Addiction is a lonely place.
Whether struggling with alcoholism, illicit drug addiction, or dependence on prescription drugs, it’s easy for people to feel like they’re going through everything completely alone – as no one understands.
Most people feel ashamed of their addiction in one way or another.
“Everyone else can have a drink or two and stop – why can’t I just be normal?”
Whether they’re embarrassed about their addiction or feel shame for allowing themselves to get “this bad,” it feels like there’s no hope and things will never get better.
That’s the addiction talking. It wants addicts to stay addicts.
The truth is, addiction is not anyone’s destiny and hope are always there.
While recovery is difficult, it helps tremendously to know that others have gone through the same struggle.
That’s where music comes in. When someone is in the grip of addiction, a certain song can strike all the right chords and help put things into perspective. Here are the best songs about addiction and recovery.
The Value of Music and Songs About Drug Addiction
Even ignoring the lyrics, music itself has an important and interesting effect on brain chemistry.
In fact, there’s an entire area of psychology dedicated to it called music neuroscience. Pitch, melodies, rhythm, and tone all impact chemistry in unique ways.
No matter what that annoyingly over-enthusiastic guy at the AA meeting says, recovery is not fun, easy, or glamorous. It’s painful, challenging, and stressful.
Addiction can trigger underlying depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, detox and post-acute withdrawals can also lead to intense anxiety and depression as dopamine, serotonin, and GABA receptors re-adjust to a life without mind-altering substances.
Certain types of music can even trigger seizures in people with epilepsy. No, not watching flashing lights on stage with music playing: the music itself.
People tend to acknowledge the importance of exercise and nutrients during recovery to help the brain balance itself. However, many people don’t realize that music therapy is also an excellent tool during recovery.
One study found that certain types of music can suppress morphine-seeking behavior in the GABA receptors. The same study also noticed that music prevented anxiety during morphine withdrawal. That’s powerful!
Drawing the Line Between Glorification and Addiction
Melodies and notes can have a profound effect on brain chemistry – but what about lyrics?
Things start to get dicey here because many songs glorify drug use and addiction. Songs like this may not be “the devil” like many Christian preachers might say, but they can lead to a relapse in the initial stages of recovery.
Hearing a song about having an ice-cold beer after a long day at work could definitely send a person over the edge if they’re new to recovery or don’t have a solid support system – especially if alcohol wasn’t their drug of choice, for example.
On the other hand, some people may think a song glorifies substance use but on closer examination of the lyrics, it talks about the horrors and despair of struggling with addiction.
In these cases, each person needs to think about what the song means tothem.
If a song brings up vivid war stories of using and reminds someone of their best days in addiction – like grabbing a fix – but the lyrics mention nothing about drugs, they should still probably avoid listening to that song, for example.
Songs can bring up suppressed memories and emotions, so it’s important for everyone – especially people with substance use disorders – to be hyper-aware of how songs affect them.
13 Recovery Songs and Songs About Addiction
The songs about drug addiction and alcoholism below each mention substance abuse and addiction in unique ways. Examine the lyrics and develop a personalized playlist filled with songs about addiction!
- Cocaine – Eric Clapton
While Eric Clapton’s version is the most infamous, J.J. Cale is the original artist. Clapton doesn’t often perform the song live because he considers it an anti-cocaine song worries people may take it the wrong way. In fact, he often added the lyrics “that dirty cocaine” in later recordings and performances to underscore the anti-abuse message.
- Hey Jude – The Beetles
Despite what Lennon says about the lyrics, Hey Jude has become an anthem for people struggling with heroin addiction. It’s hard to ignore the references to heroin use in the lyrics after taking notice.
- Jane Says – Jane’s Addiction
Despite the upbeat steel drum, the lyrics to Jane Says are incredibly depressing. Indeed, every addict can relate to making grandiose plans about how they’ll live after kicking the habit (and always putting off kicking until tomorrow).
- Sober – Tool
The lyrics behind sober are, well, an extremely sobering look at addiction and alcoholism. “There’s a shadow just behind me. Shrouding every step I take. Making every promise empty. Pointing every finger at me.” Many people struggling with addictions can find solace in these comparisons.
- Gravity – A Perfect Circle
While Tool and A Perfect Circle front man, Maynard James Keenan, says he hasn’t struggled with addiction himself, he has witnessed it from the sidelines. The entire A Perfect Circle album “Thirteenth Step” is a reference to Alcoholics Anonymous and filled with songs about addiction.
- That Smell – Lynyrd Skynyrd
The title of this song refers to the metaphorical smell of death surrounding people knee-deep in addiction. While the notes and melody are upbeat and exciting, the lyrics are anything but that.
- Swimming Pools – Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s Swimming Pools discusses the concept of normalized alcoholism in his industry and the Chicago’s Black community. As one of Kendrick’s addiction and recovery songs, it mentions the battle addicts face in their head every day as well as pressure from society.
- Under the Bridge – The Red Hot Chili Peppers
People in recovery or struggling with addiction loved reading Anthony Kiedis’s book Scar Tissuedetailing his life in and out of addiction and struggling to hold it together on stage. Under the Bridge is one of the most popular songs about addiction from the 90s.
- Heroin – The Velvet Underground
Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground were no strangers to 70s underground culture in New York which unfortunately meant struggling with addiction. Lou Reed wasn’t an open book with interviewers, but the Velvet Underground produced several songs about drug addiction including Heroin and Waiting for the Man.
- Finish Line/Drown – Chance the Rapper
Sadly, rappers tend to make more money when they write songs that glorify drug use instead of recovery songs. However, artists like Chance the Rapper and Kanye West have both written their share of lyrics highlighting substance abuse and mental health issues.
- Rehab – Amy Winehouse
Unfortunately, Amy Winehouse lost her fight with addiction and died from alcohol poisoning in 2011. Rehab is one of her most famous songs about addiction.
- Brownstone – Guns N’ Roses
Although it isn’t mentioned much when people mention songs about drug addiction, it’s hard to ignore the lyrics in Mr. Brownstone: “We been dancin’ with Mr. Brownstone. He’s been knockin’. He won’t’ leave me alone. I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do so the little got more and more.”
- Sunday Morning Coming Down – Johnny Cash
While most people identify Hurt as one of Jonny Cash’s most famous songs about addiction, Sunday Morning Coming Down is just as hard-hitting. Almost everyone – addict or not – can relate to that Sunday depression “that makes a body feel alone.”
Songs about addiction and recovery songs can help supplement a broader recovery plan. Each person is unique so it’s important to take many factors into consideration when developing a recovery program.
Support systems, group meetings, abstinence from mind-altering substances, psychiatric medications for underlying mental health issues, cognitive behavioral therapy, and leading a healthy balanced lifestyle are all crucial for avoiding relapse and living life to the fullest – with a great soundtrack of course!
Dr. Ronaye Calvert-Conley is the CEO and Founder of Revive Detox, a Joint Commission Accredited and Legit Script Certified Addiction Treatment Center in Los Angeles, CA. She earned her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Alliant International University in Los Angeles in 2007 and has extensive experience working in the addiction and recovery field and the LGBT community. To learn more about Dr. Calvert-Conley click here.