This week yet another artist passed away prematurely due to a drug overdose. Lil Peep was only 21 when he lethally overdosed on the deadly opiate Fentanyl that was sold to him in the form of a fake Xanax pill. In response to his passing social medias have been filled with varying sentiments. Many call out the drug culture that allowed his addiction to manifest and progress uninhibited, while others continue to determine that drug addiction is purely an issue of will power – therefore those who pass from overdoses should not be mourned. Seems cold right? Well just check the comments of a local news affiliate posting about the uptick of drug addiction in the country, you'll be surprised at just how many people think drug addicts should just be culled as a whole.
Every time I see these debates it both fascinates me and leaves me frustrated. I have a unique relationship with both addiction and the music industry, and have seen just how complex of an issue drug culture as become for our community. Something needs to be done but with emotions running high, and a public health issue turned into political hot topic, where do we begin the conversation? There is no easy answer but there are things we can all do.
Knowledge Is Power – Don't Perpetuate Myths Or Oversimplify
I am in recovery from drug addiction. I was a heroin addict for many years. Like a horrible, street living, injecting heroin with puddle water, stereotypical drug addict. I experienced exactly what drug addiction is first hand at the most visceral levels. I have also been sober now from all substances including alcohol for several years. While many want to call addiction a failing of self will, that simply couldn't be farther from the truth. While many take issue in referring to addiction as a disease, medically it truly does fit the description. Merriam Webster defines a disease as such:
Disease – noun :a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms
What addiction does at it's core is alter brain chemistry. First temporarily and eventually in some cases, permanently. This change of chemistry of course impairs the brain from functioning normally and results in signs and symptoms which include prolonged drug and alcohol usage. It is confusing as many do not know the difference between heavy usage (dependence) and legitimate medically classified addiction. It also further creates issues since differentiating someone as a heavy user or legitimate addict while they are currently using is almost impossible.
For example, some people can get physically addicted to pain killers, stop cold turkey, get off of them and then continue to drink like a normal person. Someone who has the disease of addiction is unable to consume substances in a recreational fashion ever again without eventually going on what is referred to as a spree. Simply put, once an addict starts using or drinking again they do not know when they will ever stop; they are out of control.
This occurs because of a shift of brain chemistry in the pleasure center of the mind. Addiction can also be hereditary, therefore some people from the very beginning will be unable to enjoy substances like an average individual. There is nothing medically simple about addiction and unfortunately when people on the internet do not understand something they usually try to simplify it to a terrifying degree (look at climate change). This is also exacerbated further by how addiction has become politicized. At the end of the day it is brutally complex.
What Can I Do To Help?: Try to leave opinion out of it. Try to leave politics out of it. Educate yourself with peer reviewed journals and legitimate sources of information if you are curious or want to comment on addiction. Talk to mental health professionals, and above all – actually try to have empathy.
Drug Culture Being Promoted By The Music Industry – Accidentally Condoning Addiction?
I mentioned above that there is no easy answer to trying to address the issue of addiction in the music industry. If you are actually still reading then I applaud you as I feel I probably lost a lot of people in that first section due to unpopular opinions. Certain types of music have always been strongly associated with drug culture. Obviously the elephant in the room is that dance music has an undeniable relationship with ecstasy among other substances. In recent years there has been a shift in hip hop and rap from the usual mentions of drinking and smoking weed to indulging in pharmaceuticals such as Opiates and Benzodiazepines, or informally percs, bars, oxys, and xans.
This shift was slow and subtle, but now when listening to the new school of rap or observing the associated online culture the mention of Xanax and other pharmaceuticals is borderline inescapable. The glorification of this kind of drug usage is at an all time high. That being said it is near impossible to differentiate the actual use of drugs by an artist, or appearance there of the obtain social clout. Oddly enough a tweet from Diplo saying just that inspired me to write this article.
It’s hard to determine who has a legitimate problem and who is posing with drugs for some kind of clout . Either way it’s destructive. And I’m trying to get my thoughts together. I’m a grown man and I’ve seen too many friends die young for no reason https://t.co/LZhIv5Mfu0
— diplo (@diplo) November 16, 2017
This difficultly in differentiation is actually a big piece of what makes this problem so dangerous. Younger listeners or even just easily impressionable people who are starting to experiment with drugs hear artists promoting the use of these pharmaceuticals and obviously want to partake themselves. This is where the shift from weed and alcohol to Xanax and Percocet has only added fuel to the fire. At a base level pot and alcohol are usually not dangerous in terms of experimentation (comparatively). But if you add in Xanax and Oxycodone to the mix things get lethal terrifyingly fast. As a seasoned drug addict I can say mixing several different types of drugs is like putting BBQ sauce on pizza. You need to know exactly what the fuck you are doing or the outcome will be downright horrific.
Alcohol and Marijuana also hold a relatively low risk of addiction for those experimenting with the substances. Pot is incredibly hard to form an addiction with, and the hangover produced by alcohol consumption helps dissuade many from going overboard. The thing about benzos and opiates though is that forming a physical addiction is honestly surprisingly easy to do without even thinking about it. Overall this promotion of drug culture has only reinforced the stereotype that seriously dangerous and addictive drugs are cool.
What Can I Do To Help?: In short it is the same answer it has always been – education. Of course the main goal would be to stop idolizing music that promotes the use of pharmaceutical and dangerous drugs, but things need to start with education. Experimentation and responsible substance use can be rewarding for many people who do not suffer from addiction. So do not shame the use of, but instead help others realize the very real dangers that many of these drugs present.
I Want Help Or Know Someone That Needs Help – What Do I Do?
Take it from someone who lived through both years of addiction and now recovery – if you think you have an issue with drugs or alcohol or find you are having trouble stopping, and staying stopped…do not wait to ask for help. Things do not get better on their own. If you have hit this point it is near impossible to will your way into sustained sobriety. In some cases physical withdrawals can be so dangerous to tackle cold turkey that you could die just trying to stop the drugs you have become physically addicted to. This is why a medically controlled detox for pharmaceutical drugs, opiates, and alcohol is crucial.
Ask for help from loved ones if you are able. If not call your insurance provider to find local treatment centers that are in your network. If you do not have insurance you can visit here to find a list of publicly funded treatment centers. There are hundreds of ways to find long term recovery ranging from 12 step oriented programs, medical assisted therapy, to finding your own unique system which works well for you. There is no shame in getting help, the only shame is continuing to ignore a situation which gets worse everyday.
If you are worried about someone you care about have a problem with drug addiction there are also steps you can take to facilitate a real conversation that could result in them changing behavior or deciding to get help. The first step is realizing that there is nothing you can explicitly do to force them to stop using or get help. It will have to be entirely their decision. But you can approach things in a certain way which will help them consider that decision sooner than later. All it takes is a simple conversation. Bring up how you are concerned that they haven't been acting themselves, and have noticed the increase in drug use. At first mention they will most likely get defensive. But just gently suggest that you are always there for them if they want to talk. Try to bring this up when they are not high or down in the dumps a bit. You will be more likely to get an authentic response when someone is sober or already in their feels.
Make sure you do not enable them. Enabling is a concept that is widely misunderstood these days. Many people believe that even resuscitating someone from an overdose is a form of enabling – that is absolutely the most insanely idiotic thing I have ever heard. Enabling is legitimately allowing a drug addict to continue to get away with destructive or harmful behavior that will only help them continue to use. If you live with someone who is using drugs and they refuse to stop, not enabling them would involve not giving them money, and eventually even kicking them out of your house (if they are not on the lease). The idea is to make it as hard for them to continue to use comfortably as possible. Help them realize their lifestyle is unsustainable and that they need a change. Even then it takes a lot of trust in the universe to take these steps.
Where Do We Go From Here
We need to care about each other. If there is one thing that will help other get over addiction issues it is love and understanding. We need to be there for each other, and not encourage destructive dangerous behavior. For many of us involved with the music industry it is more important than ever, as you never know who is listening, watching or reading what you create.