Songs about substance abuse disorders and recovery are fantastic gifts. For those of us who have the diseases of alcohol addiction and /or drug addiction, they are stories that show someone gets us. They show that people who have seemingly good lives are as prone as we are to drug use and/or alcohol abuse. A song talks to us of their struggle and in that, we can find strength.
So here is a list of songs to inspire us. There may be some surprising absences, but some songs are incorrectly associated with drugs or alcohol. A great example of this is Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, which is not about LSD as is often thought but is based on a picture drawn by Julian Lennon of his classmate Lucy Donnell.
Neil Young wrote about this song, “I am not a preacher, but drugs killed a lot of great men.” The song is a melodic dirge, lamenting deaths by heroin overdoses, that haunts with its words.
I hit the city and I lost my band I watched the needle take another man Gone, gone, the damage done
Young described this as “a little song”, but it has become an anthem about drug fatalities, more specifically as a result of heroin addiction.
A Passage to Bangkok (Rush)
With lyrics by the incomparable Neil Peart and the music written by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, the song imagines a journey to the marijuana capitals of the world. It is light and upbeat but underlines the extent of drug availability.
Sweet Jamaican pipe dreams Golden Acapulco nights Then Morocco, and the East Fly by morning light
Addiction is a global problem and the drug trade has no boundaries. The addict has no boundaries either unless they make a conscious choice.
Cocaine (J.J. Cale)
This song was written by J.J. Cale, but it is Eric Clapton’s cover that is the iconic version.
If you want to hang out, you’ve gotta take her out, cocaine If you want to get down, down on the ground, cocaine
On the ground is pretty much where any addiction takes people. Clapton described this as a cleverly anti-drug song and that it is “as a reality check about what it does.” In later versions, the band would shout, “That dirty cocaine,” to reinforce the message.
Rehab (Amy Winehouse)
Amy Winehouse sings about reasons for rejecting rehab. She became a member of the 27 Club, which are musicians, singers, and other celebrities, who died at age 27 often from substance abuse or causes related to substance abuse.
The man said “Why you think you here?” I said “I got no idea” “I’m gonna, I’m gonna lose my baby” “So I always keep a bottle near”
Sidenote – The 27 Club
While there is no statistical proof, it has been suggested that a larger than a usual number of celebrities die at the age of 27. The causes are often the result of substance abuse problems. This list is just a few of the luminous musical talents that drugs and alcohol took too soon at age 27.
Rudy Lewis (The Drifters) Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones) Alan Wilson (Canned Heat) Jimi Hendrix (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) Janis Joplin (Big Brother and The Holding Company) Jim Morrison (The Doors) Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) (27 years and 44 days) Amy Winehouse (27 years and 312 days)
Old Ways (Demi Lovato)
Demi Lovato is wonderfully vocal about her fight against addiction and has written several songs about it. In this song, she rejects the notion that she will go back to the bad days.
But if somebody tells me I’ll go back to my old ways I’m gonna say no way I’m out of the doorway I’m hearing them all say I’ll go back to my old ways Not going back to my old ways
A supreme lyricist and subject of the documentary Searching for Sugarman, Sixto Rodriguez wrote what sounds like an ode to a dealer. He lists various drugs
Silver magic ships you carry Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane and details motivations for drug use. Sugar man you’re the answer That makes my questions disappear Sugar man cause I’m weary Of those double games l hear
Breaking the Habit (Linkin Park)
With this punchy tune, this Linkin Park number is an assertion of the first step in admitting powerlessness over addiction.
I don’t know how I got this way I’ll never be alright So, I’m breaking the habit I’m breaking the habit I’m breaking the habit tonight
Sober (Kelly Clarkson)
This song is not supposed to be about addiction. It uses addiction as a metaphor for a relationship. Kelly Clarkson when asked about this song, said Clarkson responded, “I’m not an alcoholic; that’s not what it’s about. It’s just a metaphor. Everyone has something they are addicted to that they can do without in their life, so it could be about whatever your addiction is.”
Undeniably, though, it speaks to those in recovery and the lines here could easily refer to the fearless moral inventory and to having God remove our shortcomings. Three months and I’m still sober Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers
Fight Like a Brave (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Red Hot Chili Peppers lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis was kicked out of the band because of his heroin habit. Bassist Flea removed him from the band and indicated that Kiedis would only be allowed back if he could prove he was sober. Sometimes the person who is harshest with us is in fact our best friend. Tough love.
When he became sober, he returned to the band and wrote this song.
If you’re sick-a-sick n tired
Of being sick and tired
If you’re sick of all the bullshit
And you’re sick of all the lies
It’s better late than never
To set-a-set it straight
You know the lie is dead
So give yourself a break
Get it through your head
And get it off your chest
Get it out your arm
Another member of Linkin Park, lead singer Chester Bennington died by committing suicide. Many years before his death he and Mike Shinoda wrote the song Crawling, when they were both part of Nine Inch Nails, which contains the lines:
There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface
This lack of self control I fear is never ending
I can’t seem
To find myself again
My walls are closing in
This seems like a metaphor for addiction.
Recover (Natasha Bedingfield)
This song is a song of hope. It affirms that, despite everything, recovery is possible.
Been torn apart, got so many scratches and scars
Maybe they won’t all go away but they’ll fade
Maybe time can mend us together again
It’s not what we’ve done but how far we’ve come
We will recover, the worst is over now
All those fires we’ve been walking through
And still we survived somehow
We will recover
The worst is behind and it hurts but in time
I know that we will recover, yeah, yeah
Pink talks about this song saying, “it’s not just about alcohol, it’s about vices, we all have different ones. We try to get away from ourselves and find our true selves, and then we do these things that take us so far from the truth, I guess that ‘Sober’ is.”
When it’s good, then it’s good
It’s all good till it goes bad
Till you try to find the you that you once had
I have heard myself cry, never again!
Broken down in agony
Just tryin’ to find a friend
Hurt (Johnny Cash)
Johnny Cash’s version is a cover of a song originally by Nine Inch Nails. The song refers to self-harm and heroin. It is a powerful reminder that, at the end of it all, substance abuse does not deliver forgetfulness, a common hope for an addict.
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
The music video won numerous awards and lyricist Trent Reznor endorsed the Cash version saying, “that song isn’t mine anymore.”
Not Afraid (Eminem)
The rapper starts off with an invitation
I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid (yeah)
To take a stand, it’s been a ride
Everybody, I guess I had to
Go to that place
To get to this one
Now some of you
Might still be in that place
If you’re tryin’ to get out
Just follow me
I’ll get you there
And then explains his reasoning
And I just can’t keep living this way
So starting today
I’m breaking out of this cage
I’m standing up, I’mma face my demons
I’m manning up, I’mma hold my ground
I’ve had enough, now I’m so fed up
Time to put my life back together right now (now)
The A Team (Ed Sheeran)
This is one of the best songs portraying the effects of addiction. The song about a prostitute addicted to crack cocaine (Classified as a Class A drug in the United Kingdom)
‘Cause we’re just under the upper hand
And go mad for a couple grams
But she don’t wanna go outside tonight
And in a pipe she flies to the motherland
Sells love to another man
The gentle melody belies the dark times that the prostitute is experiencing.
The Piano Has Been Drinking (Tom Waits)
This is a drunken monologue by a dive bar pianist. He rambles saying amongst other things
And the carpet needs a haircut, and the spotlight looks like a prison break
And the telephone’s out of cigarettes, and the balcony is on the make
And the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking
He finally assures the listener that he is sober and that
The piano has been drinking, not me, not me, not me, not me, not me
It is a ludicrous song that to me is filled with echoes of delirium tremens and that makes it terrifying.
Cocaine Blues (Johnny Cash)
Drugs and violence are frequent companions. In this song, a woman is shot by a man high on cocaine. The killer ends up being sentenced to 99 years in Folsom State Prison and pleads with the listener, saying
I can’t forget the day I shot that bad bitch down
Come on you’ve gotta listen unto me
Lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be
The Girl You Lost To Cocaine (Sia)
This song is a cautionary tale of how cocaine addiction can lead to others walking away. A close friend describes her experience of trying to help someone addicted to cocaine and who eventually can no longer take it. Addiction breeds toxic relationships.
No, I just don’t wanna, so I’m walkin’ away
There is nothing that you can do, I will not stay
No, I’m not your mama, so I’m walkin’ away
I’m just the girl that you lost to cocaine
Sunday Morning Coming Down (Kris Kristofferson)
A reminder for all of those recovered alcoholics about the morning after.
Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad
So I had one more for dessert
Drink to Get Drunk (Sia)
It’s simple. Drinking is more logical than smoking. We drink to get drunk and yet alcohol also frees us from our inhibitions. We like, even need the effect.
Don’t ask me why I smoke
I don’t know
But I drink to get drunk
I use booze to unlock me
That speaks of the personality changes we can undergo from wallflower to loud and gregarious.
Grounds for Divorce (Elbow)
With a driving beat, the singer sings of drinking as a marriage falls on dark times.
There’s a hole in my neighborhood
Down which of late I cannot help but fall.
The result of the drinking means, he sings, that
I’ve been working on a cocktail called grounds for divorce
A romantic relationship, even marriage is not proof against alcohol use and the disease of addiction.
Sober (Demi Lovato)
A powerful song where Demi Lovato sings of her own struggles and relapse. The pressure on her as a celebrity is immense, but as she says she is only human.
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know why
I do it every, every, every time
It’s only when I’m lonely
Sometimes I just wanna cave and I don’t wanna fight
I try and I try and I try and I try and I try
Just hold me, I’m lonely
Momma, I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore
And daddy, please, forgive me for the drinks spilled on the floor
To the ones who never left me, we’ve been down this road before
I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore
I’m sorry to my future love for the man that left my bed
For making love the way I saved for you inside my head
And I’m sorry for the fans I lost who watched me fall again
I wanna be a role model, but I’m only human
Reasons I Drink (Alanis Morisette)
The singer of the classic, You Oughta Know explains the reasons she drinks which range from having worked since she was “single digits,” and because, “It feels so helpful in my need for respite.”
Even though I’ve been busted
I don’t know where to draw the line
‘Cause that groove has gotten so deep
And, at the end of it all, she drinks because she is compelled to.
I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Mike Posner)
Mike Posner writes about the downward spiral after taking a pill in Ibiza to impress the DJ Avicii. Posner described it this way, “It was sort of a mystery pill. I was already under the influence of alcohol at the time. I had written a song with Avicii that week in Sweden called ‘Stay With You’ and he was playing in Ibiza so I said, ‘I will just go there with you,’ because I was already in Europe. I don’t have like a regular 9-5 job… so might as well go to Ibiza, right? I had never been there before. So I went.”
But you don’t wanna be high like me
Never really knowing why like me
You don’t ever wanna step off that roller coaster and be all alone
You don’t wanna ride the bus like this
Never knowing who to trust like this
Avicii’s response to this was, “Mike’s a good friend, so I took it as an honor. And I agree – parties can be amazing, but it’s very easy to become too attached to partying in places like Ibiza. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.”
In this classic song, Sia deals with alcoholism in what might be the best lyrics on this list.
One, two, three, one, two, three, drink
One, two, three, one, two, three, drink
One, two, three, one, two, three, drink
Throw ’em back ’til I lose count
I’m gonna swing from the chandelier
From the chandelier
I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist
Like it doesn’t exist
I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night
Feel my tears as they dry
I’m gonna swing from the chandelier
From the chandelier
But I’m holding on for dear life
Won’t look down, won’t open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light
‘Cause I’m just holding on for tonight
Sun is up, I’m a mess
Gotta get out now, gotta run from this
Here comes the shame, here comes the shame
The compulsion, the effect, and the insanity of drinking echo in every line of this song
Make Me a Channel of Your Peace
There are many covers of this beautiful Christian song, falsely attributed to Saint Francis and widely loved by members of the AA. There are the lines
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness only light
And where there’s sadness ever joy
This reflects the sober alcoholic and addict’s desire to reach out beyond themselves and carry the message to people who are addicted that there is still hope.