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Touring, substance use and the impact on mental health.

In the high-octane world of popular musicians and touring, alcohol and drugs have often been normalised and accepted as an inherent part of the lifestyle.

One study reported that 51% of emotionally struggling musicians have used drink or drugs to self-medicate. This finding correlates with other objective historic research, which suggests that popular music-based, group culture and its identity, reinforce risk taking behaviour. Such behaviour can interact with the turbulent and chaotic musicking environment, but it can also enhance the rebellious nature of the commercial product.

This hedonistic identity within popular musicking has historically been associated with the youthful myth of rebellion and drug use, especially within jazz and rock genres. As one classic article 'The Use of Drugs by Jazz Musicians' by Charles Winick suggests.

‘The connection between achievement in jazz and regular drug use is so routinely accepted as part of American folklore that it was occasion for a major news story when a very prominent jazz musician recently announced that he was no longer taking drugs’

The above quote sums up the overused cliché of ‘living fast and dying young’ surrounding this demographic, romantically associated with the lives of famous musicians.

In general, musicians have been found to use substances for enhancing creativity to manage MPA (Music Performance Anxiety) or to cope with the pressure of their vocation, both emotionally and physically. International and UK-based studies have also highlighted musicians’ increased vulnerability to substance use, resulting in a greater likelihood of alcohol and drug related deaths.

This correlation has been identified as a contributory factor towards the higher rates of mortality in the popular musician demographic. For me, the open availability of substances, drink and other hedonistic pursuits does make the occupational world more problematic for musicians.

A counter argument to this could be that people are attracted to this lifestyle of rebellion and excitement. Maybe this is what the punters want? It’s far too simplistic to just point to the vices and claim they are destructive. It's a much bigger picture with a nuanced deep set of cultural, behavioural and psychological factors.

For me, it was part of the allure of being in a touring band. If it was totally sanitised  it might not have been an attractive opportunity for me or the audience within certain demographics. It’s a difficult question to answer but there did come a time when I had to slow down, in hindsight, it could have happened sooner.

If you are in the music industry and are struggling with substances or other addictive processes check out the free to download Tonic Rider zines, these are filled with with easy to use techniques and exercises. (If you don't work in the music industry see our range of Never Mind The Stigma zines).


Adam Ficek hosts a monthly show 'Tonic Music' on Totally Wired Radio, where he talks to various guests about music and mental health. You can listen again to any of the previous show on the Tonic Music Mixcloud page.


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