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Five Tips for Coping with Addiction in the Music Industry


The music industry is not the non-stop party they often depict in the movies, but the truth is that that reputation exists for a reason. The annals of music history are filled with the stories of the wild antics of musicians, and even when the story ends in the death of said musicians from alcohol, drugs or suicide, there still tends to a sense of romanticism about the whole "live fast and die young" side of the story.

It's easy to be enthralled at the out of control life of some musician when you get to go home to your nice, stable life when the stage lights go down. If you're the musician living through the chaos or the friends, family, bandmates or business associates of such a musician, you know the reality is far from glamorous. Instead, you see someone you love in pain and risking their lives. From a business perspective, you see someone blowing opportunities for themselves and for you. 

Many people in the music industry who are struggling with the available excesses worry that if they turn their back on the party that they will lose what makes their music good or what makes them appealing to their fans. It's simply not true. Control it or you WILL lose your career - if you're lucky, that is all you will lose. So, how do you cope with life in the industry if you're trying to conquor substance abuse demons, or if you're working alongside someone with these struggles? Consider these tips as you try to establish a new normal for your music career.

1. Stop Romanticizing It

Buckle up, real talk ahead. Your bad behavior doesn't make you interesting. If anything, it makes you a cliche. You don't need to drink or use drugs uncontrollably to create good music - if you do, then you're not really cut out for the music industry.

You will always, always, always be able to find someone to tell you that it is ok that you drank too much to get on stage or that it was no big deal when you got on stage and embarrassed the rest of the band with your incoherent playing or confusing behavior. There will always be someone to tell you that anyone who challenges what you're doing just doesn't "get you," oh creative one. The downside is that those people are either using you to get a temporary bit of excitement and will then abandon you to your chaos as they return to their stable lives and families, or they are equally out of control and will bring you down further with them.

Know who really cares about you and listen to them. Even if you don't like it.

2. Own Your Space

So you've made a commitment to slay the demons that are theatening your relationships, your livelihood, your talent and your life. The trouble is that those demons seem to be always around at your job. When you go on tour or turn up to play a show, you're surrounded by temptations. It is getting to the point where you are not sure if you can continue with music AND protect your sobriety.

Here's the good news - YOU ARE THE BOSS. You don't have to allow anything backstage at your show that you don't around you. You can't stop the bar at the venue from serving, but you can choose to stick backstage in your safe zone. Use the buddy system if you want to venture out to the bar area but want to make sure you don't accept anything from anyone. Ask the bar not to serve you. Ask your bandmates and team to keep your communal areas, including the bus/van, hotel rooms, etc, alcohol/drug free zones. The same goes for studios and practice spaces.

You have free reign to create and enforce a safe environment for yourself - and whatever you have to do to keep yourself safe, you won't be the first musician to do - so, do it and feel good about it.

3. Surround Yourself with Support

Check out your inner circle - is everyone there invested in your health? In practical terms, tt doesn't even really matter so much if they want you to be OK because they love you or because when you're OK, the shows keep coming, the sales keep coming and the albums keep getting made. Make sure everyone in the inner sanctum is on the same page with what you need to do to stay safe and well. If, say, your drummer thinks your dedication to slowing down the party is a drag, there are other drummers out there.

By the way, it is always good to make sure some of the people around you don't care if you never write another song again.

4. Understand You Can Still Have Fun

Life doesn't come down to: "wake up on the banks of a river in a strange park with no idea how you got there" or "spend all days in the library." Playing music is fun, going on tour is fun, writing songs is fun - and you will still have fun even if you can - shock, horror - remember the fun you had the next morning. You will discover new buzzes - feeling the adoration of the crowd while you're stone cold sober, meeting new people who aren't exclusively interested in mooching off your rider - the possibilities are endless.

5. Get Help

This is a process. Tackling substance abuse is always a process, and for a musician, the road is absolutely littered with pitfalls and temptations. Tripping up is normal and expected - and it does not translate into failure. Get help working through the process. The support of your friends and family is crucial, but look outside of that circle for advice as well. The About.com Addiction site has some great tips on finding help, managing withdrawal symptoms and much more. You can also ask around in the music community to find out what has helped other musicians. Some towns even have substance abuse groups geared specifically towards musicians that understand the very specific struggles of dealing with such an issue while working in the music industry. Find whatever kind of help you feel comfortable with - but find the help.

As you're getting help, go easy on yourself. As a musician, you are operating in an environment that gives positive reinforncement to damaging behavior like none other, and thousands - hundreds of thousands - find themselves coping with the fallout from that. If you need help, you're not the first, not the last and you're not a failure. You can do this.

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