Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Possible without the Drugs?

Posted Thursday, Apr. 12, 2018

A look at substance abuse in rock

Rock ‘n’ roll has always defined itself against what it isn’t: It’s not safe, it’s not tame, it’s not expected. Rock is meant to scare your parents and challenge authority. 


And throughout the 20th century, what has been scarier to parents then their children getting into bad influences? What is more dangerous than anarchy?

Rock ‘n’ roll is where the youth go to find themselves. That illegal drugs, excessive alcohol, and general rabblerousing would be a major part of the culture is no surprise. We all know the stories of excess and miraculous recoveries: Nikki Sixx coming back to life after being declared dead in the ambulance following an overdose; Eric Clapton playing an entire concert on the stage floor because he was so high; Stevie Nicks’ burning a hole through her nose from cocaine use. 

Drugs have always gone hand-in-hand with being a rock star. But now that rock has been established, now that it’s not the outlier, and now that generations have grown up with these wild rock star influences and the world has kept turning, we may be experiencing a culture shift. Drugs are not as closely linked to rock ‘n’ roll as they once were. The idols we grew up with, whose drug use was legendary, have for the most part cleaned up their acts. Aerosmith, Mötley Crüe, KISS, Metallica, and the Rolling Stones still tour, a feat that would be impossible if their stars hadn’t made efforts to take better care of themselves. And our past idols who weren’t able to get help for their addictions? Well, they didn’t make it. Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and countless more were victims of addiction. 

Drug and alcohol abuse are still prevalent in the rock community. Unfortunately, it’s still prevalent everywhere. But just as these rock star pied pipers may have glorified and glamorized hard living back in the day, the ones who are still with us are leading the way back to safer habits. Bruce Dickinson has his pilot’s license and participates in World War Two air battle reenactments. Alice Cooper traded alcohol in for golf. Bruce Springsteen has vowed to let nothing get in the way of his performing. Morrissey has built a brand on being something of an extreme moralist. 

Today’s generation of rock stars thrive on healthier habits: Katy Perry gets physical therapy before shows; Harry Styles choses fashion to distinguish himself as a rock star (pink Gucci pantsuits? Great!); and so many of today’s stars are more concerned with selling their own brands of alcohol than consuming it themselves. 

Rock ‘n’ roll and its purveyors will always find ways to be edgy, to be outliers, and to scare your parents. Thankfully, it’s looking like excessive drug and alcohol abuse is becoming a bit passé.