Music, Pop Culture, and Drug and Alcohol Addiction
A brief history of the role of drugs and alcohol in American music
Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll: to many people, those three things go together like peanut butter and jelly. We understand how many addicts feel that they need drugs or alcohol to spur the creative process. We also understand that this belief is deeply rooted in American culture.
At Little Creek Lodge, we believe it is important for families to understand the history of addiction: not only for their loved ones, but in the creative world at large. We invite you to read more about the history that drugs and alcohol play in the music industry, and to learn more about how we use music therapy to help residents at our Pennsylvania facility break free of their addictions.
Big band, jazz, and the birth of cool
Our culture is driven by pop music, and much of a youth’s identity is based on the kind of music he or she listens to. Music can be used to reinforce the value system of addiction, or it can be used in the healing process. In the 1940s, music exploded around the world with a new influence that went on to change the world. At this time, it was mainly built around the jazz and big band styles. Artists such as Count Basie and Artie Shaw helped to define the musical era.
Marijuana had been around since the 1920s, along with various opiates, but booze was the drug of choice not only for teens and college-age people, but also mainstream, working-class suburbanites: “cocktail hour” gained popularity as a way to socialize. Advertisers for tobacco and liquor were (and still are) just as keen on enhancing the users’ experiences, and helped feed into the culture.
The second major wave of opiate addiction in America began in the 1930s and 1940s, amidst the Harlem jazz scene, and then again within the Beatnik subculture of the 1950s.
People also often relied on prescription medications, such as barbiturates (Seconal) – a dangerous class of drugs leading to more accidental overdose than its 1960s’ successor, benzodiazepines (Librium, Valium). I don’t recall amphetamines being widely mentioned by “beat” writers/poets, except Kerouac, whose drug of choice was alcohol but also used amphetamines (under the brand name Benzedrine), which contributed to his death (along with cirrhosis). Ginsberg advocated the use of LSD and marijuana, but I’m sure others used such substances. For good sources, read Kerouac’s Dharma Bums and On the Road.
The Beatles era, and the rise of the hippies
The Beatles were, in some ways, a magnet for drugs in the Sixties. Royston Ellis introduced The Beatles to the high produced by a Benzedrine inhaler in 1960. The Beatles were introduced to “pep” pills in their Hamburg days, to keep them going during the night. Bob Dylan introduced them to marijuana in 1964, during a visit to New York City. LSD was introduced when Lennon and Harrison’s dentist spiked their after-dinner coffee at a party, in 1965.
The Hippie subculture was a youth movement that consisted of very liberal people caring about Mother Nature. They believed in peace and “Free Love.” People felt they were not bound to each other, but instead should love one another freely. The public’s tolerance for a wide range of behaviors evolved to include movements that opposed the Vietnam War and mainstream philosophies.
Many young Americans began conducting their own experiments with ordinary household products such as glue and solvents. Amphetamines and cocaine became very popular. Although these illicit drugs received the most attention, the use of prescription drugs including barbiturates and tranquilizers also escalated after 1960. In 1963, the Supreme Court declared in Robinson v. California that addiction is, “a disease, not a crime.” Decades later, this philosophy continues to be the Supreme Court’s position. The Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966 endorsed the idea of medical treatment and rehabilitation for drug users.
Drug and alcohol use in the 70s
The pattern of drug use shifted. Americans began to indiscriminately use of a variety of mood-altering substances. These drugs included everything from LSD, PCP, and STP to plant-hallucinogens such as mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, and cocaine. Amphetamines and barbiturates also were fair game. Poly-drug use became the new face of drug abuse well into the 1970s. Rock music and its related lifestyle, along with a supportive media focused on drugs, drug users, and many new believers, generated a bandwagon effect that supported decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. Songs such as ‘The Times Are a Changin’, Rainy Day Woman (marijuana), Mr. Tambourine Man, and I Get High with A Little Help from My Friends, alluded to questioning the American concept of standards and the virtues of drug taking. As a result, record companies marketed to specific populations and broke the country into five regions.
The connection between music, drugs and alcohol
Music takes us to euphoric levels, and brings about a conditioned response: neuron associative conditioning (NAC). It is an extremely influential form of expression. It combines words and sound to convey a message, and that combination can spark the conditioned response. Drugs and alcohol are meant to produce euphoria as well. Combine the two, and the result is a very powerful and lasting imprint on the brain.
Pop music teaches us to use empowerment related to our identity. We use drugs and alcohol in combination in order to enhance that power. We use music to reinforce our sense of belonging to a particular social group. Addicts and alcoholics sometimes claim, “music is the only thing that understands me.”
At Little Creek, our goal is to help men in recovery recondition themselves, and to find a new way of experiencing the effects of music without the enhancement of drugs or alcohol. You don’t have to be drunk or high to feel the euphoria that music causes.
Break the cycle of addiction while finding what moves you
The music industry is filled with the suffering of addiction. We know there is a better way. At Little Creek Lodge, residents are given the tools they need to experience the beauty of music in a safe and secure environment. Please call 877-689-2644, or fill out our contact form to learn more about our program. We accept applications from people around the country.