Music. When it comes to artistic expression that communicates the depth of the human experience, there is nothing like it. Sure, we are moved by beautiful artwork, literature, theater, and dance. Oh, but, music! It has a way of reaching in and grabbing us by the soul.
One author wrote in Psychology Today that “music is a universal language.” We hear lyrics that speak to us and immediately feel a profound human connection. This connection transcends race, gender, economic status, and social barriers. This is especially true when it comes to songs about addiction and recovery.
(Of course, it’s also true about break-up songs. Don’t you totally want to wallow in sadness during a breakup and listen to other people sing about their breakups!? Gwen Stefani’s “Don’t Speak” immediately comes to mind!)
Music inspired by the pain that comes with having a drug or alcohol problem calls out to those of us who have been there. In some strange way, hearing the words of another human being who has struggled with substance abuse is cathartic. Songs about addiction speak to our personal history and let us know we are not alone in the world. It tells us that others have shared in our personal struggles, survived, and found a way to enjoy life without drugs and alcohol.
The Benefit About Listening To Songs About Addiction If You’re In Recovery
Over the years, many great artists have written songs about addiction. Some of them have gone on to write songs about recovery after they have gotten sober (Eminem is a perfect example with his Relapse album in 2009 and the subsequent Recovery album in 2010.).
Some believe listening to songs about addiction can act as a kind of music therapy, which can have a therapeutic effect during recovery. For this reason, we’ve put together a short list of songs that really get to the heart of drug addiction, the effect it can have on your life, and the feelings it stirs up about recovery.
1. Amy Winehouse – Rehab (2006)
“They tried to make me go to rehab
I said, no, no, no
Yes, I been black
But when I come back, you’ll know, know, know
I ain’t got the time
And if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab
I won’t go, go, go.”
I think fans would agree when we say that we truly wished Amy Winehouse would have gone to rehab. She died tragically of a drug overdose in 2011 at the young age of 27.
Few songs capture the cycle of addiction like this chart-topping hit. People try to “make” addicted people go to rehab, but they say no. They won’t go, go, go. Winehouse serves as an example of how recovery depends on someone admitting there’s a problem and wanting to change. The problem is, most addicted people stay in a perpetual cycle of denial. They refuse to believe they have an addiction to drugs or alcohol in spite of all the evidence. Such was the case with Amy Winehouse.
As the story goes, Winehouse’s public struggles with heroin addiction prompted her management team to encourage her to go to rehab. (The lyrics, “Yes I’ve been black” are a reference to black tar heroin). She asked her dad if she should go and he reportedly said that he didn’t think she NEEDED to go, but that she should give it a try. Winehouse took his suggestion and went to rehab for a whole 15 minutes before leaving the facility.
If you want a more in-depth explanation of “Rehab,” the lyrics are analyzed on Genius.
The Takeaway From “Rehab”
“They tried to make me go to rehab.” There is a lot being said in this lyric – the operative words being “they” and “make me.” When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they tend to view the people closest to them as combative enemies in hostile territory. It’s a “me” versus “them” mentality. “They” are trying to “make me” (force me against my own will) to go get help.
When someone is suffering from the disease of addiction, the drugs are running the show. (We consider alcohol a drug, by the way!) The addicted person has completely lost perspective, and they will continue to stumble further into the danger zone unless they get help.
There has to be a part of them – no matter how small – that WANTS to get into recovery. Otherwise, they perceive those who dare to stand in the way of their next high as nagging pests who should be ignored. Well-meaning friends and family members desperately want their addicted loved one to get into recovery, but their pleas fall on deaf ears.
Addicted people will make the same kind of excuses Winehouse does in her song, like “I ain’t got 70 days.” (The average stay at rehab is 28 to 90 days.) Or “I’d rather be at home with Ray.” (Winehouse is referring to listening to Ray Charles at home. Those who are addicted would much rather be at home doing something else than go to a rehab.)
What You Could Learn From Winehouse’s Song About Addiction
Let’s just keep it real. If people are telling you that you need to go to rehab, you probably need treatment for a substance abuse problem. People WOULD NOT be telling you that you need to go to rehab if you didn’t. It usually isn’t until someone is in real trouble with substance abuse that other people speak up and say, “Hey, I think you have a problem. I think you need to go get help.”
If people are talking to you about your substance abuse, it is because they are concerned about you. They are not the enemy. They are not trying to spoil all your fun. They are trying to save your life. You can be sure that Amy Winehouse’s family now wishes they would have been more aggressive about her going to detox and rehab. But, of course, it was her choice – and she said no.
We may jam this tune when it comes on the radio, but let’s not forget the reality behind the song and the singer. Winehouse died from a drug overdose. Her life could have been saved if she would have said “okay, okay, I’m going, I’m going!” when “they” tried to “make her” go to rehab.
2. Eagles – Hotel California (1976)
“Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face.
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (any time of year) you can find it here”
This iconic song has inspired more lyrical interpretation than some of the greatest poems in history. For years, one of the most popular theories about the song’s symbolism was that “Hotel California” was a metaphor for drug use and addiction. In 2005, when the song was named as Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, singer Don Henley explained that the song is actually about excess.
“We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest,” he said. “Hotel California was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.”
Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped millions (yes, millions) of people from smoking pot and using other drugs and listening to the song, thinking they are livin’ it up at the Hotel California. Every new generation of drug users listens to this jam and makes the mistake of thinking they are enjoying the “high life.” And, this may be true – for a while.
If anything, “Hotel California,” should serve as a cautionary tale about what eventually happens to most people when they use drugs. A visit to the Hotel California often results in a lifetime of misery or an untimely death.
How We Interpret This Addiction Song
We think of The Eagles’ “Hotel California” as a chilling commentary on how drugs can pull you in with glitz, glamour, and joy at first – only to leave you longing to escape. Here’s what we mean:
“Plenty of room at the Hotel California, any time of year you can find it here.”
Drugs are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week all across the United States and around the world. As long as you have money, you are always welcome to spend it getting high. Plus, there will be plenty of people who want to get high with you. Everyone is welcome on the drug scene – and there always seems to be an endless supply of intoxicants available.
“And still those voices are calling from far away, wake you up in the middle of the night,
just to hear them say, welcome to the Hotel California.”
If you are addicted to drugs like cocaine, heroin, or Oxy; you know that cravings can wake you up in the middle of the night, call your name, and send you on a binge that lasts for days. This is the reality of drug addiction.
“We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.”
It doesn’t matter whether you’re hooked on crystal meth or alcohol. If you are addicted to a mind-altering substance, it’s like being a prisoner in your own body. You become enslaved by your habit and forced to pursue the next fix at all costs. Every addicted person has a drug of choice they prefer over all others – they are a prisoner of their own device.
“Last thing I remember, I was running for the door. I had to find the passage back to the place I was before.”
Here is what happens when you start using drugs…..First, it’s fun. Then, it becomes a habit. Then, it turns into a full-blown addiction. Before long, you’ll be wishing you could go back to where you were before everything went downhill. Of course, you can’t go back. You can only stopping abusing drugs and alcohol, move forward, and learn to enjoy a sober lifestyle. There is no passage back to the place you were before you knew what it was like to be addicted.
“You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”
This lyric pretty much says it all when it comes to addiction. You can “check out” anytime you like in an attempt to escape the harsh realities of life. You can get wasted and live in an alternate reality if you want to. But, without getting help, you can never leave. Once addiction has you in its grasp, you become a slave, frantically searching for a way out.
“Hotel California” is one of the greatest songs about addiction. It conveys the evolution every addicted person experiences. Drugs and alcohol promise a good time in the beginning, but they deliver torture and slavery in the end.
3. Staind – It’s Been Awhile (2001)
“It’s been awhile
Since I could
Hold my head up high
And it’s been awhile
Since I said, ‘I’m sorry.’”
The most popular track from grunge rockers Staind’s “Break the Cycle” album takes a sobering look at the destructive effect addiction can have on someone’s life. Lead singer Aaron Lewis belts out his somber message with soul, indicative of the pain he felt while he was trapped in the cycle of addiction.
In addition to the self-hate that can come from a downward spiral into drugs, this song about addiction also delves into the catastrophic consequences substance abuse can have on the rest of your life.
Lewis is a characteristically shy and private person and there’s not a lot of information out there about the inspiration for this song about addiction. However, reports indicate he had a difficult childhood and that he had some issues with his father. He suffered from low self-esteem and once said he felt very lonely in his early life. This led to his substance abuse.
Many who have interpreted this song say it is from the perspective of a recovering addict. But, we think the song truthfully expresses what it feels like to be addicted.
Has It Been Awhile For You?
The thing about addiction is that it just kind of creeps up on you. Addiction isn’t a choice. It causes a fundamental shift in the way the brain works, which causes poor judgment and a change in behavior.
Someone who begins abusing drugs or alcohol on a regular basis gets lost in their own mind. They become trapped in a time warp and lose all sense of reality. Then, a day comes when the person looks around their life and makes some powerful realizations. These realizations are best captured in the lyrics of this song about addiction.
“It’s been awhile since I could hold my head up high.”
Shame and guilt. These are the two best friends of addiction. When you are hooked on drugs or alcohol, you do things you would never do when you are sober. This leads to a perpetual cycle of shame, guilt, regret, and self-hatred. You can’t look yourself in the eye and you can’t hold your head up high.
“It’s been awhile since I could stand on my own two feet again.”
There are two ways to look at this lyric:
The first one is that substance abuse leads to codependency. A drug or alcohol habit is expensive and it causes unmanageability. Those who live with the disease of addiction often become reliant upon those around them to get their basic needs met. They may look to others for financial or emotional support because they cannot take care of themselves and stand on their own two feet.
The other interpretation is that people who are high or drunk can’t stand up. They, quite literally, cannot maintain their balance and stand on their own to feet without falling to the ground.
“And it’s been awhile since I could say that I wasn’t addicted.” ‘
Addiction is long-suffering. Many people stay stuck in the cycle of addiction for years and cannot remember the last time they were sober for any length of time.
Can you relate to any of Staind’s song lyrics about addiction? Has it been awhile since you could look at yourself straight, stand on your own two feet, or say that you weren’t addicted? If so, this song probably really resonates with you. Maybe it’s time to think about getting clean.
4. Jane’s Addiction – Jane Says (1987)
“I’m gonna kick tomorrow,
I’m gonna kick tomorrow.”
This catchy track tells the story of the woman behind the inspiration for the band’s name: “Jane’s Addiction.” Jane Bainter, a former drug-addicted housemate of lead singer Perry Farrell was an interesting character indeed. Farrell described Jane as a good girl that got caught up in the heroin scene, eventually getting mixed up with seedy drug addicts and an abusive boyfriend named Sergio. The heart-wrenching story is one of squalor, unfulfilled dreams, and a shattered self-image.
The most obvious point of discussion as it relates to this song about addiction is the chorus: “I’m gonna kick tomorrow.” This is the mantra of the drug-addicted person: Tomorrow. I will quit tomorrow. The problem is that tomorrow shows up and the desire to quit using is lost. And, when tomorrow comes, an addict says, “Okay, no seriously – I will quit tomorrow.”
Many people stay hooked on drugs or alcohol for years because they perpetually tell themselves that tomorrow would be a good day to give up a habit. They say, “Let me just get high today. Just one more time. Then, I’m gonna kick tomorrow.”
The thing is – when it comes to addiction – tomorrow may never come. In 2016, there were about 63,600 overdose deaths in the United States. This is the highest number of recorded overdose deaths in U.S. history. There’s no way to know how many of them said to themselves, “Tomorrow. I’m gonna kick tomorrow.”
5. Pink – Sober (2008)
Nothing can touch me
But why do I feel this party’s over?
You’re my protection
But how do I feel this good sober?”
The track “Sober” from pop superstar Pink is a piercing glimpse into what goes on inside the mind of someone who is afraid of getting sober. It is the battle cry of every person who is struggling with a substance abuse problem.
Giving up drugs or alcohol can be absolutely terrifying – especially for someone who has been using them for most of their life to numb painful feelings. Anyone who has battled with the idea of getting sober has gone through the very experience Pink describes in this song about addiction and recovery.
How she describes rock bottom is on point. “Why do I feel this party’s over?” she asks herself. Ask any addicted person how they feel about being addicted. They will tell you that using drugs and alcohol stopped being fun a long time ago. The party has ended and desperation has taken its place. The problem is, addiction keeps a person enslaved to their habit and they usually can’t break the cycle without help.
Pink also says, “Ah, the sun is blinding. I stayed up again. Oh, I am finding…..That’s not the way I want my story to end.” If you have ever gone on a drug or alcohol binge, you know that blinding morning sun all too well. It mocks you. Despite your most sincere intentions to “just do a little bit,” you stayed up all night and lost track of time. You begin to ask yourself, “Is this the way I want my story to end?”
What We Want You To Think About When It Comes To Getting Sober
As addiction treatment experts, we know what you’re going through if you are wrestling with the idea of getting sober. And IT IS a wrestling match. There’s one side of you that wants to keep getting high or drunk. Then, there’s the other side of you that truly does want to break the chains of addiction and find a new way to live. The thing that is getting in the way of your recovery is good old-fashioned fear of getting sober.
Change can be scary. It requires you to travel into unknown territory and get out of your comfort zone. As uncomfortable as addiction can be, it is familiar. It’s what you know. It’s how you cope with life.
But, the truth is – you should be scared of living the rest of your life with the pain of addiction as your constant companion. Or, you should be terrified that you are going to die an addict. But, you SHOULD NOT be afraid of getting into recovery. When you are sober, lost dreams awaken and new possibilities arise.
Thinking about getting sober? Here five signs you’re ready.
6. Johnny Cash/Nine Inch Nails – Hurt (2002/2002)
“I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real”
We’ll keep it short and sweet when discussing Hurt. This song, originally written by Nine Inch Nails and later covered (some might say perfected) by Johnny Cash, has been called one of the truest depictions of heroin addiction.
One aspect of heroin addiction the track covers so well is the disassociation with (and dullness) of an unaltered reality. Then, the lyrics then descend into self-hatred, disappointment, and loneliness. These are the inevitable consequences of heroin addiction.
Check out this Hurt video (by Nine Inch Nails). Feel the burn. You can truly feel the heroin heartache conveyed in this song, which very much expresses how painful addiction can be.
7. Linking Park – Breaking the Habit (2003)
“I don’t know what’s worth fighting for
Or why I have to scream
I don’t know why I instigate
And say what I don’t mean
I don’t know how I got this way
I know it’s not alright
So I’m breaking the habit
I’m breaking the habit tonight.”
One of rock band Linkin Park’s top tracks, “Breaking the Habit” was inspired by co-lead singer Mike Shinoda’s former roommate who struggled with addiction. There is not much analysis needed for this song. It is self-explanatory.
The lyrics show the pangs and cravings associated with withdrawal as well as the mental anguish it can cause for an addicted individual. Confusion, guilt, anger, and self-hatred all play a part in the addiction (and subsequent) recovery process.
What’s more, the song ends on an uplifting note. It ultimately promotes sobriety. In the end, being sober has given the individual the clarity to deal with the reason for using in the first place.
8. Third Eye Blind – Semi-Charmed Life (1997)
“I want something else
To get me through this
Semi-charmed kind of life
I want something else
I’m not listening when you say
Possibly the most famous song from alternative rock band Third Eye Blind, “Semi-Charmed Life” is a deceptively upbeat and cheerful tune that hides the true message of the song. Behind the seemingly optimistic and catchy lyrics and a frantic interplay of consonants and vowels that land pleasantly on the ear is a dark message of addiction.
The actual story of the song is one of descent into crystal meth addiction and the inability to attain the joy of that first high. Lead singer Stephan Jenkins says that the disparity between the ugly message of the piece and the bubbly easygoing pop of the music that surrounds it is meant to represent the initial draw of the drug-filled life and the dysfunction and pain that lurks below.
9. Eminem – Not Afraid (2010)
“And I just can’t keep living this way,
So starting today,
I’m breaking out of this cage.
I’m standing up, Imma face my demons,
I’m man enough, Imma hold my ground.
Cuz I’ve had enough, now I’m so fed up,
Imma get my life together right now.”
Let’s go deep with this one. We love the transformation rapper Marshall Mathers (known to the world as rapper “Eminem”) has made in the last decade. Many people don’t know that Eminem is in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and celebrated 10 years clean in 2018. He is an inspiration for recovering people everywhere.
Eminem has been very open about his addiction to the prescription opioid Vicodin and other drugs. Of course, Em’s drug use has never been a secret. His 2001 song “Purple Pills” tells of his adventures with ecstasy and his 2000 song “Drug Ballad” is an ode to his excessive drug use. Ironically, “Drug Ballad” may have served as a foreshadowing of Eminem’s struggle with addiction:
“Cuz every time I go to try to leave,
Somethin’ keeps pullin’ on my sleeve,
I don’t want to but I gotta stay,
These drugs really got ahold of me.”
The song is supposed to be a party jam about getting high, he reveals a profound truth. When people are addicted to drugs like heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, or prescription opioids, they want to quit – but they can’t.
Anyway…. Back to “Not Afraid.”
How You Can Apply Eminem’s “Not Afraid” To Your Recovery Process
Getting sober is a very personal process for every individual who sets out on their own recovery journey. People in Narcotics Anonymous often call this process “growing up in public.” This is because most people who get clean are emotionally immature when they put down the drugs and alcohol.
Statistically speaking, those who get hooked on mind-altering substances start using them during adolescence. This stunts development. After years of struggling with an addiction, many people get sober in their late twenties, thirties, forties, or older. When they face adulthood without numbing themselves to everyday life, they feel ill-equipped to navigate the daily responsibilities of a grown-up. They are forced to learn how to “do life” sober.
In “Not Afraid,” Eminem says, “It was my decision to get clean. I did it for me.” The song is a sort of anthem to his experience of growing up in public. He faces his fears and “mans up” to his responsibilities. He acknowledges that in order to recover, he has to take a stand and make a significant change to improve his quality of life.
This is a decision that every addicted person faces. If you want to get sober, you have to do it for yourself. You might be motivated by family, get a nudge from a judge, or be pushed into drug rehab by an employer. This might get you clean, but it won’t keep you clean. You have to get sober for YOU.
Eminem’s Message: You Don’t Have To Do Recovery Alone
“I’m not afraid,
To take a stand,
Come take my hand.
We’ll walk this road together
Through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm.
Just lettin’ you know that you’re not alone
Holla if you feel like you’ve been down the same road.”
Here is a perfect example of how music can bring people together. The chorus of Eminem’s “Not Afraid” is an invitation to anyone who is struggling with an addiction. In this song about recovery, he wants people to know they are not alone. Being hooked on drugs or alcohol makes you feel isolated – like no one in the world can understand what you are going through. Here, Eminem recognizes that freedom from addiction happens in community with other recovering people.
If you are struggling with a substance abuse problem, we want to echo Eminem’s chorus – you’re not alone. Help is available. Don’t be afraid. Grow up in public. You too can experience what it feels like to celebrate ten years clean – just like Marshall Mathers.
Here’s some more background on “Not Afraid” if you want to analyze the lyrics.
Here’s The Bottom Line When It Comes To Songs About Addiction And Recovery
Sure, there are plenty of songs about how fun it is to use drugs. However, we often see the same artists who produce these songs ruining their lives because of their drug use. They either end up dying from of a drug overdose, humiliating themselves under the watchful eye of the public, or getting into recovery.
We see time and time again that drug and alcohol abuse never lead you to a good place. It may start out that way, but that is the illusion of the so-called Hotel California. It pulls you in, then keeps you, prisoner.
The best songs about addiction are about the reality of the disease of addiction and the pain it causes. We have a lot to learn from the six truthful songs about addiction and recovery we have shared. If you are battling an addiction to drugs or alcohol, take the time to listen to the songs from our list. They may speak to you and motivate you to get help if you need it.
We want to see everyone with a drug or alcohol addiction recover like Eminem has – NOT see them end up like Amy Winehouse. Both outcomes are a very real possibility for you if you are abusing drugs or alcohol. You can get sober and enjoy your life …. or you can die from an overdose. How do you want your story to end?
Want some more music to jam to? Here’s a list of 133 songs about addiction and recovery.