists are sensitive in nature, they are commonly affected by addiction and mental illness, which is frequently an open door to addiction.
It is tragic that some of the most talented among us are some of the most affected by addiction and substance abuse, but there is hope. Many addiction treatment programs are designed specifically for musicians, and are often staffed by formerly addicted musicians who overcame their problem. If you or someone you know is an addicted musician, do not hesitate to seek the services of a rehabilitation program that is designed for creative individuals.
Substance use in the music community is a controversial matter. Some argue that certain substances, such as hallucinogens, can actually enhance the creative process of writing music, while others argue that using substances destroys the creative mind and makes it lackluster. It is an absolute certainty that abusing substances does physical and mental damage to everyone, including artists. Using controversial substances as an artist or musician is a highly debatable practice that warrants extreme caution.
One can cautiously defend the use of certain substances to enhance the creative process. Even ancient cultures celebrated the use of substances such as peyote and cannabis to experience “visions” and enhance mental scope. The topic of permissible drug use is still under much scrutiny and debate in North America, as well as many other world regions. Some studies reveal that cetain hallucinogens, cannabinoids and opioids can actually increase memory and brain function. Many musicians and artists have sworn by certain substances to inspire their creative work. The jury is still out on the use of certain mild substances, but it is the question of moderation and dosage that creates complications.
The strongest reasons to oppose substance use in musicians is the problem of addiction and mental disorders. It is a blurred line where substance use becomes substance abuse, but it can be certain that substance abuse is very prevalent in the music community. The high functioning yet emotional brains of musicians seek ways of learning through experimentation and coping with strong emotions. Music fills this need in a healthy, permanent way, while substance abuse fills this need in a hollow, unhealthy way. Substance abuse is like an instant gratification for the brain of a musician in place of the life purpose that their brain is actually wired for. Substance abuse is unsustainable and results in addiction and mental disorders in musicians. Because musicians often have a true need to experiment and to find ways of coping with strong emotions, substance abuse seems like a remedy but proves to ultimately be a hindrance.
Creative artists of every variety are unique, talented people. Noncreative people can only marvel at the creative capacity of artists and the mystique that surrounds them. However, this interpretive, impulsive personality comes with its problems as well. Artists are far more likely to experience addiction problems than most other professions. Similarly, a majority of people who check into rehab are qualified as creative types. Addicts are boundary pushers, a quality that can be used for good and for bad depending on how they choose to channel their energy.
Interestingly, addicts and high-functioning individuals have been found to have very similar brain types, and artists are no exception. Becoming successful at anything, particularly a creative craft, requires the willingness and the ability to be somewhat obsessed with the craft and the process of perfecting it. This is also true of other highly effective people, such as doctors, CEOs and attorneys. High functioning, creative people such as artists are often prone to addiction because artistry and addiction are two different methods of seeking extreme immersion into something. Artistry is an exacting vocation, one that requires immersion into something through hard work, and addiction gives a person the same feelings of immersion without the work. Addiction is a type of false fulfillment, a way of tricking the brain into thinking it is being immersed into something rewarding, where as a craft such as creativity offers the true form of freedom through immersion.
Whether or not an artist will devote themselves completely to their craft or be distracted by the allure of something addictive depends heavily on their behavioral, psychological, emotional and environmental circumstances. Any one of these influences can change the outcome of someone’s personal battle with or recovery from addiction. There is also the critical element of choice. Artists who choose a life of perfecting their craft are consistently rewarded for their efforts where as artists who get sucked into an addiction often destroy their craft. There are addiction treatment programs created specifically for artists, staffed by professionals who are trained in counseling the creative mind.
It may seem strange that musicians and other artists would have addiction treatment programs developed specifically for them, but grouping people into treatment programs based on the field they work or vocation in is quite common. This tactic is useful for treating artists and musicians because they are a very specific brain type. Creative people respond to certain treatment methods and therapies better than others. Connecting people to addiction treatment programs that consider the way they think is part of what makes addiction treatment effective.
Artists and musicians are obviously very expressive people, but they can be very particular about how and to whom they express themselves. It is important for a musician who is struggling with addiction to find a program that works with their communication needs. Sharing in rehabilitation is either done through grou por individual therapy. It is important that the client receives more of whichever makes them more comfortable.musicians are qualified as highly intelligent.
Those devising a treatment plan for musicians do so remembering that they do not tend to favor linear learning, so workbook and reading exercises are geared towards the creative mind, which tends to learn peripherally. This involves selecting particular course materials that were written by experts on the addicted creative mind. This is a specific niche, but quality material does exist in it.
Musicians are emotive, sensitive, feeling people. Connecting with them on a soulful level is very important to their addiction recovery. Musicians are also qualified as highly intelligent people, as writing and performing music uses many parts of the brain. For this reason, it is critical to engage a musician at an intellectual level as well in order to inspire their recovery to its full capacity.
Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, the therapeutic methods should be largely creative. Every rehabilitation offers different forms of therapy, which may range from physical activities such as nature walks, yoga and gym time, to creative activities, such as painting, collaging and drawing. Programs that are geared towards musicians will often include time practicing with instruments and vocals.
Musicians are a unique group of people when it comes to addiction. When you break down the average musician’s psychology, you find that they are an energetic collision between intellect and emotion. Their intellect gives them their mastery of reading and playing music, and their emotion gives them the inspiration and the need to have music in their lives. When you apply this psychology to addiction, you can see why the musician’s brain is frequently an addict’s brain also.
It is no doubt that musicians are intelligent people. Playing music has been described as the activity that uses more of the human brain at once than any other known activity. Intelligence is both a tool and a hindrance to a musician who is struggling with addiction. Obviously, exercising good intellect and logic over addiction is part of recovering from it. But when intelligent people are addicted, they sometimes experience a phenomenon of justifying their behavior through their intellect. Their perspective is so well reasoned and thought through that they have themselves convinced of their own sound judgment. Critical thinking about your own thought patterns is critical in addiction, and someone as intelligent as an avid musician certainly has the capacity to do so.
The emotions of a musician are complex indeed. Musicians are not known for having the best handle on their emotions, but they certainly do not have any shortage of them. Frequently, emotional difficulty plays a big part in why a musician becomes addicted. Musicians often have emotions that are bigger than their coping abilities due to emotional scarring, and music becomes for them a means of expressing themselves. It is often said that when emotions are too big for words, they come out in the form of music, and this is certainly true for musicians. Therefore, music and addiction both are essentially means of coping with emotion. One is a higher calling, and one is a lower calling. Conisdering this can be used in addiction treatment by remembering that a musician’s passion for music is capable of bringing them back from addiction.