Why are music and heroin so intrinsically linked

It's had a bigger influence on music than any other drug

In the ‘40s and ‘50s it was virtuoso American jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis who were doing it. In the ‘60s it was artists such as Lou Reed and Nico of The Velvet Underground. Come the ‘90s, it was the likes of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Elliott Smith, Elastica, Blur and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers who were riddled with it. And in the ‘00s and beyond it’s been musicians like Pete Doherty of The Libertines, Zachary Cole of DIIV and Matty Healy of The 1975 who’ve been the most open about using it, and the impact it’s had on their lives.

“If I was drug free,” Doherty fantasised to The Guardian in April this year. “I’d be a force to be reckoned with.” 

Heroin / smack / junk / brown / food / gear – whatever you like to call it – has had a bigger influence on music than any other drug, and on some of the best songs ever written: ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ by Neil Young, ‘I Think I’m In Love’ by Spiritualized, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ by The Beatles, ‘Lust For Life’ by Iggy Pop and ‘There She Goes’ by The La’s. 

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But why? Because in the end it’s nothing but destructive as counsellor and psychotherapist Chula Goonewardene knows all too well, having had his bid for rock ‘n’ roll stardom destroyed by the drug. “The catalyst for the band splitting up was there was one member who wasn’t into drugs, and they decided that they couldn’t take anymore of our behaviour,” he says today, 16 years after first entering into a 12-step drug rehab programme. “The record company didn’t want anything to do with us. The band weren’t talking to each other anymore and my dreams have been completely shattered by my addiction.”

Harry Shapiro

Author and journalist Harry Shapiro has been writing about the role drugs play in music since the late ‘80s, and has thought a lot about why heroin and the hits are so intrinsically linked. “The danger is you start believing your own mystery,” he says. “You start believing your own story and you carry on that image off stage. And that’s where the problems start I think, because there’s always someone hanging around the back door waiting to supply. And that’s why it’s a very easy therapy.

He elaborates: “Creative people are often very insecure. They often have very low self esteem, even when they’ve made it. It’s a hard nosed business which takes no prisoners. And it’s hardly surprising in those situations that people do find themselves getting into trouble with drugs, just as really a coping mechanism.”

But it’s a deeply shitty kind of coping mechanism, that can ruin every aspect of your life. Instead, see if you qualify for some free professional help: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/free-therapy-or-counselling/

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Or if you’re already in too deep with heroin and looking for help, try here: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/heroin-get-help/

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.

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