Why are music and alcohol addiction so intrinsically linked?

Promotional feature with Change Incorporated 

In June 2016, aged 46, Sleaford Mods frontman Jason Williamson quit drinking alcohol after many years of heavy boozing. “It was something I needed to do,” he told the website PopMatters that same year. “I wasn’t having a particularly good time.”

It’s something Williamson often talks about. In August 2018, he told Clash Magazine a story that goes some way to explaining why so many musicians are on the sauce. “We played a festival in Spain recently and we all got little gift bags,” he said. “And in them they had a fan and a small bottle of vodka. It’s like fucking hell – it’s strong stuff, vodka. The amount of drugs and alcohol people consume, it’s just dangerous and shit and bad for your output.”

Now, in the VICE x NME documentary below, he reflects once again on what it is about being in a band that goes so well with boozing. “What people don’t realise is you go from town to town and every night is a party,” he says. “You’ve got a different crowd who want the party, and you just go with it.”

Adam Ficek – who used to drum for Pete Doherty in Babyshambles, and has retrained as a integrative psychotherapist since leaving the band in 2010 after a “dark, miserable and upsetting time” – has similar thoughts on the matter. “It’s part and parcel of being in a band,” he says. “If you’re the artist, there’s almost an expectation that you’re gonna be the one to indulge.”

But why is there an expectation for artists to indulge? It’s partly, of course, because it’s seen as being part of the job description. Liam Gallagher – big drinker. John Bonham – big drinker. Florence Welch – once upon a time, a big drinker. Dan Gillespie Sells, who’s been the lead singer of The Feeling since 2005 and is a former big drinker, says there are cultural problems too: “You surround [artists] in a culture that says it’s cool to drink and it’s cool to be dangerous and you’ve got to be cool. 

“You’re supposed to be cool because you’re a rock star, and there’s every factor in the world forcing and pushing you into it and it’s very easy to become reliant on booze and fags and the rest of it. Luckily I never had major dependency problems with alcohol, but I have lots of friends who can’t drink at all anymore.”

Adam Ficek
Adam Ficek

The good news is that, according to Ficek, this culture is already shifting. In an interview with the Royal College Of Psychiatrists in 2018, he said: “Although drink and drugs are rife in the music industry (especially in my genre), I do feel people are becoming more aware of the damage that can be caused. 

“There seems to be an overt attempt to learn from the mistakes of the previous generations, which also goes hand in hand with the current trend of health consciousness.”

Is he right? Watch our doc to find out.

Watch the NME and Change Incorporated documentary about the music industry and addiction here. Read more about how to kick your bad habits at Change Incorporated

Advertisement paid for by Change Incorporated (VICE) for its Quit Cigarettes initiative. Philip Morris International funds this initiative but has no editorial input, so may not share the views expressed.